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Like every other organization and family, churches are trying to adapt to the new reality of social distancing. Many churches are figuring out how to gather remotely, and while this is important, maybe this is an opportunity to BE the church in a new way. We’ve been forced outside the church walls. How will we respond?

Coronavirus is an equal opportunity virus but the effects of this disease are not. I’m not talking about the physical effects of those who contract the virus. I’m talking about the people that are most vulnerable economically. Those that will be hit the hardest are the unemployed, people who work in the hospitality, factory, or service industries, child care workers, those who are paid hourly, school children, particularly those in under resourced areas, single parents, the elderly, and those who are incarcerated. The list goes on (see The Poor and Marginalized Will Be the Hardest Hit by Coronavirus). 

What role does the church have in this crisis? While we plan to maintain a sense of community amongst our members, maybe we also need to plan how we bring shalom to our communities and neighborhoods. These principles, articulated by Cormac Russell of the Asset Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University, are helpful in guiding us. 

1. Citizen-led: We need to follow the guidelines of CDC and other health care providers, but we as citizens can lead the way. What are creative ways church members, neighbors and community members can speak into our plans to follow guidelines while building community and bringing hope? Is there an online way to provide suggestions for each other to bring normalcy to the days? 

2.Relationship-oriented: While taking social distancing measures seriously, how do we seek out people in our community that need our support? Taking a walk in our community and in our churches community is a great opportunity to get outside while still remaining distant. Visiting each other through letters, emails, phone calls, online chatting. Figure out when others are outside, bringing out the garbage, etc. and be around. Say hello. Once the weather gets better, cook outside and share your meal. 

3. Asset based: What strengths and gifts do you or your church have to bring to this situation and to your community? What strengths are right in your neighborhood?

  • If you cook, who needs a meal? 
  • If you are an employer, consider how you will take care of your employees.
  • If you have a car, how can you grocery shop for others or pick up medications? 
  • If you are physically healthy, can you organize walking/running clubs that are virtual to encourage one another to stay healthy? 
  • If you are a nurse, can your church provide a hotline to answer questions for neighbors?

4. Place-based: Churches are key places for community. We should look out for one another, but now is a prime opportunity to be with those in our local neighborhoods as well. What can you do alongside your neighbors? How can you be present in your church neighborhood? Don’t abandon it now! Walk it, serve coffee in the mornings, provide a take out meal, support a local restaurant, allow your open spaces to be used, turn youth programs into online tutoring, and more. 

5. Inclusion-focused: Ask your community what is helpful. Ask community members what they can offer. Don’t assume you know what the most vulnerable need. Ask each other. Create an online support system for your church neighborhood to share strengths, gifts and needs. Listen particularly closely to the most vulnerable and advocate for them. 

In a recent email exchange with members of the Holland Michigan community, Esther Fifelski, Human Relations Manager for the City of Holland, shared information and opportunities to help mobilize the Christian community to check-in with and support the most vulnerable members in our neighborhoods and the broader community. 

Jack Kooyman, Executive Director of the Holland Deacons’ Conference, shared, “While Covid-19 and its impact on humans and the human community is not something many—hopefully most—of us would think of as a good thing, it is providing new opportunities and challenges for the local church to come together to be the Church in and with the community to which we have been called and placed.”

This is a great example of the church and community coming together. You all are super creative and are the experts in your community. I’d love to hear ways you are stepping outside your church in this unsettling time and engaging with your community.

Respond in the comments or contact me, Jodi Koeman, Church with Community Coordinator, directly at [email protected]. 

Praying for you and your communities!


Here is a helpful response from Monika Grasley, Executive Director of Lifeline CRC, based in Merced, California, and World Renew board member and delegate for Classis Central California:

Coronavirus has changed the whole landscape for us. Churches are closed and have to think outside the box to find ways to engage with the congregation and the community. This morning in my devotional I read Luke 14:27 “anybody who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple”. The author reminded me that we cannot chose the cross we want to carry - that it is an all or nothing. “Give me a hundred men who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I will shake the world” John Wesley. This is our moment, for such a time as this were we called to desire nothing but God. Here are some of my reflections on what that could look like.

Things I learned from my community members who live in economic poverty:

- You should share your goods with others because you never know when you will need something from your neighbors.

- You don’t hoard, because you never know how life turns out and when it will be taken away.

- You support each other because you can't do it on your own.

- You tell others where to find resources.

- You barter, because everyone no matter how rich has a need, and everyone no matter how poor has a gift.

What could that mean for our churches?

- You have resources (extra TP, emergency food, technology, knowledge, volunteers, prayer partners….) - share the resources with others. Find out what under-resourced neighbors need by building relationships and hearing the story behind the story, and then engage in helping meet those needs, but also let them help you…. you will be surprised by their amazing giftedness.

- You have funds. With no Sunday service, you save on: electricity, water, money for snacks, staffing etc. etc. - invest that money in a local non profit that works around the clock to meet the needs of your community.

- Share your resources - this Sunday hundreds of churches streamed their services, while hundreds, thousands, of kids in your community do not have access to a computers to enhance their little brains during these months of isolation. How could churches coordinate efforts and help families get access to computers and the internet?

- Stay in this for the long haul - this week is only the beginning! Stay generous during this time of crisis, so that people can also reenter the workforce when the crisis is over. Many of the bigger churches in our country have reserves (emergency funds, building funds, investments…) what if that money would be used during this crisis and during the time of rebuilding? Today it will be milk, diapers and TP that families need, but next month they might need job training/mentors, child care help to get started again, micro loans to move forward, school supplies.

How can the church further His Kingdom…. by desiring nothing by God, being His hands and feet in this crisis and His arm of mercy and justice in the months to come.

What does that look like in practical ways:

- Be intentional - partner with non-profits that are doing this work well. A local restaurant opened up for a Saturday to give free meals (great idea) - but it will serve people who have the means to come out and get them, not the people who do not have transportation, or are not quick enough. So, think outside the box, ask good questions, make sure your resources are used where most needed.

- Don’t judge - we all respond differently to crisis, so don’t call someone irresponsible just because they use their money differently, or because they sell their food stamps. There is always more to the story, get to know people to know their story.

- Be generous - this is not the time to hold on to your resources, but to trust that God’s storehouse is full and that He will provide for your future needs if you are faithful to His cause. 

Thank you Monika!

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