By Joy Allmond
Take care of each other. Reach out to one another. Call. Text. Email.
These are the messages I’m getting from my church leadership. In fact, this past Sunday, my pastor asked the congregation to do these very things. The next night, on a Zoom call with the discipleship pastor and other community group leaders, we heard the same messaging.
They aren’t alone in their concerns. Last summer, pastors indicated to Lifeway Research that one of their top concerns was pastoral care from a distance. And with the recent COVID spikes necessitating virtual or otherwise adapted ministry, the concerns remain.
Pastoral care is a legitimate challenge. But pastors don’t have to do this alone. There are people beyond the church staff who can share this load: lay leaders, volunteers, and even regular attenders.
Here are a few ideas for deploying the people you lead to be extensions of the staff—to both advance discipleship efforts as well as keep those on the fringe engaged during a season of distance.
1. Have group leaders pursue their group members.
This one is the most obvious, but it’s worth stating because it’s easy for group leaders to get tired and unfocused. As I mentioned above, the person on our church staff tasked with leading group discipleship efforts stressed the importance of reaching out to group members to keep them engaged.
This can look several different ways. It goes beyond making sure they show up to virtual or in-person small group. It means calling or texting weekly—especially those who aren’t showing up weekly like they may have done before COVID changed everything. It may mean involving them on making decisions about how your group operates going forward; people tend be more engaged when they have some form of ownership.
Sometimes, it means visiting them personally—at a safe distance (preferably outdoors, should weather permit) and if they feel comfortable doing so. Like most groups, the one my husband and I lead would have typically had a Christmas party. This wasn’t possible, so we brought the Christmas party to them.
We packed up the car with homemade treats and dedicated a Sunday afternoon of driving to each member’s home (with their permission), delivering the treats, and having some face time with them in their driveway or from the sidewalk leading up to their porch.
Yes, an effort like this takes a lot of time. But it’s well worth it. Encourage your group leaders to do the same. They’ll find it’s at least as life-giving for them as it is for their group members.
2. Keep new people in mind.
There have been numerous reports of transience since the pandemic entered our society. Lots of people have moved. Depending on where you live and minister, there are likely some new people who have visited your church—whether physically or virtually.
There’s a couple in our group who just moved to town in July. When we visited them that Sunday afternoon in December, it acted as relational glue to these newcomers who barely know anyone in town, let alone at our church.
Have each of your ministry areas nominate a few people to be connections with new people. If you’re like our church, there are likely new people in your groups. Make sure these new folks are singled out and connections are made. Being new to a city or community is daunting enough; it’s compounded by moving in the middle of a pandemic.
Make sure your people understand the importance of engaging with the new people the Lord has brought into their midst.
3. Have parents reach out to other parents.
Everyone is wrung out to some degree from the past year of pandemic challenges. Among those are certainly parents. Parents have had to adjust the way their households are managed, depending on the educational structure their children’s schools have chosen.
When a family seems to grow distant or check out of church life—especially during a pandemic—it could be a sign the parents are feeling overwhelmed. Parents “get” other parents, and it could be that families are more connected with one another than the church leadership is in touch with them. This could simply be due to having their kids and teens in the same school, activities, etc.
Approach a few faithful families and recruit them to be a touchpoint between the church and other families who have fallen by the wayside during the last 10 months. They understand the struggles of the “fringe” families. They can offer an empathetic word of encouragement and prayer. See them as the hands and feet of Jesus that they are.
This is by no means an exhaustive list; there are untold relational and discipleship needs in your church. Whether it’s group members, area newbies, families—or other groups like singles or the elderly—your church still has a vital role to play in their lives, regardless of the distance.
Pastors, your job has been hard enough as it is. Give your congregation the honor of being extensions of you and your leadership team during a season when connectedness is a precious and necessary thing to continue the mission of your church.
JOY ALLMOND (@joyallmond) is the managing editor of Facts & Trends.