Leading the Church in the Face of Coronavirus

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How can the church provide timely and proactive leadership when there is no tried and true template? Bill Owen, a consultant and coach with the Center for Healthy Congregations, lists best practices, but more importantly stresses the importance of leaning in toward the challenge and into your values as the Body of Christ.


There’s no denying the stress in recent days surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak. The reaction has been fast and fluid — the Dow Jones dropping some 4,000 points in two days, the NCAA conference tournaments and March Madness cancelling, along with the NBA, MLS, university spring sports, Disney properties, and the list is still growing. No wonder we feel a bit off balance!

Emotions include anxiety, fear, worry, and sadness. Depending on where you live you may already find yourself in a community where neighbors have tested positive for the virus. We’ve not known days quite like these. Churches and their leadership are not exempt. Church leaders are scrambling to find footing, to bring timely and proactive leadership when there really is no tried and true template.

Simple reminders for church leaders

  • Move toward the issue(s) we face, not away from it. It’s healthier and more effective for all if leadership remains calm and confident as we address matters head on. Your congregation will thank you.
  • Be honest, humble, vulnerable as you move forward. Confess that together we will be building this plane as we fly it. We’ll need to be fluid and agile.
  • Connect with trusted colleagues, peer groups, and sister churches to “discover” and “test” what is working. Surf the web to check for best practices. Peer learning like this can serve us well.
  • Communicate clearly and often through various channels with your church family — online media, social platforms, personal email, text messaging, phone calls. You get the idea; more is better.
  • Engage and enlist others to join you, from ministry staff to lay leadership, as you connect with the church family and your partners in mission and ministry.
  • Reaffirm your mission. Lean into your values as the Body of Christ. As Simon Sinek would say, “Remember your WHY.” Be the presence of Christ to one another and to your neighbors.

A few best practices we are seeing among churches

  • Sunday Worship is being livestreamed and/or broadcast on Facebook Live. Church members are joining in live and “chatting” during the service to promote a sense of community. Laypersons are engaged, where possible, in the leadership and production of the experience. Engage your people to commit to joining together online during service and participate as a “virtual” worshiping community. It can be surprisingly rewarding.
  • Sunday School/Bible Studies groups may utilize social media to convene and connect. Many do so already. Be intentional about such opportunities.
  • Be sure to post ongoing and timely “updates” on your website. There is opportunity for access to resources, including links to Sunday worship, a password protected prayer list, and online giving.
  • Encourage small groups to care for one another via phone calls and texts. When we are not together it is good just to hear a friend’s voice or connect. Make a call to a fellow church member to check in on each other.
  • Ministry staff should determine the best manner to do pastoral care during this time. Clearly communicate this plan to the congregation regarding pastoral care visits/contacts in homes during this time, especially hospital and healthcare facility policies.
  • Some church offices are finding ways to remain open, even if modified from regular schedules or staffing. It is the hub of connection. If church offices do close, program telephone systems (if available) with clear and concise information related to church activities and events, as well as immediate contact information of ministerial staff members in the event of an emergency.
  • Pray for one another, your community, and our world. Remember those families directly affected by COVID-19 and the health professionals providing care, our government leaders, and the sick and most vulnerable.

God is our refuge and strength

The uncertainty of “transition periods” in the church’s life can be regarded as a kind of “wilderness” journey. It’s appropriate that it coincides with the Lenten season. This is a time for spiritual discernment, a time of prayer and fasting. Remember it is God who is “our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble.” (Psalm 46).

  • Face your fears with a bias of faith and hope.
  • Engage your assumptions with facts and the good reason God has given you.
  • Act on what we are learning from the medical and scientific professionals. Wash your hands; practice social distancing. Be a leader where God has placed you.
  • Release your fears to God. Pray, take this seriously, but don’t panic.

This article was originally posted to the website of The Center for Healthy Churches. Used by permission.

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About Author

Dr. Bill Owen is a Congregational Consultant and Coach for the Center for Healthy Churches. For 32 years, he was pastor of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Cross Plains, TN.


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