Coronavirus and Your Church

By Thom S. Rainer

At the time of this article, we really have no idea if coronavirus will become a pandemic or if we have it under control. Though I tend to be optimistic about it, there are certainly perspectives on both sides of this issue.

You who are leaders in churches, though, need to begin thinking about how your church should respond right now rather than later. By the way, I am grateful to the community of Church Answers. Many in our community are having very helpful conversations about this issue even as I write this article.

Though my suggestions are not comprehensive, I do think they provide solid guidelines to follow at this very moment.

  • Focus on prayer instead of panic. Remind your congregation that God is in control. Encourage them to pray for the cessation of the disease. Ask them to pray for the victims and their families. Encourage them to pray for the gospel to go forth boldly in the midst of this trial.
  • Develop a communication plan. For example, if someone in your church or community is stricken with coronavirus, be prepared to respond. Will you have services or not? If you do not have services, how long will this period be? How can people remain connected to your church?
  • Be prepared to offer digital worship services and Bible studies. If your church does not offer the streaming of services on the church website, Facebook live, or some other means, now is the time to move in that direction. Make certain you can have digital services even if you can’t gather for a season.
  • Aggressively encourage people to use digital giving. If you can’t gather and pass the offering plate or bucket, you need to be prepared to offer mechanisms for your members to give. You should be making this move regardless of coronavirus. It certainly helps giving when attendance is lower.
  • Develop a plan to help church members and community members. If the situation does worsen, there will be people in your area in need of help and in need of basic supplies. How will your church respond? 
  • Consider current church practices that might be harmful for spreading coronavirus or other diseases. Though my bias against it is obvious, now is the time to consider bringing the traditional “meet and greet” to an end. In some of your churches, you might consider other changes. I was in a church a few years ago that shared a common cup. No way.

I remain more hopeful than panicked about coronavirus. Still, there is no reason for churches to be unprepared. Prepare for the worst and pray for the best.

Posted on March 2, 2020

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Faith over fear! Satan would love to see the Church ceasing to meet. James 5:14-15 “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.”

    • Craig Giddens says on

      1 Timothy 5:23 – Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.

      2 Timothy 4:20 – … Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick

  • Another thing that would help: from the pulpit, please stress that if you feel unwell DO NOT ATTEND CHURCH. Actually, this is important even without the coronavirus. We have family members who must take meds that lower immunity. If I hear one more person intone piously “I have a cold/fever/sore throat/bronchitis but I figure I can feel bad here in church just as well as at home. Haven’t missed a service in *** years” I could lose my witness and do bodily harm, since they are inflicting possible death on my loved ones.

    Coming to church sick may very well be committing murder.

  • Billy Dowdy says on

    I agree we should not panic and that we should pray for certain, but while we are praying our senior adult church is Taking precautions by implementing a no contact policy until we get the all clear…no hand shaking, no hugging, and no fist bumping…we will be encouraging smiling and speaking to one another .and we are providing hand sanitizer as on enters the church building

  • In addition to being a pastor, I am also a pharmacist. We hold health moments twice a month. I normally don’t do health moments on the 1st Sunday because of communion, however, because coronavirus was constantly in the news, I explained the disease and gave people preventative things they can do. We also encourage people to take the flu shot and seniors the pneumonia vaccine. Our seniors are the ones at risk and if you don’t feel that you have the qualifications to take about these issues, empower the health professionals in your church to inform the congregation.

  • Thanks Thom for a very insightful and practical post. I am encouraged by the fact that I am one of the pastors at a church already positioned to be able to follow these recommendations.

    After reading this, I immediately shared it with both our senior pastor and head elder.

  • Eric Luedtke says on

    Thom, there are some great points here to consider about communication, digital giving, the use of digital delivery for those who can’t gather together. Congregations in the snowbelt should theoretically have an advantage as these are similar things we would want to think about when weather prevents us from worshiping together. I used Facebook live a few weeks ago after driving on snow-covered roads, I encouraged our congregation to consider their safety first, then offered a short summary of the message I would preach in worship – I got a LOT of positive responses from people who were glad to feel they “didn’t miss out” if they weren’t able to join us in worship.

