By Thom S. Rainer
I have the opportunity to work with 1,600 church leaders at Church Answers on an ongoing basis. They are an incredible blessing to me. I mentor 30 of those leaders in one-on-one meetings. Justin Gatlin is the pastor of Alvin Missionary Baptist Church in Alvin, Texas. He is one of the 30 men I mentor personally. He sent me an update on his church’s proactive work to address the pandemic. It is a great example of one leader tackling these challenging times with both faith and works. His church has an average attendance of 200. They only had 115 the week before they canceled worship services. With one exception, I am including the totality of his email with his permission. The only area I did not include was the church’s financial contingency plans.
Hey Dr. Rainer,
I just wanted to touch base on the coronavirus response I am working through and looking for your feedback. We have currently canceled the next two weeks of services (we have two confirmed cases in our town of 27,000, and the county has only performed 15 tests, 8 of which are pending, so we are anticipating a lot more). Our mayor has declared a state of emergency and banned gatherings of over 50, with a $2,000 fine. Our city secretary told me that we could meet as long as we stayed below 50% capacity (what they are recommending for restaurants), but I think for the time being it is a bad witness and unwise. We will reevaluate in April.
For worship: I am obviously doing live streams. A member of our church secured watchambc.com for me, which gives us something simple to run on our signs. We are simulcasting to Youtube and Facebook Live. For Sunday evening and Wednesday night, I am streaming it from my office. I am trying to be creative and take advantage of the format. Next Sunday night, I will be interviewing a couple that just got back from a mission trip in Belize, and tonight I am doing an “Ask Me Anything” discussion. For Sunday morning, we will still have the band (3 songs instead of 4) and a full sermon. Several of our small groups are going to be meeting via Zoom. Our kids’ director is helping me create handouts to align with the Sunday sermon that kids can work on at home (a word find based on keywords, drawing a picture about the main idea, etc).
For communication: I have deployed Flocknote and have been using a blend of texts, video, emails and posts on our website (alvinmbc.com/covid19) to keep people updated. I asked for volunteers to make one phone call a day and have 26 people each calling one household. That lets every household get one call per week, and widows and the sickly twice a week. They are visiting briefly, offering to pray over the phone and reporting any concrete needs or major prayer requests back to me to follow up. Our deacons are also each staying in touch with their normal care lists, and small group/Sunday school leaders are doing the same. I am hoping this maintains a tight community during the break and keeps me freed up to focus on the people who need focus.
For community service, our food pantry is active, and we are letting people pick-up food or we are offering to drop off food at their door. I am evaluating other options, but the school district and city are both restricting themselves pretty tightly to prevent the spread of the virus. I personally, like several of our members, am trying to help with online tutoring for the kids out of school.
What do you think? What am I missing?
PS: I am praying for you:
Heavenly Father, I am asking for your special protection and guidance for Dr. Rainer. His platform is so large that he has the potential to guide so many in their response to this virus. I pray for his health and that of his family at this time and for the health of those like Amy, Jana, and Kevin, who will support his work. I pray that you will give him the words he needs to equip the equippers to lead our congregations through this, and take advantage of the unique opportunities of this moment, despite the unique challenges. I know that this virus is a scary sign of a broken world, but that death is dead and the victory is won. So I ask these things in the name of the risen Lord Jesus, Amen.