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Evangelism in the Time of COVID-19

June 1, 2020 in Diakonos

Most evangelical leaders agree that the current COVID-19 epidemic and quarantine provides churches with wonderful opportunities to do community outreach and share the good news of Jesus. Yet many of us are wrestling with how this is to be done wisely and winsomely with government mandated restrictions upon us. It is my contention that leaders will need to be creative and think out of the box to discover new strategies and platforms for these challenging times. Obviously, the Great Commission has not been rescinded!

The early church was known for sacrificially serving the dying and unselfishly embracing the sick, wounded and destitute who were often abandoned—and so must we. They risked their lives to care even for non-Christians, demonstrating radical biblical values quite unknown in Roman culture of their day. Rodney Stark, author of “The Rise of Christianity,” demonstrates that some of the striking growth of the church in the early centuries can be attributed to the compassionate care the first Christians showed for the sick.

Thousands of churches have now successfully transitioned into livestreaming or broadcasting pre-recorded weekend worship services and have learned that this is a wonderful platform for gospel proclamation. One young church plant that normally sees just over 200 in Sunday attendance is now delighted to find up to 1,500 viewers to their online services. Their people are being encouraged to invite friends and neighbors to join in.

With the readily accessible tools of social media, many congregations are learning how to leverage online technologies like Zoom, Facebook live or Microsoft Teams to create weekly interactive evangelistic Bible studies and gospel-rich daily devotionals. Leaders are focusing on subjects like anxiety, fear, God’s sovereignty and love. With the variety of online programs now available, pastors are seeking the best ways to train/equip (often using “how-to” videos) their small group leaders to construct/host engaging out-of-the-building gatherings. The goal is to deepen those relational ties we already have with people far from Jesus as well as to shepherd our own flock.

Some outreach-oriented leaders are using daily newsletter emails with appropriate Scripture, online links and/or evangelistic YouTube videos. Others are simply phoning or Facetiming with church members and former worship guests to inquire if they need prayer or assistance. Churches connected with the Northeast Collaborative, a new church planting and revitalization network packed with Clarks Summit University and Baptist Bible Seminary alumni, are distributing printed cards to their neighbors offering to deliver groceries, medicine, provide transportation or other practical help for those who need it. The cards leave room for members to give their name and phone number to request assistance.

Mosaic Baptist in Brooklyn, New York, founded by BBS Master of Divinity grad Stephen Stallard (’13), is doing weekly distribution of boxes of essential food items along with information cards about the church, a scriptural gospel booklet and a gospel message. “Persons of Peace” in their community, who know the young church plant genuinely cares about people, are passing on the names of needy families. All this is done while still observing social distancing. Church size or tight budgets should not be an obstacle; Mosaic is a church of about 50.

Our goal should be to identify and serve the most vulnerable. I’ve heard of churches using their parking lots or drive-in movie theaters to provide “drive through” virus testing and/or food pantries for the needy. Some are partnering with their city or a local food bank for obtaining supplies.

Many pastors are asking how to be on mission as traditional avenues of face-to-face outreach and serving are no longer viable. Here are other creative and doable “servant evangelism” ideas suggested by and adapted from the Billy Graham Center’s Send Institute:

  • Turn your church into a daycare specifically for healthcare and safety workers (in cooperation with the city in order to comply with the “essential” expectation).
  • Deliver sanitized iPads to nursing homes quarantined from visitors so they can connect with family and church services.
  • Create “Covid-19 Kits” filled with toilet paper, hand sanitizer and dried goods; distribute these in low-income neighborhoods.
  • Launch a website aimed at caring for the community (e.g.; 757 being the area code). Focus on encouraging scripture, the gospel, prayer requests and offers of assistance.
  • Organize the church into “triad” groups (three households in each) and train them to focus on caring for each other as well as witnessing and meeting needs in their neighborhood.

These are certainly challenging times with lots of uncertainties about what the future holds. We who know Christ have unchanging hope in the gospel and confidence He is working all this out for His sovereign purposes, for our good and for His glory. Yet as leaders we must seize and maximize the open doors the Lord of harvest has given us—and mobilize our people for caring outreach. Praise God we have lots of online technologies to harness for the task.

Like the early church, we must boldly step into the challenge of caring for the vulnerable and sick. We must address the anxieties and fears of those ministering on the front lines of the epidemic, and comfort those dealing with loss of loved ones. We must point them to the only One who can deliver/rescue us. Our churches must be willing to take risks and prepare for what lies ahead. As Ed Stetzer and his team point out:

“How pastors and church leaders minister to their people and communities during this season will likely shape the coming years for churches. There is ample opportunity but now is the time to think innovatively, to work in unity and collaboration, and to remain focused on the mission of the church—to show and share the love of Christ in this and every time.”

By Dr. Ken Davis, Baptist Bible Seminary adjunct faculty member

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