With the new restrictions and precautions for in-person gatherings due to the potential spread of the coronavirus, churches and ministries are finding new ways to reach their congregations and communities. It is important to find ways to keep people engaged and meet physical needs, even if it can no longer be done in person. Believers should seek to reassure people they are not alone as social distancing and quarantining continues.
Jason Burden, senior pastor at First Baptist Church Nederland, explained that the church’s mission is to meet the new needs of their community, adapt to the challenges ahead and provide community amidst the isolation.
“We're all afraid of what the effects of the virus can do, but I'm equally concerned about the pandemic of loneliness that we're going to experience,” he said. “We're trying to get people not to give in to the panic that's around them, but be appropriate in this time, be responsible in this time, and be faithful to God in this time. That's going to be a powerful witness in and of itself to the community.”
Below are some ideas that Texas Baptists ministries and churches are implementing to share God’s love during these challenging times:
Highland Baptist Church in Waco is in partnership with the Texas Hunger Initiative and the Waco school district to hand out nutritional meals every weekday that school is out during this health crisis. For kids, teens and families the closing of schools may mean that they miss out on important meals. To combat that, Highland is serving a drive-thru, grab-and-go breakfast and lunch to all children, ages 1-18. The child must be present in the car, and Highland has a 90-minute window for each meal to be picked up. Breakfast is served 8:00-9:30 a.m. and lunch is available from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. They are also giving out Bible coloring books, a resource page for parents and Bible stories, as well as offering prayer for families as they drive through. They doubled their distributed meals in the first three days, from 100 to 400, to better meet the growing needs of their community.
“Knock, Drop and Go” is a new ministry that Higher Expectations Church in Humble has launched this week to deliver meals on the doorsteps of families in need. Pastor Bryant Lee shared that the church has coordinated with local restaurants in the area to donate a freshly cooked meal for families of 4-6 people on Friday nights. Church members will pick up the meal from the restaurant and deliver it to a family, along with a box of groceries. They knock on the door, drop the food off and go, to minimize contact. In each box is also enclosed a note of encouragement from the church. Many of those whom the church is serving have recently lost jobs in the restaurant, hotel and retail industries and have become food insecure. On Monday, the church provided groceries to 30 families.
BSM staff and students at the University of Texas Arlington (UTA) are providing free, hot, grab-and-go lunches for the international students still living on the campus. Most American students returned home after the announcement that classes would be online for the remainder of the semester, but many international students were unable to return home, either because of travel restrictions or financial reasons. The campus dining options have closed, leaving these students, many of whom do not have vehicles, with limited sources of food. Because the UTA BSM has been engaging with international students all year, they have a large network connected to their ministry. The BSM asks the students to pre-register for lunch the night before so that they have adequate supplies, then the student can pick up their lunches the next day. Meals are available Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and local churches have volunteered their help as the needs continue.
Ashley Weir, Children’s Minister at First Baptist Church in Corsicana, recommended useful tips for fellow children’s ministers navigating online and remote ministry. Weir sees this time as an opportunity for parents to take ownership of teaching their faith to their kids. It is up to the church to equip those parents to do so. Weir recommended looking around to find the resources available. There could be teachers in a church’s congregation with activities and scheduling ideas, young people with strong technology experience and people willing to film Bible lessons for the children. She also recommends using social media, like Instagram and Facebook, to post and promote the resources a church makes available, in addition to putting everything on the church website or an email. The four most important components of designing these tools are to try to keep routine normal as possible, give parents tools to talk about the virus with their kids, equip parents to talk about and help their kids process their emotions and provide parents with additional activities and resources that are not church-related.
At Shearer Hills Baptist Church in San Antonio, the children’s ministry team is focused on making sure the kids are engaged and the parents are not overwhelmed. Stephanie Litzler, the kids’ minister, has sent out lesson videos, increased Facebook groups and utilized Facebook Live to ensure that families have easy access to Bible study content online. Looking ahead, Litzler hopes to put together activity bags and drop them off at their kids’ houses, waving at the kids through doors and windows to avoid any close contact while still making the children in her ministry feel loved. In order to help parents engage their kids in spiritual activities, Litzler has partnered with the church’s youth minister to create a family Bible study video series. This way, parents of children of different ages do not have to navigate multiple Sunday school videos and can instead enjoy a lesson together. Discussion guides are available with questions applicable to different age groups so that everyone in the family can get something out of the lesson.
With teenagers facing a long period of social isolation from their friends and classmates, providing a space for social interaction is a vital part of youth ministry. To help provide that, Kurt Krodle, minister to youth at First Baptist Arlington, and his team have conducted their usual Sunday morning and Wednesday night meeting times over Zoom, a video conferencing tool. The youth staff and students all join the video conference and can see each other. Zoom also allows the large group to break-out into small meetings, which Krodle uses for small group time. All the students join the group call to hear the sermon, then break into the smaller calls for discussion and prayer time. This time to see and talk to church staff and friends gives teenagers much needed social time and also allows them to retain a sense of “normal” as they meet with their usual small groups at their normal meeting times.
Krodle explained that this is a unique time to emphasize spiritual growth within the family. Now, he and his team are working on creating resources for parents to take an active part in ministering to these teenagers in uncertain times. They are also continuing to look for more ways to give teenagers the social interactions they need for their emotional and spiritual well-being. Krodle encouraged other youth ministers to provide their students with chances to interact with their peers and retain a sense of routine.
In addition to live-streaming and engaging on social media, Senior Pastor Jason Burden of First Baptist Church Nederland has emphasized reaching out to people that may not be present on social media. Many of the people at heightened risk during this pandemic are not socially engaged electronically and do not have social media accounts. So, Burden and his team are incorporating “old-fashioned” strategies, like calling people individually and sending out letters. They are also exploring radio broadcasting their sermons. Almost anyone can find access to a radio, even if it is just in their cars, and older generations without social media can listen to the sermons and continue to receive spiritual nourishment.
“You don't want to absolutely run it on social media or email,” Burden said. “You want to pick up that old-fashioned telephone and give them a call so that you can pray for them.”
Overall, Burden emphasized making the church accessible to everyone to combat the loneliness and fear many people are battling, and in particular, being creative to reach out to those who may be especially high risk.
While the amount of time the country will be impacted by the current pandemic is uncertain, the need for ministry is ever-present.
“Even in this crisis, we have the most important thing to offer people - hope in the Gospel, hope in God,” said Lee. “We want to make sure, beyond all of the tangible things, that we are offering that which is eternal. Take the time to point people back to Jesus. God is still sovereign and in control and none of this has caught Him off guard.”
For more resources, visit the Texas Baptists Covid-19 Response Page.