Many churches in my state are starting to reopen but with really strange requirements like RSVP, only sitting in certain locations, escorts in and out, and limits on attendees. I am encouraged that church families will start to gather again, offer collective praise and worship, and actively demonstrate their love for God and one another. But is that all there is to a church? My prayer is that churches have realized during lockdown and shelter in place that outside of a weekly gathering, there is so much that they can be doing. Here are just two examples:
Provide An Outlet For Prayer and Encouragement. The other day, I was getting gas and a woman who I had spotted earlier pulled up close to my gas pump and began imploring me to “call out to Jesus, to pray for my family and to ask for his protection and care. That Jesus was my only hope and answer for salvation.” She didn’t know that I already call out to Jesus and that I already trust him. It didn’t matter to her, driven by a sense of urgency for our world and the reality of a scary virus, she needed to proclaim what was most important to her.
The bottom line, people are still scared and freaked out and concerned. They may have lost their job, they may be banned from seeing their ailing parents, they may be trying to manage a broken relationship in the midst of shelter-in-place, and they have not seen close friends in months.
Churches should create prayer lines, or private Zoom forums for people to let out their frustrations and have a caring, loving person listen. They could throw together a small prayer garden with some benches and flowers to let people just come and sit in a tranquil location. Churches can’t assume that everyone is managing this time well. They need to be creative to help those who are urgently seeking answers and are scared and uncertain.
Open Up A “Business” Center. I am the director of a college library and as we started to open the group of people who most wanted to be in the library were not just students but community people who are desperately trying to navigate job applications, resume building, unemployment benefits, and form after form. They may be lacking the toner ink or the paper or the quality wi-fi to manage all that they are needing to do to provide for their family and survive the next year.
A church could make a room available in their building with a few donated computers, a printer, good internet, a smile, and some coffee for community people who are desperate to handle the frustrating hassle of what comes next. Sure, be safe, make people set an appointment, screen people, wipe down everything. But, offer a basic service that would be quite simple to provide and manage.
COVID-19 has helped us all rethink how we work, teach, worship, and be a family. Let it also help us rethink how to be the church and serve our church family and the needy people outside the church walls.