On March 23, I tweeted: “What is your church doing to reach out to the local community, the poor, and the marginalized during this time, while maintaining social distancing?” Responses have been encouraging and creative.
Scores of churches were represented by pastors, leaders, and members regarding their involvement in some version of food pantry, soup kitchen, or delivery to those in need. Most noted explicitly of their efforts to maintain social distancing. More than a few adjusted their ministry to offer to drop off groceries or supplies as people drove to them, while others delivered meals or food. Some provide the food as a church, while others encourage their community to pitch in.
Derwin Gray, pastor of Transformation Church in Charlotte, has led his church to provide food in a specific context: they provide weekly food boxes for 325 families in the Indian Land area.
But this is not something done only by large, urban churches. @scotteastman said his church bought hundreds of boxes of Cheerios to give to families driving through school meal pickup lines.
Pastor @matthewrstjohn from @NewHopeChurchMN gave a very encouraging testimony: @hayesplace said his church has volunteers coming in two-hour shifts of six people each to pack food boxes and deliver them to the elderly and immune-compromised in their area. @ypastorwolf serves in a farming community where they carefully provide fresh eggs, fruit, and vegetables for those in need. @jASONhAAGARD73 represents many who started a pantry in response to COVID19, in this case out of his own office.
Last year we gave out over 140,000 pounds of food to over 2,000 families from our community. Right now, we have many, many new faces–people coming for help. We have designed a drive-up scenario, two lanes (think @ChickfilA), and we are bringing the groceries out to the cars. . . On top of this, we have identified over 150 shut-ins from our church family and community to whom we are delivering care packages with two weeks’ worth of groceries and hygiene care products.
Pastor Matthew commends the outreach director of the church, Cassie Davison-Bair as well as the many volunteers. Green River Memorial Baptist Church offers the creative approach of purchasing carry out trays for their local soup kitchen since they can’t currently do dine-in.
There are encouraging personal stories as well. We all know about the toilet paper wars going on out there. @Sdavidgiles has a teenaged son who works at a grocery store. An unemployed young lady came by to get toilet paper, but the store was out. This son had purchased some earlier, so he went to his car and gave it to the young lady and prayed for her. The multiple stories of individual care we are seeing during the pandemic are exciting to see.
A number of churches are providing a variety of helps in their community. @AlmanME in rural Maine has offered to host and stream funerals for local funeral homes in the area, joined with other area churches to provide food to those quarantined, and assist with food distribution. @meredithsnoddy tells how her church provides meals for the women’s shelter, donations to the men’s shelter, diapers to the pregnancy care center, meals to doors, and provide a space for law enforcement to eat their meals.
A number replied about their specific focus on caring for the vulnerable or those with specific needs. @bristenz says her church called everyone over 70, got their grocery list, ordered and hard the groceries delivered to their home. @jasonbrowning23 tells us his church is specifically dropping off groceries to seniors and the immune-compromised. Some churches have taken over ministries that have been discontinued currently in their area such as meals on wheels for seniors or school lunches.
We are used to seeing political signs in yards, but Lake Pointe Church near Dallas, Texas, has taken a different approach to signage. Lake Pointe, a large multisite church, is providing food for specific areas where food programs have been shut down, a blood drive, and other efforts. In addition to this, many of their members are putting signs in their yards. The signs say: “Self-Isolating? I can help! Contact me”: With the member’s name and number on the sign. This way people in their neighborhood can call them directly for help. (photo from @howertonjosh)
Some use a simple card (photo from @teddmjordan) that says, “Hello! If you are self-isolating, I can help.” It allows the church member to put their name and contact information and has a list of needs the person can check. It mentions the church member will remain socially isolated and leave any items on the doorstep. Churches also use both online technology and good old-fashioned printed cards to help in their area. Championforest.org offers a place for people to ask for help and receive it. Some mentioned Facebook pages or groups are helpful in connecting with those in need locally.
@garrettholmes forwarded a response he received from a similar card sent out into the community offering help. The response says, “Hi there, my family received your card offering help in our mailbox. I just wanted to say thank you for doing this for our community. Lately, I have lost my faith in God, but this was a nice reminder that he is still there.” Showing the love of Christ in a time of crisis opens up ways to share Christ we wouldn’t otherwise have had.
A number mention their work to provide care for medical and other workers in this season. @pastortoddg notes their church provides coffee for staff at their hospital and local banks. @NickVipperman’s church provides the ultimate: Chick Fila for nurses, doctors, and medical staff. @dan_eum mentions recruiting childcare workers for healthcare workers, and Crossing Church-Chattanooga provides meals for first responders and medical workers.
Finally, a few offer direct financial help as they can for things like rent. But they also note the difficulties of this in the current economic realities. @HeatherTDay says her church has been helping with rent, but “as time goes by this may become more difficult as budgets decline.” And, @Gary_spork is quite frank: “We’re making donations to local businesses and are compiling a list of restaurant servers and asking people to send a tip via their cash app at least once a week. We are being the church and it’s awesome. (and to be honest, we don’t even know if our church will survive this dilemma).”
We don’t know a lot about the future. But we know the Lord does, and he cares. And in the meantime, we are called to glorify him by serving others.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.