  • Dr. Rainer, there is a lot of misinformation out there. I have 30 years in healthcare and ministry. I would like to share some things for you to distribute but only after reviewing them with you.

    Thanks for addressing this situation,

    Rev. Billy Tingle, RRT, MBA
    Marksville United Methodist Church

  • David Donahue says on

    Thom, thanks for your post. You always offer excellent advice. I just returned from a trip to Israel. Their leaders are taking the coronavirus very serious. A large group from South Korea was quarantined at Ben Gurion airport. Flights from Italy, South Korea and China were cancelled. If a nation is taking it that serious, perhaps churches need to consider it as well. Church leaders need to think about the topic and you set a good precedent as to how we might better approach it. Gracias amigo!

  • Let the church not panic but pray. I am told that the disease is passed through droplets sneezed. Members, especially those infected if known could perhaps be advised to control their sneezing responsibly to prevent the spread. OTHERWISE WE ALL NEED TO FORSAKE OUR SINS AND THE SINS OF OUR NATIONS TURN TO GOD ,REPENT AND PRAY
    2 CHRON 7;14

    • Craig Giddens says on

      “Let the church not panic” … yet you finish with ALL CAPS indicating panic.

      2 Chronicles 7:14 was written to the nation of Israel for the nation of Israel.

      Try Philippians 4:6-7 or Colossians 1:9-10.

      And sneeze responsibly?

  • Louie Salazar says on

    How about the flu? 280,000 Americans have been hospitalized this flu season and 16,000 have died. Maybe we’re pushing the panic button just a tad early?

    • Completely agree brother. Psalm 91:10

    • Priscilla says on

      Or, 280,000 Americans have been hospitalized this flu season and 16,000 have died. Maybe we are pushing the proactive button just a tad late. Thankfully we are having a healthy discussion of ways we, as the church, can be prepared to be the church when virus’ or other issues strike close to home. Anyone else have constructive ways we can keep our congregations engaged if a natural or health disaster strikes?

  • Pastor Victor sasetu says on

    I that’s what the church need to do at time of out break of corona virus, not need to panic God is in control.

  • Paul Lutz says on

    Some good ideas to think about Thom. But your outright dismissal of common cup is not based on science. Please consider

    • Craig Giddens says on

      “Common cup” is a man made tradition, not a Biblical command.

      • That’s fine Craig. I believe the original comment was about the misinformed “uncleanness” of the common cup and the spreading of disease.

        I would say that individual mini glasses of wine or grape juice is a man-made construct too.

      • Craig Giddens says on

        There are no exact instructions as to how to participate in the Lord’s supper. It could be a “common cup”, individual mini glasses or each person bring their own cup from home. In the context of the topic it would be wise to do the more sanitary option.

      • I disagree. My church doesn’t use the common cup, but that is probably what Jesus and the disciples used at the Last Supper. It more accurately captures the symbolism that Christ intended.

        We use separate cups because it’s more sanitary, but the common cup is definitely more rooted in Scripture.

      • Craig Giddens says on

        So is getting baptized in a river.

      • So are you making your argument on the basis of practicality or on the basis of Scripture? I agree that using separate cups is more practical than a common cup, but don’t tell us a common cup has no basis in Scripture. It most certainly does.

    • Matt Haehlen says on

      It sure looks like your comprehension of God’s Love, Care, and Promises is based upon pragmatic self considerstions, with Faith tacked on at convenient places that “seem to make sense.”

      Is this correct?

    • Pastor J says on

      I think the point of him saying not to use a common cup is to help prevent the potential of spreading the disease.

      • The problem is the science doesn’t back up the assumption. A person in church is more likely to be infected from shaking hands with someone or being sneezed on than from the common cup.

        While it may be prudent to not use a common cup to protect us from ourselves, people who attend church when they are not well; or to remove the common cup to drive home the preventive measures. But using a common cup does not expose a person to more virus than using individual mini-cups.

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