If you think back to last year this time, it is almost certain that you would not have been able to imagine what was to come in 2020. Apart from the basic health risk posed by COVID-19, church leaders have had to equip themselves to lead resourcefully while navigating a wide range of pastoral demands. In light of this, we’ve gathered some ideas to help you to keep your church community strong and encouraged.
- Services. While churches have been permitted to gather subject to certain precautionary restrictions, many have chosen not to. Online gatherings have become the norm with platforms such as Facebook Live and Zoom being heavily relied on. However, many congregations in South Africa have limited or no digital access. With over 88% of South Africa’s population being reachable by radio, find out what radio stations in your areas broadcast Sunday services, and encourage your congregants to tune in. Where congregants have smartphones, consider recording voice note sermons on your phone, and send these out to them.
- Community. More than ever it is important for people to know that they are not alone in their struggles. Where it is geographically possible to do so, encourage the creation of smaller groups that encourage and care for one another. Where smartphones are prevalent, Whatsapp groups are a useful tool. As a leader, share devotions and practical tips via these Whatsapp groups. Where congregants do not have smartphones, you can encourage the formation of nuclear groups that combine schedules to take public transport, collect grants and do shopping together to create a space for on-the-go fellowship. Depending on cultural norms of your congregants, exercising or hiking together (in adherence with regulations) also creates the opportunity to spend time together. Encourage younger, able-bodied members of the community, and those with transport, to assist with collection of medication and doing errands for vulnerable community members. You may even arrange a stipend for unemployed young people from your congregation to assist in this way.
- Pastoral care. Death, sickness and job losses are unfortunately much more prevalent now. A church with a strong community mindset may be more likely to support each other well so an emphasis on this is helpful. Whatsapp prayer groups or SMS prayer chains are powerful tools provided they are administered well (broadcast messages may be more suitable in certain instances). Encourage leaders in the church to reach out to members who may be particularly vulnerable. Have a Whatsapp/ SMS/ ‘please call me’ system available for congregants to call in emergencies and publicise the number. Click here for more resources.
- Resources. Equipping congregants with practical, trustworthy information to help themselves is important. You can share links to helpful resources via e-mail newsletters, social media channels or Whatsapp groups/ SMS. Where such resources cannot be accessed digitally, and a print-out for each congregant is not viable, consider printing resource lists and placing them in central locations such as spaza shops and clinics frequented by congregants. Visit the South African Council of Churches’ resource page for helpful information.
- Self-care. There is a higher likelihood of burn-out amongst those who care for others during this time. Allow yourself and your staff time to ensure that you can be spiritually, physically and mentally replenished. Establish a trusted support network for prayer and debriefing. Do not be ashamed to seek psychological support. Click here for a helpful resource.
We would love to hear from you with any creative ideas you may have for pastoring your congregation well during this time. Let’s strengthen and support each other.