“The church has left the building.” We see this on church signs, hashtags, and t-shirt designs. It’s a great saying and an actual reality. I actually included some thoughts on it in my latest article on Religion News Service. But what are the most urgent things we can be doing as the church is scattered?
Here are ten things that you should have in place already—if you don’t, you are late and it is time to get going.
1. Leverage the Internet for your church.
Most churches already have services online, zoom or other technologies for small groups, and are using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and others for communication. Some make DVDs for shut-ins or department of corrections inmates with no wifi.
We have done a great job of connecting to our communities. This week, make a special effort to engage and invite everyone you know to click on the service, join your small group, or follow your church on social media. You may have an unchurched friend three states away and don’t know a church near them; for now, you can invite them to yours.
2. Do the same for the gospel.
Whatever your Internet tools—email, blogging, social media, etc.—this is the week to make much of Jesus. This is our time to show a hurting world the love of God that transcends a pandemic.
Here are a couple of specific things you can do: 1) Post your testimony of how you came to know Christ and how he is working in the middle of this crisis. 2) Do a post or email sharing the gospel. If you aren’t confident in doing that, you can say something like, “Jesus Christ changed my life; he gives me hope in a pandemic; and he loves you. Go here to learn more:” And click to a link like https://peacewithgod.net/ or https://thestoryfilm.com/.
3. Continue to stay in touch with your seniors or begin contacting them if you haven’t already.
Find out what needs they may have such as someone to pick up groceries or medicines for them.
4. Develop or use your current phone tree, group texting, or group email to reach out your church family.
Don’t just give updates to what’s happening; instead, give them encouragement and ideas of how they can be involved in the mission in times of social distancing. Don’t just inform, also inspire.
4. Encourage the church to touch base with neighbors.
Ask how they are doing and how you might serve them or pray for them. Many of us live such busy lives that we don’t know our neighbors. In a shelter at home setting like most of us face, a neighborhood walk is a relief, practiced with social distancing care.
You don't have to be like this guy, but you can talk to your neighbors on the street from a safe distance. Getting to know neighbors allows us to invite them to join our online services or small groups, and helps us develop relationship for when this is over. Suggest doing a neighborhood block party in the future when it is safe to do so.
5. Find ways to help in your area with food distribution.
There are still schools preparing meals, exhausted healthcare workers with little time to think about the next meal, and others overlooked just now.
6. Develop a prayer ministry for your community.
This is a great time to help your church see you are not just called to care for one another, but to your area. Some churches are setting up a 12-hour-a-day or a 24-hour prayer time for a week or more. Others have a place on their website for prayer requests. It could be as simple as encouraging your congregation to ask in every conversation this week how they can pray for whoever they talk to on the phone, online, or in person.
7. Create a culture of encouragement.
Ask your people to make it a point to encourage someone they normally wouldn’t each day this week. Write a note, send an email, make a call, send a text, or post on someone’s social media feed a word of gratitude for them or encouragement. A central figure in the Acts was Barnabas, known for encouragement.
8. Bring Scripture to the forefront.
Post Scriptures wherever you can. Many people are writing encouraging verses with sidewalk chalk in neighborhoods across the country. Put them online, add a meaningful verse to your email signature, have your children make a poster for the yard. We have so many negative messages right now, encouraging words from the Word matter.
9. Challenge your church to be bold in the gospel.
Our Surgeon General said that this week will be our Pearl Harbor, our 9/11. There may not be a better time in our lifetime to speak up for Jesus, to take a risk and tell everyone we can about the loving Savior who is bigger than this crisis.
10. Remind people of God’s love and goodness.
On my desk, in a glass case, I have a first edition copy of Jonathan Edward’s The Autobiography of David Brainerd—a meaningful gift from a close friend who knows of my love for missions to North America (the focus of my Ph.D. and most of my life’s work).
When Brainerd first preached the gospel to Native Americans through an interpreter in the 18th century, he wrote in his journal how he started by introducing them to “Christ’s merits, and his willingness to save all that came to him.” Several began to cry out in anguish, which puzzled Brainerd. He had not yet spoken to them about sin and its consequences.
Commenting on this, John Piper writes, “What Brainerd discovered is that the root of true contrition for sin is the awakening of joy in God. Savoring God precedes sorrow for falling short of His glory. It was a strange discovery: awakened pleasure is the essence of evangelical penitence.” This is a time to tell others—and to remind ourselves—of the love of Jesus Christ for sinners.
These things, and others, should be already on your mind and in your plans. If it is not, get them going now. Our world is ready and waiting for the good news of Jesus.
Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange Team contributed to this article.
 (1998-02-01). Christian Educator's Handbook on Spiritual Formation, The (Kindle Locations 1117-1122). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.