Last summer, pastors revealed their top concerns to LifeWay Research. And as COVID numbers have taken yet another recent spike, those concerns still remain—perhaps even magnified. Those top concerns included: maintaining unity, pastoral care from a distance, the safety and well-being of members, personal exhaustion, and wisdom/direction.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how much control we actually don’t have. Yet, at the same time, COVID and its domino effect provides an opportunity for churchgoers everywhere to step up to the plate and participate in the ministry assigned to their local church.
Here are three ways we laypeople can minister to the needs and help assuage the concerns of those who lead us.
Help your church leadership with congregational care.
Take care of each other. Reach out to one another. Call. Text. Email.
These are the messages I’m getting from my church leadership. In fact, before he began his sermon on a recent Sunday, my pastor asked the congregation to do these very things. The next night, on a Zoom call with the discipleship pastor and other community group leaders, we heard the same messaging.
My church leaders aren’t alone in their concerns. And with the recent COVID spikes necessitating virtual or otherwise adapted ministry, the concerns remain.
Pastoral care is a legitimate challenge. And your church leaders can’t do this alone. There are people beyond the church staff who can share this load: lay leaders, volunteers, and even regular attenders. Here are a few specific ideas for you to be an extension of your church leadership—to both advance discipleship efforts as well as keep those members on the fringe engaged during a season of distance.
1. If you’re a group leader (or even a member), pursue your group members.
This one is the most obvious, but it’s worth stating because it’s easy for group leaders to get tired and unfocused. As I mentioned above, the person on our church staff tasked with leading group discipleship efforts stressed the importance of reaching out to group members to keep them engaged.
This can look several different ways. It goes beyond making sure they show up to virtual or in-person small group. It means calling or texting weekly—especially those who aren’t showing up each week like they may have done before COVID changed everything. It may mean involving them on making decisions about how your group operates going forward; people tend be more engaged when they have some form of ownership.
Sometimes, it means visiting them personally—at a safe distance (preferably outdoors, should weather permit) and if they feel comfortable doing so. Like most groups, the one my husband and I lead would have typically had a Christmas party. This wasn’t possible, so we brought the Christmas party to them. We packed up the car with homemade treats and dedicated a Sunday afternoon of driving to each member’s home (with their permission), delivering the treats, and having some face time with them in their driveway or from the sidewalk leading up to their porch.
Yes, an effort like this takes a lot of time. But it’s well worth it. You’ll likely find it’s at least as life-giving for you as it is for your group members.
2. Keep new people in mind.
There have been numerous reports of transience since the pandemic entered our society. Lots of people have moved. Depending on where you live and minister, there are likely some new people who have visited your church—whether physically or virtually. There’s a couple in our group who just moved to town in July. When we visited them that Sunday afternoon in December, it acted as relational glue to these newcomers who barely know anyone in town, let alone at our church.
Have each of your ministry areas nominate a few people to make connections with new people. If you’re like our church, there are likely new people in your groups. Make sure these new folks are singled out and connections are made. Being new to a city or community is daunting enough; it’s compounded by moving in the middle of a pandemic.
It’s critical that we engage with the new people the Lord has brought into our midst.
3. If you’re a parent, reach out to other parents.
Everyone is wrung out to some degree from the past year of pandemic challenges. Among those are certainly parents. Parents have had to adjust the way their households are managed, depending on the educational structure their children’s schools have chosen.
When a family seems to grow distant or check out of church life—especially during this pandemic—it could be a sign the parents are feeling overwhelmed. Parents “get” other parents, and it could be that families are more connected with one another than the church leadership is in touch with them. This could simply be due to having their kids and teens in the same school, activities, etc. Be a touchpoint between the church and families who have fallen by the wayside during the last ten months. You, more than anyone, understand the struggles of the “fringe” families. Offer an empathetic word of encouragement and prayer.
This is by no means an exhaustive list; there are untold relational and discipleship needs in your church. Whether it’s group members, area newbies, families—or other groups like singles or the elderly—you still have a vital role to play in their lives, regardless of the distance.
Giving has certainly taken a hit since COVID-19 has ravaged the world. Churches have felt the brunt of the dip. In a recent survey of Protestant pastors, nearly half (48%) of the respondents indicated the economy is negatively impacting their church. In that same survey, the pastors said giving for last year was at or below 2019 levels. Anecdotally speaking, I’ve heard about many churches having not only hiring and salary freezes, but also having to make painful budgetary cuts to accommodate the giving decline they saw amid the pandemic.
If at all possible, please continue your financial support of your church. Between many givers being economically impacted by COVID and many tuning in online and therefore adopting an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality when it comes to the offering, it’s easy to understand why churches are struggling financially. If you are still attending your church services virtually, consider setting up regular online contributions to your church (if it’s set up to receive them). This one act of mindfulness can go a long way—not just for meeting the church’s financial needs, but also for encouraging the church leadership that their congregation is still invested in the mission.
Pray continually for your church leaders.
Most pastors and church leaders I know are living out the hardest season in their ministry. And this goes beyond the church office; it can (and does) spill into the home. They need your relational and financial investments, but they also need your prayers. Not only are they working harder than ever to compensate for COVID-related shortcomings; they’re also tasked with leading in what seems to be one of the most politically and ideologically divisive seasons in our lifetime.
Will you plead for provision and strength on their behalf? Here are a few ways one pastor said he and his counterparts need prayer. Consider using that guide or perhaps this one to pray for your leadership the next time you meet with your Sunday School class or small group.
Our pastors and church leaders need us more than ever. And when we invest ourselves in ways that not only build up a struggling church, but also encourage our hardworking, faithful ministers, we can find ourselves in a stronger church when this pandemic, Lord willing, is behind us.