The following is an update to EFCA West’s initial Guidance on Addressing the Corona Virus distributed on March 12, 2020.
This continues to be a fluid situation with multiple layers of regulations and requests from governmental leaders and health officials at the world, national, state, regional and local levels. Church leaders are advised to continue to obtain current reliable advisories from the World Heath Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as their state, county and city health professionals.
The guidance provided on March 12, 2020, remains in effect. Here is some supplemental information and recommendations.
- Anecdotal information and targeted inquiries indicate that most EFCA West churches either cancelled services and public meetings last Sunday or will be doing so next weekend (March 21 and 22). The trend appears to be cancellation through the end of March.
- Churches of all sizes are providing worship service or preaching for their congregations on Sundays by live-streaming or posting prior recordings.
- Many churches are focused upon continuing small group gatherings during this time of social distancing taking into account the health condition and choices of small group participants. This may prove to be an important strategy for congregations to continue supporting and encouraging one another during this season when larger gatherings are not recommended or possible, especially if social distancing procedures remain in effect for a prolonged time.
EFCA West encourages church leaders to let us know about any tried and true actions that have worked well for them and also encourages pastors that may want to have a broader picture of what EFCA West churches are doing to do so by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now that the significant initial adjustments have been decided upon or already implemented, leaders should add to their focus two areas of responsibility that will soon emerge: Addressing the needs of people impacted by this event, and preparing to return to normal operations in the future.
MEETING THE NEEDS OF PEOPLE
The COVID 19 event will bring to light previously unanticipated needs among people and churches. Churches may find themselves facing needs they have not yet prepared for. Here are some things to consider now.
- It appears that many school districts are moving toward or have already cancelled classes. This is problematic for working families that depend upon their children being in class or school programs while they are working. When school is cancelled, families may not be able to continue work if they cannot make or afford other childcare arrangements. This will be an especially difficult issue in single-parent families and among working-class and disadvantaged communities.
- If laws and practicalities permit, churches may be able to provide limited childcare for families in need using church facilities and volunteers. Be sure to check with authorities to ensure that whatever you will be doing is legal and that your insurance allows for this type of activity.
- Churches may want to coordinate a childcare cooperative among their members by pairing those that need childcare with those willing to provide it, at least for the short term, in their home.
- As church members find work hours cut or eliminated due to business closures, churches will likely find that giving decreases leading to cashflow problems. Now is the time, before declining cashflow becomes a crisis, for church leaders to look at their cash on hand, giving trends, liquidity of savings and their expenses, including salaries, programs, fixed costs and discretionary spending, to figure out when, where, and how they will handle reduced giving. Consider creating separate plans for dealing with cuts of 10, 20 and 30 percent. Determine what circumstances will trigger spending curtailments. It may be wise to curtail discretionary spending immediately. It is always best to start this conversation prior to the sense of desperation that may arise further down the road.
- It is possible that churches may experience a significant increase in requests for benevolence funds, both from within the church and from their community. Again, it is usually best for leaders to make decisions about how to manage this potential increased demand for funds prior to it happening. We encourage churches, even in the midst of their own needs, to keep in mind the needs of others.
RECOVERY – GETTING BACK TO (THE NEW) NORMAL
The most neglected phase of disaster and crisis management is the recovery phase. We get so wrapped in the first three phases (preparation, mitigation and response) that we forget that we need a strategy for returning to normalcy after the crisis subsides or becomes normalized.
The best time to begin considering the recovery phase is now – immediately after the warp-speed of activities surrounding the initial crisis response. Events are slowing down some and leaders will have some time to reflect and consider what’s next.
It is important to note that people and organizations seldom return to normal operations after a significant event. Rather, they return to a “new normal” that includes long-term changes the crisis may have caused that cannot be ignored.
Some aspects of the “new normal” may be positive such as new knowledge and capabilities for live streaming and other new ways to communicate the gospel and impact lives beyond having people in our buildings, new relationships forged as a result of working together during the crisis and deepening of relationships within small groups.
Some aspects of the “new normal” may not be positive including the effects of illness and even death of congregants, one-time or ongoing financial difficulties for individuals and churches, failure of some programs or ministries to thrive again after the crisis, and unrecoverable losses in earnings for church staff and congregants that suffered cuts in pay or hours worked.
Here are some conversations church leaders may want to have as they consider the recovery phase.
Should we abandon or continue some of the things we did during the crisis? Discussion could include things such as:
- Continue or discontinue live streaming of services
- Changes in methods for collecting offerings and distributing communion elements.
- Changes in food service and sanitation procedures.
- To greet or not to greet? And, how to do it if we do it.
- Should we reinstate programs that were not previously thriving that were curtailed during the crisis?
What should we do during our first worship service after restrictions are removed? How will we address what happened and what is going on in the lives of our congregants?
What will church staff or ministry leaders need to do or need to acquire to restart the programs they oversee? How will we coordinate this effort?
Do we restart worship services and events at once or gradually?
What conditions need to be present for us to decide to restart on-site worship and events? Consider applicable laws, regulations, recommendations from public officials, community sentiment, ministry effectiveness, etc.
Since the threat of the spread of this virus will be ongoing, how will we limit its spread after worship services and events resume?
What spending curtailments should be continued? What is our revised anticipated level of giving? When do we signal the financial “all clear?”
Should we continue our interrupted sermon series or is there some other spiritual nourishment our congregation will need?
What spiritual health issues are people facing? Who is hurting and why? How might we address these needs?
What lessons are we learning about our leadership, structures and systems? What should we address now to improve in these areas?
As always, we at EFCA West are pleased to assist your leadership community in working through these and other issues. Please don’t hesitate to contact us individually or at email@example.com if you would like our assistance.