The EFCA Central District is providing this guidance to church leaders regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19) to assist in determining appropriate responses to the issues related to the spread of this virus. This guidance is not to be confused with nor is it intended in any way to supersede competent medical advice.
Due to different size churches, not all guidance provided here will be equally applicable. The EFCA Central District covers a very large area, so geographical variances are expected.
This is an evolving situation. The guidance provided here may become insufficient to address circumstances that may arise in the weeks, days, or even hours ahead. Please check back as events develop.
Above all, as leaders of churches we want to convey calm while acknowledging the diverse concerns associated with this virus. There will be many opinions in your church and it is best not to appear to be “taking sides” but rather to be focused on ensuring the best health outcome for your congregation. Even in the midst of a situation like this, we can all trust the Creator of the universe who holds us in His hands, to have our best in mind as He carries us through. In trusting our Lord, be in prayer for those who are suffering and that God’s message of eternal life will shine through the challenges of the coming months.
4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
We hope these guidelines help you in managing through this situation. If you need additional help, please reach out to one of the Central District staff through our Contact Page.
Who should stay home?
The following are people considered high-risk for severe impact, even death, if they should contract the virus:
- the elderly
- the infirm
- those with compromised immune systems (this includes patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis, Diabetes, Heart Disease, being treated for Cancer, or any of a range of auto-immune diseases)
Anyone showing symptoms of the disease — this includes everyone, even children, volunteers, worship team, etc.
Anyone who has recently been in contact with someone with the disease, or who has been in a “hotspot” of the disease. Generally, people who have been traveling out of the country in the past 2 weeks should consider staying home.
Here are some general items to keep in mind as you address this situation in the church you lead.
- Use federal, state and local government resources, especially medical professionals, to inform your decisions regarding this issue.
- Make sure your information is properly sourced… don’t allow social media and even the news media to sway you with opinions. We are providing links to the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and your state’s medical authorities. If you have direct access to similar county or city resources, you should use those as well. Taking your lead from these organizations, as they make sense in your situation, is the best place to start.
- Try to avoid becoming an information source for the Coronavirus… best to steer people in your congregation to reliable government resources instead.
- Cooperate with government requests for social-distancing measures such as curtailing or canceling public gatherings. Be sure you know the actual request/requirement before taking action… mis-information is running rampant.
- Make sure you communicate expectations to your congregation… speak key information directly to the congregation at the beginning of your services, as they enter the church building (verbally or with signs) along with your normal channels of communication.
- Know who has the authority to cancel services and other activities. Most churches in our district know this already due to the impact of severe weather, but it doesn’t hurt to remind and be sure that the identity of the decision-maker(s) is clear to everyone.
- Give yourself permission to make a decision to support people’s health and safety even though some may think your decision was unnecessary. You won’t be able to please everyone – so don’t try. Make the best decision you can under the circumstances and stick to it.
- Consider giving social-distancing instructions to people beforehand. This is a good reminder and gives people “permission” to not shake hands or otherwise touch other people.
- Provide hand sanitizer everywhere. Encourage people to use it.
- Have a communication plan to provide up-to-the-minute information about church services and programming and tell the congregation to use it. This will allow you to make last-minute decisions if needed.
- Avoid any opportunity for people to touch something that others have touched … suggestions on common items in this category can be found below.
Let the congregation know that the church’s expenses continue even though services and programming may be cancelled or curtailed. It is okay to let people know that they can still give tithes and/or offerings by mail and electronically and that the church needs people to continue their regular patterns of giving despite virus-related closures to maintain cash flow.
Consider what other churches in your neighborhood are doing and why are they doing it. This is a good time to reach out to the leaders of surrounding churches to establish stronger relationships. Just because a nearby church has cancelled services doesn’t mean you should, but it’s good to know that it happened and why it happened.
Pastors – have someone every Sunday on standby to preach a decent sermon or lesson should you become ill.
Common items to protect from sharing
Don’t pass common items throughout the congregation. Do things differently and explain why. Here is a partial list of disease carriers that you should consider not using during this or any other health crisis.
- Offering plates or buckets. Consider collecting offerings as worshipers enter or leave.
- Communion plates and common bread or cups. Consider having those that can walk to a table to pick up individual communion elements. You can use two thimble-sized cups with a piece of bread in the bottom cup and the wine/juice in a cup nested in the bread’s cup. You will need to individually serve the infirm. If this won’t work, consider one or a few people serving the congregation as opposed to serve-yourself.
- Door knobs and panic bars on exit doors. Consider having someone at the doors throughout the service to open them for people that enter or leave.
- Food utensils. Avoid serve-yourself buffets or food lines. We recommend not sharing food if possible during this time. If you must serve food, do not let people serve themselves. Have designated food servers place items onto people’s plates. Avoid refilling dirty cups or plates. This includes that coffee service on the patio.
Compassion in the Midst of Chaos
Here are some ways that churches can show compassion toward those affected by this virus and the effort to slow its spread.
- The elderly and infirm are particularly high-risk populations. Especially if we encourage them to stay home, and if they do, someone reaching out to them to ensure their safety would be a blessing. Some may need assistance with groceries or the like if they feel they should stay indoors and away from activities such as shopping.
- If someone in your congregation contracts the virus, consult with family members and medical professionals about what, if anything, you should do to care for them. Cooperate with epidemiologists if contacted regarding quarantine or sanitation issues.
- Some in your congregation may suffer a short-term financial crisis as a result of loss of work or business-related income. Let people know who to contact should they require financial assistance.
The following links should be used as appropriate to your situation.
Federal and International Resources
- Centers for Disease Control: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- World Health Organization: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak
- State of South Dakota Department of Health: Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates and Information
- State of Iowa Department of Public Health: Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- State of Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services: COVID-19 Outbreak
- State of Arkansas Department of Health: COVID-19
EFCA and Church Related Resources
- EFCA Special Update: COVID-19 (Coronavirus)
- ReachGlobal Crisis Response has prepared guidance for churches
- CDC Guidelines for Places of Worship
- Coronavirus and the Church: Trusted Resources for Churches from Leading Experts
- Best Online Giving Platforms for Churches
- ECFA Resources on Coronavirus
- Live Streaming for Churches: Industry Standards and Best Practices
- A Concise Coronavirus Guide for Churches