Christian organizations encouraged to ‘press in’ to ministry — not ‘shrink back’ — while finding solutions to stay safe and keep vital communications open
CHARLOTTE, NC — Churches, international and national ministries, Christian schools, rescue missions and a host of grassroots organizations are coping with “coronavirus shock” as they face unprecedented challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Churches, Christian missions and ministries everywhere have suffered a significant jolt and are urgently trying to figure out the best path forward, says Palmer Holt, founder and CEO of InChrist Communications (ICC), a North Carolina-based agency that helps Christian nonprofits navigate crisis situations. “But this is actually a pivotal moment. Now is not a time to shrink back, but the time to run toward the fight and show a panicked world that Christ is the hope they’re looking for.”
That message needs to be strategically and creatively communicated to key stakeholders, especially donors and supporters, the former newspaper editor and Fortune 100 media relations executive said. Holt’s firm helped international missions agency SIM successfully navigate the Ebola Crisis in 2014.
Across the United States and around the world, cancellations, lockdowns, travel restrictions and the era of “self isolating” have forced Christian ministries and churches to rapidly rethink the way they serve others. Many are refocusing and expanding ministry efforts, and thinking strategically how to keep vital communications open in the unforeseen crisis.
Many faith-based social services agencies that deal face-to-face with the public every day have already taken drastic action — curtailing programs, canceling missions trips, and putting special events on hold.
In the past few days, Serve Denton, a Texas-based church-run social services agency, has had to stop Bible studies in local nursing homes, fly 120 high school students back from a missions trip in Romania, and hastily set up church services via online live streaming because gatherings of more than 250 people were banned.
Communication is Key
“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of clear, strategic communications at times like these,” said Pat Smith, CEO of Serve Denton, located in Denton, Texas. “People want leaders, and leaders have to communicate what they’re doing.”
Meanwhile, faith-based rescue missions across the U.S. are seeing a negative impact on volunteers — crucial to their service delivery. “People are worried, and rightly so, about serving folks who don’t have regular access to sanitation facilities,” said John Ashmen, president of Colorado Springs-based Citygate Network, representing some 300 rescue missions and homeless shelters across North America.
“The people we serve are already in crisis, even without COVID-19,” Ashmen said. “One of the biggest potential problems is finding places for homeless people to be quarantined, if necessary.”
Christian schools across America and around the world are wrestling with mandatory school closures and the shift to online distance learning, said Larry Lincoln, spokesperson for the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI).
“It’s imperative that school leaders proactively engage in timely communication,” he said. “For many, life might seem currently unpredictable, but as believers it’s a perfect time to let the light of Jesus Christ shine through our words and actions.”
Doug Fountain is the director of Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH), an umbrella organization of faith-based healthcare workers across the globe.
“It’s vital to address any crisis early,” said Fountain, citing the importance of “clear and consistent” messaging. “All of us, especially under-resourced health ministries, are so focused on responding to the needs right in front of us. It’s a challenge to think about what could happen, but it’s a basic component of strategic planning,” he said.
With missions work around the world plunged into uncertainty, Missio Nexus, North America’s largest association of missions agencies and churches focused on global evangelism, has issued a coronavirus “contingency plan” for its members, urging them to “stay alert and prepare to respond appropriately as circumstances change.”
“It could be months before the full impact of the coronavirus crisis on world missions is known,” said Missio Nexus president Ted Esler.
Free resources to effectively communicate to stakeholders during the coronavirus outbreak — including a crisis communications checklist, courtesy strategy sessions and webinars — are available at https://www.