How to serve your community during the COVID-19 crisis
I never thought I would need to spend many hours developing and implementing a plan on how our church will serve our community during this time of crisis. But, that’s exactly where I find myself right now. I imagine most of you are in similar situations. How and what you do has changed. For some of you, those changes are dramatic.
This virus has touched all of us in one way, shape or form. This crisis is rocking people’s worlds, both inside and outside the local church. Uncertainty of the future tends to scare people.
Fortunately, the Church can offer great hope during this time. There will be opportunities to serve as we’ve never seen before. How can we love and serve those around us who are the most vulnerable or are experiencing the greatest loss due to this virus?
As I and other leaders at my church have pondered the question, “How do we serve our community during this crisis?” a few principles and best practices are surfacing:
1. Begin by serving the vulnerable within your congregation
Identify, call, and pray with people in your church who might need care or assistance during this crisis. There might be senior citizens in your congregation who are afraid and need someone to talk to and pray with.
Maybe they need someone to pick up groceries for them, pick up medication or run other errands. Or, maybe there is a single parent nurse who is working extra shifts right now and might need help with her children; the offer to make dinner or offer free childcare could be a huge blessing.
2. Practice wisdom and give grace
I know that the imperative to “practice wisdom” may sound funny or even insulting; that isn’t my intent. What I mean here is that we must make wise decisions and not put our people or the community at risk because of what we ask our people to do.
One thing I notice within our congregation is a bifurcation of opinions about serving the community. One argument is that we should live in faith, not fear and therefore we should go out and serve, period.
The other argument is that we can actually do more harm than good if we aren’t socially responsible and the best thing we can do for everyone is to practice social distancing even with our neighbors.
It will be interesting to see how people respond to the opportunity to serve, as things continue to unfold. My gut tells me that there will be people in all of our congregations who will jump at the opportunity to serve while others will say, “No way!”
For the people in our congregations who choose to practice social distancing even among their neighbors, we need to respect and honor their choices.
Personally, I find myself somewhere in the middle between these viewpoints and responses. I believe that the Church needs to step up and serve, but we also need to be smart and use caution in shepherding and discipling our people.
For example, I just had a food pantry email and ask if our church could send volunteers their direction. I did agree to communicate the opportunity to our body, but when I did that, I put some parameters around the opportunity: I asked that the volunteers be between 21-50 years-old, I requested that they have no symptoms of any type of sickness, and I requested that they are not in the vulnerable categories (underlying illnesses, immune-deficient, etc.).
In addition, I also know this organization well. Their director attends our church, and she is taking extra precautions during this time to protect her staff, her volunteers and the public from this virus. If you don’t know the organization well, vetting may be needed before you send your people to serve.
3. Serve immediate neighbors
Our primary community strategy and emphasis is to encourage our people to serve their immediate neighbors and neighborhood. With school and business closings, as well as restrictions on how many people can meet at one time/space, this practice will encourage people not to move around and instead will focus people towards their neighbors.
We do not expect our people to serve outside of their neighborhood or immediate community. Staying within their neighborhood is ideal. In that way, we have an emphasis on the biblical imperative to “love your neighbor as yourself,” and we are promoting obeying our government leaders as well as practicing social responsibility. We don’t want to promote people “crossing communities.”
The following are just a few ideas on how to serve your neighbors:
Meal delivery for senior citizens
Run errands or pick up medication for senior citizens
Provide meals for single parents (especially for those in the medical community)
Send a group text to your neighborhood offering assistance
Set up a private Facebook page for your neighborhood where everyone can communicate needs
Serve self-quarantined families with groceries or other needs
Care for internationals or immigrants who are trying to figure out how to navigate life
Offer free dog walking for senior citizens who don’t want to leave their house or for single parents who are maxed out on time right now
Call and pray for people
4. Make any serving opportunity specific and detailed
If you plan to partner with a local organization and plan to communicate their serving opportunities, it is essential to make those opportunities super clear and simple or there will be frustrated people and more confusion. In order to not overwhelm your people, you'll need to do some coordination with those who might receive your service. One caution here: it is a good idea to focus only on really close geographic opportunities, to avoid “crossing communities.”
5. Serve food banks in your immediate community
You may have already discovered this, but many community organizations are not taking volunteers right now. Their concern is for social distancing (for their clients), or they already have a plan in place to serve their under-resourced demographic.
For example, one of the first phone calls I made was to an area school with whom we partner. My idea was to provide lunches and weekend meals for kids who receive free/reduced-price lunches. I quickly learned that the school already has a plan in place to take care of these kiddos and their families. Such has been the case with many organizations we have called.
One opportunity that is consistently surfacing, however, is the need for both food donations and volunteers at area food banks. Food banks have taken an even bigger hit than all our area grocery stores. And, many volunteers who stock and organize food at food banks are retired-age volunteers. At this time, those volunteers are starting to stay home (rightfully so) to practice social distancing. The Church has a great opportunity to help alleviate this food insecurity and volunteer issues.
6. Expand your online presence
A great way to serve your community right now is to have an active online presence. People are scared and are looking for answers and hope. As the Church, our online presence is literally our foyer. We should leverage this tool to share the hope we have in Jesus. Here is a website that has many resources regarding this topic: https://coronavirusandthechurch.com.
Let's leverage this time to magnify Jesus and the good news of the gospel. May we be the hands and feet of Jesus as we love and serve our neighbors well!