Keeping Congregations Connected: Strategies and Tools for COVID-Related Outreach

By the Rev. Ken Howard

Keeping Congregations Together in the Face of COVID19 is a blog series on strategies and tools for doing and being what God is calling your congregation to be and do in the current pandemic.
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How can our congregations do effective outreach while the COVID pandemic makes social distancing necessary?

How can our congregations contribute to controlling the Coronavirus?

These are two important questions to ask and answer during the current pandemic (and there are likely many more)…

First, ground yourself in hard data from reliable sources about Coronavirus and COVID19: What is it? What does it do? How does it spread? How can people both protect themselves from the virus and avoid spreading it to others? How do you know you might have it? What do you do if you think you do? What COVID-related resources are in your area?

Reliable, data-grounded sources and resources include:

Second, explore the needs and outreach opportunities in the neighborhoods you serve. Different neighborhoods will have different needs and resources, which taken together will reveal unique opportunities to exercise our burden of care for our communities. 

Possibilities for exploring neighborhood needs and resources include:

  • Local Health Departments. A primary source. Yours may be able to provide you with information on the level of risk in your area and what restrictions are in place.
  • Local Housing Authorities. Yours may be able to provide you with the locations of public housing developments and Section 8 housing, where low wage, hourly workers tend to live, who may be more likely to lose their jobs in a pandemic-induced recession.
  • Local Police Stations. Yours may also provide good information about what they are seeing.
  • Local Hospitals. Like local police stations, yours may be a good source of “front line” information.
  • Neighborhood Missional Intelligence Reports (NMIR) and Neighborhood Missional Assessments (NMA). NMIRs are two-page infographic reports about demographic and community characteristics of populations within a 5, 10, or 15-min drive of your congregation, including prevalence of higher risk populations, such as adults over 60, families in poverty, families receiving food stamps, persons without transportation, and households without medical coverage. NMAs can go deeper providing information on the location of higher risk locations, as well as the locations of local health departments, housing authorities, police stations, hospitals, public housing, and other useful resources. (Full disclosure: NMIRs and NMAs are provided by FaithX).

Finally, from the above information prayerfully discern what part God is calling your congregation to do in this uncertain time. 

A few possibilities might include:

  • Send postcards to people in the neighborhoods surrounding the congregation inviting them to your online worship services, virtual bible studies, and digital gatherings, and encouraging congregation members to invite their neighbors.
  • Setting up a telephone (or email) tree to check on members whom you haven’t seen in a while (even those who may have left on less than positive terms) and invite them to participate virtually, as well.
  • Providing financial assistance to low-income hourly workers who have been laid off or those who might otherwise consider going to work for the sake of income.
  • Identifying shut-ins, the elderly, and people without transportation and finding ways to get food and other necessities to them or get them to a doctor if needed.
  • Partnering with food banks or other community assistance organizations (or increasing your support and congregational participation), and encouraging congregation members to do the same.
  • Encouraging parishioners to reach out to their neighbors via email, phone, or postcard to invite mutual support.
  • Encouraging healthy parishioners to give blood if the Red Cross announces a need.
  • Any other acting-outside-the-box ways you can think of to match what your community needs with your congregation’s gifts and calling

This is obviously not even close to an exhaustive list. We welcome you to share ideas you may have or your congregation may be doing to support your community during the pandemic.

As a colleague of mine said in a recent online clergy discussion with our bishop, “If there is one silver lining about the COVID pandemic it’s this: We’ve been talking forever about how the church needs to start experimenting with new ways of being and doing church. But now the Holy Spirit has taken us by the hair and said, ‘Enough talking! Start experimenting!’”

Watch for future posts in this series, which may include:

  • Tools and strategies for hosting online fellowship.
  • Tools and strategies for facilitating online bible study and formation.
  • Tools and strategies congregations can use to locate and reach populations most vulnerable to COVID19. 
  • Tools and strategies by which judicatories can resource their congregations 
  • Tools and strategies for giving opportunities for giving by mobile phone or online.
  • Things people can do to create a sense of community with their own neighbors and neighborhoods.

Want to help your congregation more effectively engage the neighborhoods it serves?

Click here to schedule a
no cost preliminary missional intelligence discussion
and receive a sample Neighborhood Missional Intelligence Report
for your location

Those who engage a full Neighborhood Missional Assessment or other consultative program from FaithX will receive a complete NMIR in interactive (dynamic HTML) format.

Important Note: A Neighborhood Missional Intelligence Report can also be a useful tool for identifying the prevalence of at risk groups within your membership and ministry areas, and a Neighborhood Missional Assessment can help you identify the neighborhoods where they are most prevalent.

We have reduced the cost of NMIRs and NMAs by 10% for the duration of the COVID19 pandemic.

Want to help your judicatory identify emerging missional opportunities and challenges within its boundaries?

Click here to schedule a demo/discussion
of MapDash for Faith Communities
for Strategic Missional Planning

Important Note: In the days ahead Datastory will be adding COVID-related data to MapDash to all current and future subscribers (including incidence of COVID-19, hospital locations and capacity, Twitter feeds, location of doctors).

FaithX is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and Ken’s faith-based consulting practice at FaithX is carried out under an extension of ministry from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.