From the May-June Issue of Net Results Magazine

By Bil Cornelius

When word came down from state and local authorities banning public gatherings of ten or more people, the church needed to spring into action. The Bible calls us to corporate gatherings, to meet weekly in the temple courts and worship together. But it also calls us to honor the authority placed over us by God himself. At times like this, it might seem these two commands are at odds with one another. 

Throughout human history, the place of corporate gatherings has been the church building. But, we all know the church isn’t a building, it’s a body of people. And therein we find the key to all this: we don’t need a building or other large, physical space to be the church. 

Through the grace of God we live in an age where gathering together online is not only possible, it happens all the time. 

Here at Church Unlimited based in Corpus Christi, we’ve been asked by many how we’re navigating these uncharted waters of social distancing. Thankfully, Pastor Bill Easum and the folks at Net Results invited us to share the best practices we’ve found most helpful here, in one place for everyone to access. 

While the specifics may not work for everyone exactly the way we do them at Church Unlimited, we truly believe if you customize these four things to fit your church, your circumstances and your people, you will see your mission continue despite the restrictions of social distancing brought on us by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

1. Beef Up Your Online Presence. 

As a multi-site church, we’ve had an Online Campus for a few years now. What’s amazing is the weekly attendance, which places it as our second largest campus. Little did we know as this grew that God was positioning us to leverage this for our current season. Once we found out we couldn’t have in-person services at any of our physical locations, we immediately moved everything to our Online Campus. 

Having this ready-made virtual location ready to go was a huge blessing. However, we quickly discovered our Online Campus platform was getting overloaded with traffic, which increased tenfold in one weekend, so we had to re-tool the back side to allow for more visitors, more chat participants, more bandwidth. We made this priority one and now have a far more stable platform that can handle our projected Easter attendance and beyond. 

As we moved everyone to our Online Campus, we also expanded our Facebook Live, Instagram, and YouTube broadcasts. If you’re not well versed in using all these avenues, go find a smart teenager, they will guide you. In fact, we strongly suggest you loop in a team of “digital natives”, people who have only ever existed in a world with social media, cell phones, and instant internet access. They live in this virtual society every day and leveraging their experience and insight will help you immensely as you navigate this new world. 

2. Create a Help Hotline and Connection Point

All over the world, people are being fed a steady diet of negativity and fear through the news, media, and social media. Let’s face it, these can be scary times for many, particularly those who are already alone or struggling with other hardships. But, the church is the light of the world, the lamp on the hill. Give people an avenue to reach out to you to assist them and, most importantly, use that road to bring them hope. 

Seeing the elderly, infirmed, the shut-ins, single moms, and others in our communities who were most impacted by social distancing, we created a Google Voice phone number and an email address for them to contact if they needed help. From picking up groceries and prescriptions, to delivering meals or just taking time to pray with them, the Help Hotline has spread hope throughout our church and beyond. 

Once we had the structure in place, we began broadcasting the Help Hotline number and email during every one of our services. Through this and word of mouth, we’ve been able to step into the lives of dozens and dozens of families and show them the love of Christ. 

How it works: When someone calls into the Hotline, they speak with one of our Pastors who determines their needs, gets their contact information, and records it all before praying with them. We then take this information and send it out to all of our LifeGroups, via our database software, to fulfill. So far, every single request has been met quickly by a LifeGroup who embraces the chance to be the church for those who need it. 

The most rewarding piece of this: we’ve had more individuals and organizations call the Help Hotline offering to volunteer than we’ve had folks calling in for help. In times like this, people want to be a blessing to others – as the church we embrace the responsibility to help them do just that. 

3. Engage Your People More Through Social Media

With so many out of work these days, people all over the world are spending more time on Social Media than ever before. Knowing that our people can’t come to us, it’s a no-brainer that we have to go to them. We started multiple Social Media events at regular, set times, almost every day of the week. We have “Talk It Over Tuesday” where our Campus Pastors walk through a devotional live on Facebook and Instagram with their spouse. Our Lead Pastor, Bil Cornelius, shares an encouraging word with his wife on Tuesday and Thursday evenings on both platforms as well. Wednesdays, our Student Ministry offers up something fun and fresh for our middle and high schoolers. 

We created a web page detailing how our LifeGroups can continue meeting online. Not only was this embraced by our existing groups, but we’ve actually had our groups ministry grow during this time. As one of our Campus Pastors put it, “everything has become a LifeGroup. Our serving teams are meeting via Zoom as a LifeGroup, and we even have groups meeting digitally for attendees now as well. LifeGroups have kept us together through this season.” 

The underlying theme in all these is making it personal. We want our people to feel that one-on-one connection with their Pastors and other church attenders. We also want it to be interesting; something that adds value to their day and their walk with Christ. 

Through both the Online weekend services and weekday Social Media events, we direct people to online avenues for tithes and offerings. As they see the church still being the church, they’ll continue to support the church through serving with the Help Hotline and financially by giving, knowing they’re participating in God’s plan for our world. 

4. Church Staff Calling Everyone In Our Database to Pray With Them

When going through call lists, people often think if they get a voicemail, the job just got easier. For us, a voicemail is a fail. We want to make sure all of our people have had a personal connection with a staff member. We want them to know we love them, care for them, think about them, and most importantly, value them enough to give of our time. In a world where so many things just take and take, we believe the church should be giving generously until it hurts. You can’t out-give God, but we’re going to keep trying to do just that. 

A staff member who spends forty-five minutes on the phone with someone is literally changing their life – casting light into their circumstances and reminding them through and through who they are – a priceless child of God. 

What’s amazing about this is just what people will open up about over the phone that they might not in person on a Sunday morning in a busy church atrium. Others may not get the opportunity to share their burdens simply due to the busy-ness of pre-social distancing life. If we speak with, connect with and pour into everyone one of our people on a regular basis, that’s a major win not only for them, but for everyone they encounter. 

We’re believing God for a revival through this current season. But, we must prepare our fields before asking him to send the rains. While churches that are strong right now have been a blessing to their people for a long time, it’s never too late to start. We know God makes all things new. 

This too shall pass.

Subscribe to Net Results and get all the goods. This month’s Pandemic Issue includes:

  • The Question of Pivoting
  • Navigating the Uncharted Waters of Social Distancing
  • What Declining Churches are Learning About Doing Virtual
  • Virtual Bible Study
  • Four Keys that Unlock and Effective Staff During a Crisis
  • 101 Things You Can Do to Grow Your Church
  • Embracing the Virtual Message
  • Four Surprises from “Virtual Church”
  • Outreach: Virtual and Beyond
  • A Brave New (Scary) World
  • Embracing New Ministry Paths Beyond the Coronavirus Pandemic
  • Virtual Stewardship: COVID-19 Changes Everything
  • 48 Questions to Ask Before You Reopen Your Church
  • Doing Virtual Church