In some areas across the United States and Canada, communities have begun to reopen after months of quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic. After scrambling to provide online worship services and other socially-distanced ministry, church leaders are now mapping out plans to reopen in-person services in accordance with regional guidelines. This process requires every bit of ingenuity that taking services online had done in the first place. At this new crossroads, what opportunities for outreach do churches have in our communities?
Transitions offer opportunity for outreach
Shelter in place orders came quickly with little warning. Church leaders rose to this transitional moment by figuring out in just a few days how to implement remote worship services and communicate these plans effectively to their congregations. For most, this felt like a shift into survival mode; but from what we’ve observed at Church Juice, many churches recognized an opportunity for outreach in the transition and responded to it. People were afraid; people lost their jobs; people worried about food and other necessities (anybody got some TP?); and people felt upset by the cacophony of conflicting information. The front doors of churches may have been closed, but their social media and websites opened portals for churches to offer comfort to the people of our communities.
Reopening will be no less stressful or confusing for people in most places. Much of the fallout of the pandemic will persist for some time and lead to new implications. Reopening is a transition packed with opportunities for churches to minister to their communities in the love of Jesus Christ. So, how do we reach out in this new phase?
Invite people into your community
First, we need to invite into our community those folks who found our churches during the COVID-19 crisis. The reopening process needs to have a specific plan for helping these new people feel at home when meeting in person for the first time. We need to clearly communicate that plan—right on the page people go to on the website to connect to remote services. A clear path for someone new needs to be laid out to allow a new person to plug into whatever transitional steps the church is taking in the reopening process.
Here’s an example. Churches in my area (the suburbs of Chicago) are trying to work out ways to re-engage in-person ministry. Ideas on the table include small groups of 10 or less meeting in homes, for those who would be comfortable doing that, connected via Zoom to other small groups and the church’s live stream worship service. How do we invite new people into a transitional model like that? The path must begin at a point new folks are most familiar with, most likely the webpage from which the remote service launches. Here would need to be an invitation and means of opting in; perhaps an online registration form that either lets them pick a group to join or lets them provide information for a leader to reach out to them. Then, they’d need to receive clear information on how to connect with that group: Who is the leader? Where will they meet? When? What safety precautions are being taken? All of this information needs to be in terms anyone can understand—a new person probably has no inside information about your congregation.
Next, in any reopening process we’re considering, we need to continue to make our services and ministries available to those who haven’t met us yet. Do this by keeping the website up to date, posting news, and offering an easy to find path for a first time visitor tailored to the current climate. Social media comes in handy here too. Create content designed for first time visitors and make it available via social media. The best way to do this is for content to address the needs people in your community are experiencing. These kinds of posts invite people into the life of your church by talking to them about what they are experiencing now.
The COVID-19 pandemic initiated a huge transition that few churches saw coming. However, lots of churches rose to the challenge: they took services remote and sought ways to serve their communities by meeting their needs in difficult and stressful times. Now churches are at least beginning to think about a move toward reopening. This is yet another transition, but this time we can see it coming, and position our communications and marketing for our churches to minister to a new series of challenges and make a smooth path for people to join us as we reopen.