Smaller churches may not have as wide a slate of high-tech options, but could join congregations already livestreaming, or explore ways to conduct sermons or services on Facebook or other online platforms. (This might be particularly helpful for high-risk members who decide to stay home, even if the church remains open.)
For churches trying to decide how to respond, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention published an online article with suggestions and guidelines to consider.
The ERLC said local churches should consult closely with local officials to make decisions based on the relevant information and conditions in their areas. For those continuing to hold worship services, some basic advice includes:
- Don’t shake hands.
- Provide hand sanitizer throughout the building.
- Thoroughly clean before and after the service.
- Refrain from passing an offering plate. (Online giving is an alternative.)
- Consider how to mitigate health risks when handling the Lord’s Supper (including the possibility of postponing it for a time).
- Cancel church-wide meals, and consider canceling or postponing other non-essential meetings.
(To see the full list of recommendations click here.)
Churches should consider urging members at high risk of becoming seriously ill (including older people and those with underlying health conditions) to stay home. But one thing not to refrain from: ministry. That’s especially important for those members who might stay away from gatherings, or who become sick at home and need help.
Church leaders should stay in contact with vulnerable members, and make plans for how to help meet their needs if they grow ill or homebound. (Dropping off meals at doorsteps or consulting with family members about care plans are helpful steps to consider.)
In neighborhoods, church members should be aware of those perhaps unconnected to a church or other family members and consider ways to make sure they have the help they might need.
And Christians should pray.
As pastor Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist noted, it’s good to pray for God’s mercy, and that churchgoers will soon be able to meet again without the specter of unintentionally harming one another.
We have good Biblical ground to pray God will soon make that possible: The Scriptures teach He delights when His people gather, and that He’s made gathering a central part of our Christian growth and life. For many churchgoers, that’s what makes this mysterious virus particularly difficult.
But even for those separated from the church for a time, other Scriptures remind us: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”
—This story has been updated to clarify the number of weekly attendees at Christ Covenant Church.