by Greg Anderson and Brent Isbell
A few possibilities worth considering…
- Consider organizing neighborhood “prayer walks.” In your own neighborhood, as individuals or families, spend an hour walking through your neighborhood and praying for the households of your neighbors. Pray by name if you know them. Even if you don’t, pray for their health and well-being during this season. Go slowly, thinking about what’s going on in the lives of your neighbors. If you see people out, greet them from a safe distance. If it seems appropriate, inquire how they’re doing, whether they have needs. Afterward, spend some time unpacking what you saw and felt on your walk. Share with others you know are walking their neighborhoods too (maybe a Zoom debriefing session that would be encouraging for everyone).
- Consider follow-up ministry applications. Did you identify persons or families who need some help? Seniors who can’t get out to do their spring yard work? As a family, go mow and trim (great for teenagers, college kids). Don’t force anything on anyone. Practicing social-distancing, offer to help do yard work or clean-up. Offer to go to the grocery store for essentials. Think about an introductory script: “Hi, we’re the Isbell’s. We live right over there, and we were walking our neighborhood wondering about some ways we could help our neighbors. Is there anything we could do for you and your family?”
- Consider doing something meaningful for your church’s missionaries. So much of our focus these days is on our own inconveniences in our own backyards, but most churches sponsor mission workers all over the planet. Organize some ways to reach out to these men and women and families via technology. Think and ask about items to send them that would be particularly appreciated right now. What do you need? Pray with them via Zoom or FaceTime. This could be done within families/households or within congregations.
- Consider expressing thanks to essential workers. Think about some ways to express gratitude to those who are not able to stay home, those who put themselves and their families at risk daily. Health care people (doctors, nurses, hospital personnel) and first-responders are getting a lot of attention right now, so you might think about less-obvious members of your community who go out to work every day—postal workers, delivery people, store employees, the college student who bags your groceries… These people would appreciate a kind note, a small gift, maybe even some delivered pizza? Be creative. Use your gifts. This would be a great activity for involving children.
- Consider partnering with local schools. Right now, school is all online, but eventually (fall?) it will return—maybe with some significant changes—but it will come back. Reach out to local educators—superintendents, board members, principals, teachers—and ask some good questions about how churches can be part of the solution when schools begin preparing to return to the new normal. How can we support teachers and families this fall? Will everyone need masks (we might help make these)? Will volunteers be needed for sanitizing surfaces, etc.? Will school supplies be a big challenge for all these economically-challenged families? This seems like a ministry niche ripe with opportunities for partnerships and establishing meaningful long-term connections with the larger community.
- Focus on ways to support local business owners. Many local business owners are suffering terribly. Visit your local Chamber of Commerce’s website and forward a list of local businesses to your church. Encourage church member to purchase gift cards to help business bounce back more quickly. Start making a difference with your own church members who can pass blessings along to others. Go through your church database and gather every business owner’s contact information, website, and social media outlets and publish a business directory. If your members are helping other members who are business owners during this time, then those business owners are able to help their employees. Ask them to let other business owners who are not part of your church know what you are doing. If you cannot help financially, then commit to pray for them and for their employees.
- Consider a non-perishable food drive. But instead of setting up distribution on your campus, partner with local agencies that most likely have weary employees who are feeling a bit overwhelmed. Remember, they have changed their interactive protocol as well. If you can help alleviate burdens on their supply chain, then they are freed up to put more energies on safety, efficiency, and meeting the needs of those who are hurting. Reach out to local city/county officials and let them know how you plan to structure your food drive. Ask them to help coach you on protocol. We will not simply “flip a switch” and be back to business as usual. We will still need to practice safe ways to interact with others. You can add your health department’s blessing to your promotional materials which lets your community know you are a team player while also letting them know that you care deeply about the plight of those who are in need.
- Look for double blessing opportunities. For example, you can send a letter to church members with an enclosed pre-stamped return envelope that allows church members to mail in gift cards to local restaurants. The cards can even be used months from now by various ministries to help families who may be in a bind. Offer an opportunity for church members who may be cash-strapped to send thank you notes to first responders, those in the medical community, local officials, etc., and post those on your church’s website and other social media outlets as a way to say “Thanks!” to all those who put others before themselves during the pandemic.
- Engage local government elected and appointed officials. Consider reaching out to local government officials such as your city manager, mayor, or your city’s director of human resources. You can certainly inquire about opportunities to serve, but you can also simply ask questions like, “How are you doing? How can we pray for you personally? Are you aware of any employees who are having a hard time? Would it help if we brought over several grocery store gift cards you can give to frontline personnel?”
- Be the Church. Above all, prayerfully contemplate these “cup of cold water” opportunities as times for Jesus to receive recognition. This is not about branding the church – it’s about being the church. May God bless you in your efforts!