By Ken Davis
Most evangelical leaders agree that the current coronavirus epidemic and quarantine provide churches with wonderful opportunities to do community outreach and share the good news of Jesus. Yet many of us are wrestling with how this is to be done wisely and winsomely with government restrictions upon us. It is my contention that leaders will need to be creative to discover new strategies and platforms for these challenging times. Obviously, the Great Commission has not been rescinded.
The early church was known for sacrificially serving the dying and unselfishly embracing the sick, wounded, and destitute who were often abandoned—and so must we. They risked their lives to care even for non-Christians, demonstrating radical Biblical values quite unknown in the Roman culture of their day. Rodney Stark, author of The Rise of Christianity, demonstrates that some of the striking growth of the church in the early centuries can be attributed to the compassionate care the first Christians showed for the sick.
Thousands of churches have now successfully transitioned into live streaming or broadcasting prerecorded weekend worship services and have learned that this is a wonderful platform for gospel proclamation. One young church plant that normally sees just over 200 in Sunday attendance is now delighted to find up to 1,500 viewers to its online services. Its people are being encouraged to invite friends and neighbors to join in.
With the readily accessible tools of social media, many congregations are learning how to leverage online technologies like Zoom, Facebook Live, or Microsoft Teams to create weekly interactive evangelistic Bible studies and gospel-rich daily devotionals. Leaders are focusing on subjects like anxiety, fear, God’s sovereignty, and love. With the variety of online programs now available, pastors are seeking the best ways to train or equip (often using how-to videos) their small group leaders to construct or host engaging out-of-the-building gatherings. The goal is to deepen those relational ties we already have with people far from Jesus, as well as to shepherd our own flocks.
Some outreach-oriented leaders are using daily newsletter emails with appropriate Scripture, online links, and/or evangelistic YouTube videos. Others are simply phoning or FaceTiming with church members and former worship guests to inquire if they need prayer or assistance. Churches connected with the Northeast Collaborative, a new church planting and revitalization network launched out of Baptist Bible Seminary’s Project Jerusalem, are distributing attractively printed cards to their neighbors, offering to deliver groceries and medicine or provide transportation or other practical help. The cards leave room for members to give their names and phone numbers for recipients to request assistance.
Mosaic Baptist in Brooklyn, New York City, is weekly distributing boxes of essential food items along with information cards about the church, a Scriptural gospel booklet, and a gospel message. “Persons of Peace” in their community, who know the young church plant genuinely cares about people, are passing on the names of needy families. All this is done while still observing social distancing. Church size or tight budgets should not be an obstacle; Mosaic is a church of about 50.
Our goal should be to identify and serve the most vulnerable. I’ve heard of churches using their parking lots to provide “drive through” virus testing and food pantries for the needy. Some are partnering with their cities or a local food banks for obtaining supplies. Churches are relying on their young people for these community acts of kindness, as young people are viewed as less likely to be impacted by the virus.
Many pastors are asking how to be on mission, as traditional avenues of face-to-face outreach and serving are no longer viable. Here are other creative and doable “servant evangelism” ideas suggested by and adapted from the Billy Graham Center’s Send Institute:
- Turn your church into a daycare specifically for healthcare and safety workers (in cooperation with the city in order to comply with the “essential” expectation).
- Deliver sanitized iPads to nursing homes quarantined from visitors so residents and workers can connect with family and church services.
- Create “Covid-19 Kits” filled with toilet paper, hand sanitizer, dried goods, and the like; distribute the kits in low-income neighborhoods.
- Launch a website aimed at caring for the community (e.g., covidcare757.com; 757 is the area code). Focus on sharing encouraging Scripture verses, the gospel, and offers of assistance, and take prayer requests.
- Organize the church into “triad” groups (three households in each) and train them to focus on caring for each other as well as witnessing and meeting needs in their neighborhoods.
These are certainly challenging times with lots of uncertainties about what the future holds. We who know Christ have unchanging hope in the gospel and confidence He is working all this out for His sovereign purposes, for our good, and for His glory. Yet as leaders we must seize and maximize the open doors the Lord of harvest has given us—and mobilize our people for caring outreach. Praise God we have lots of online technologies to harness for the task.
Like the early church, we must boldly step into the challenge of caring for the vulnerable and sick. We must address the anxieties and fears of those ministering on the front lines of the epidemic, and comfort those dealing with the loss of loved ones. We must point them to the only One Who can deliver/rescue us. Our churches must be willing to take risks and prepare for what lies ahead.
Ken Davis (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is a church planting coach and church health consultant. He serves as an adjunct professor at Baptist Bible Seminary and formerly was director of Project Jerusalem.