6 Things Our Church Did Immediately because of COVID-19

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Thursday, March 26, 2020
6 Things Our Church Did Immediately because of COVID-19

6 Things Our Church Did Immediately because of COVID-19


Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Anton Ostapenko

As I wrote in an earlier blog, it’s time for VUCA leadership. But what does that mean specifically? Obviously, every church and organization is different, but here are six very specific leadership steps we took that may be of service to your own thinking:

1. We honored the community call to action.

When the call came from government and health officials to limit large gatherings, we heeded that call. We canceled our physical weekend services and larger weekly events. As I blogged earlier, this was a matter of loving our neighbors.

2. We reached out to all community missions partners.

One of the first things we did was to reach out to every one of our community mission partners to assess their needs and to determine how we could help. Every church, large or small, not only has resources to give but also a heart to do so. For us, this meant contacting food banks, nursing homes, children’s homes, those on the front lines of serving the homeless… the list goes on and on. From this, we were able to pinpoint specific serving opportunities and channels of financial support. 

3. We changed our weekend series.

We were in the midst of a series titled “The F Word” on forgiveness. To continue with that series, important as the topic was, would have been culturally tone deaf. We kept the title the same, but we changed the word from “forgiveness” to “faith.” This enabled us to talk about faith when it comes to worry (Matthew 6), followed by faith when it comes to trials and difficult times (James 1). 

4. We moved everything online.

Churches everywhere are doing what it takes to try to have some kind of online weekend presence for their services. We have gone into full online mode for… well, everything. Every week, we send out an email to all families with videos, experiences and online events for the various age groups within our children’s ministry. Online interactive events and experiences are happening within our middle school and high school ministries as well. Our Meck Institute is using Zoom to continue offering current classes as well as launch new ones. Our online campus added additional service times and amplified staff presence in the chat room, prayer request service and more.

5. We re-tasked staff and volunteers.

When you cancel weekend services for the foreseeable future and go entirely online, you have staff and volunteers who find themselves out of a job. Think facilities teams, Guest Services, children’s ministry, and more. Many can simply retool—as I mentioned, our children’s ministry is doing this by developing online resources that can be used by families at home. But some staff and volunteers must be re-tasked to serve points of greatest need. We identified four key areas of need:

  • staffing/serving the online campus;
  • social media production and responding/monitoring;
  • video/curriculum development and production for online consumption;
  • and personal community engagement (via phone/email).

In an “all-hands-on-deck” situation, where you previously put the hands often changes.

6. We outlined potential stages.

Fear and anxiety is usually based on the unknown. For that reason, we outlined to our staff the “stages” we felt could be in front of us and what each stage would mean. Here is what we outlined:

Stage 1: Cancel all large-group activities of more than 50 people, including weekend services and weekly events. All staff age 60+, or those with pre-existing conditions, should work at home (WAH) in coordination with their supervisor. 

Stage 2: Close The Grounds (Meck’s bookstore and café), end StaffKidz (our onsite preschool childcare program for staff), and everyone WAH to the extent they can, coming in only as needed. 

Stage 3: If the county director, NC Governor or the President of our nation issues a “stay-at-home” order (which does go into effect in our county at 8 a.m. this morning), we will follow all Stage 2 protocols, coupled with a strict WAH approach. In essence, a small number of staff will only come in for essential work (like filming) on an as-needed basis. When this period ends, we will return to either Stage 1 or Stage 2, whichever circumstances dictate.

Stage 4: Completely retooling staff and ministries around a “new normal” of online-only engagement extending for many, many months to come. 

All of this flows from two big ideas: 1) we want to do everything we can to serve people during this time; and 2) we want to do everything we can to keep people engaged as a community of faith.

Not from a position of fear, much less worry,

… but from a position of faith that prays for wisdom.


James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.