for Coronavirus
A Step-by-Step, Research-Informed
and Faith-Based Planning Manual
Jamie Aten, Ph.D.
Kent Annan, M.Div.
For more resources visit Page 2
These are challenging times for the world and the church as the coronavirus
spreads, forcing us to sacrifice personally, physically, and economically.
As Southern Baptist churches respond to this crisis, it will require courage
and leadership. This is why we partnered with the Humanitarian Disaster
Institute at Wheaton College to prepare this guide for churches as they serve
their communities.
Daniel Darling
Vice President for Communications, the Ethics & Religious Liberty
Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
For more resources visit Page 2
Table of Contents
Introduction 3
STEP 1: Get Organized
Actions: Start with Prayer, Reflect on Scripture, and Leverage Existing Ministries and Activities
STEP 2: Create a Health Team 8
Actions: Frame Preparedness Efforts in Terms of Health, Recruit Lay Leaders, and Define
Roles and Responsibilities
STEP 3: Develop a Communications Strategy 13
Actions: Leverage Familiar Communication Platforms, Be Intentional in Communicating with
Vulnerable Groups, and Prewrite Messages
STEP 4: Focus on Church and Community Outreach 20
Actions: Provide Vetted Information from Trusted Resources and Focus on Underserved
Individuals and Communities
STEP 5: Strengthen Preparedness Through Collaboration 23
Actions: Work with Other Churches and Consult with Local Public Health Agencies
STEP 6: Adapt to Changing Needs 25
Actions: Stay Informed, Consider Modifying Practices, and Adapt Services if Needed
For more resources visit Page 3
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which
transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:6-7)
As we begin, let’s start with prayer. Let’s pray throughout the duration of the COVID-19
outbreak. Public health emergencies like the COVID-19 can cause fear and anxiety. Prepare,
but don’t panic. This passage reminds us that, in every situation, our prayers ground us in
God’s peace. We step forward with faith: God is with us as we seek protection and discern
how best to love our neighbors.
The aim of this guide is to help churches in the United States plan and prepare for COVID-19.
This church planning and preparedness guide draws on biblical wisdom and our team’s research.
We will share insights and best practices from our collaborative work with local, state, and
federal public health agencies.
Our team’s experiences with helping churches around the globe
for nearly a decade have also informed this guide.
Church planning and preparedness should not be developed in a
vacuum. It’s important to recognize that each church has its own history,
culture, and approach to ministry. Successful church planning and
preparedness should also acknowledge the unique risks each community
faces, as needs vary from region to region and church to church.
A plan is a tool. It doesn’t need to be large or detailed in order to be
useful. The goal of having a plan is not to turn your church into a mini-public health agency,
but rather to incorporate public health preparedness into your ministry. If you are spending
more time creating a plan than working on ministry, it may be too large or complicated, and it
probably means it won’t be feasible to implement or sustain.
Some Reasons Church Preparedness Plans Fail
The plan is not clearly aligned with the mission or theology of your church.
The church leadership does not model or communicate the benefit of preparedness.
Preparedness activities are developed in isolation from the other programs or
ministries of your church.
Preparedness depends on the energy of one or a few people.
Actions require resources (e.g., money) that may not be available or attainable.
The church doesn’t recognize, support, or encourage the people working hard to help
the church prepare individually or publicly.
For more resources visit Page 4
We want to help your church prepare for COVID-19 by showing you how to build on the
knowledge, talents, gifts, and resources that already exist within your congregation and
community. There are numerous benefits to using the approach we teach in this guide, including:
Builds on your church’s existing ministry.
Does not require a new program or large investment of resources.
Makes it easier to maintain and sustain your plan and preparedness activities.
Provides flexibility for adapting as needs change overtime.
Allows you and your church to act quickly.
Helps you counter fearful panic with faithful preparedness and planning.
In each of the following chapters, you will find a Scripture reading and reflection, easy-to-use
planning instructions, concrete preparedness examples, planning templates, and prayer.
This manual will be most useful if you continue to add new ideas and adjust regularly as you learn
more and respond to changing circumstances. As you implement your plan, be sure to consider
how your church might help care for vulnerable and underserved individuals and communities.
Also be sure to consider how to care for health, spiritual, psychological, and emotional needs in
your congregation. Remember to keep it as simple as you can while responding to a
complex situation.
Prayer: God, guide us into and throughout this process with your peace.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright
©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.
The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica,
Portions of this guide have been adapted from the Public Health Planning Guide for Faith Communities that was originally devel-
oped by the Humanitarian Disaster Institute, Cook County Department of Public Health, and Chicago Department of Public Health.
For more resources visit Page 6
They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the
grain under the authority of Pharaoh…to be used during the seven years of famine that
will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.
(Genesis 41:35-36)
Joseph demonstrated wisdom in preparing for and then leading the way through a severe
famine. Because of his careful preparation, Joseph could then provide what people needed.
Though our focus isn’t food, faithful preparation for COVID-19 involves planning ahead of
time and then managing through a crisis. This planning guide is designed to help you take a
faithful approach to assessing the needs, being good stewards, and witnessing to God’s love
for our neighbors.
Action: Start with Prayer
Prayerfully reflect on how God might use your church in light of
COVID-19. Consider how your church’s unique resources and current
ministries might be used to help those in need. Also, pray for guidance
about how the most vulnerable in your congregation and community
might be helped. Ask God to open your eyes to ways you might help
amidst concerns over COVID-19.
Action: Reflect on Scripture
The way your church prepares for COVID-19 should be built on a strong theological foundation.
We have found, however, that a lot of churches have not connected the dots between their
theology and how they will respond to COVID-19. Maybe your church has never preached a
sermon series or hosted small group discussions about faith and public health issues. The
good news is that your church probably has a robust theological foundation for grappling with
common problems like fear, adversity, and helping others. Use this theological understanding to
help guide your church planning and preparedness efforts.
Action: Leverage Existing Ministries and Activities
The goal is to pivot your church’s ongoing ministry efforts in new ways that address the needs
created by COVID-19. Rather than starting from scratch, begin with what your church is already
doing to serve others.
Identify the current ministries and activities your church is engaged in that could be used to
help address the impact of the COVID-19.
Use existing communications methods and programs to instill hope in response to concerns
about COVID-19.
Care for peoples’ spiritual, emotional, physical, social, and safety needs.
Consider ways your church helps bring calm and encouragement to stressful situations;
comfort worries over COVID-19.
STEP 1: Get Organized
For more resources visit Page 6
Leverage ways your church is already speaking out on behalf of the marginalized and
vulnerable; ensure the fair distribution of resources so that these groups don’t fall through
the cracks amidst the public health crisis at hand.
Questions to Help You Get Organized
Is your church new to this type of work? Starting small and learning as you go is the
best practice. Initially, we recommend you develop a highly focused plan that is realistic
about what your church is able to do quickly and do well to address COVID-19 concerns
and needs. As your church grows more prepared and you begin to see what works and
doesn’t work for your church, then begin to explore ways to expand your preparedness
Does your church have operations that can be incorporated into your COVID-19
plan? Ministries to groups like young families, the elderly, and the medically infirm can
easily be integrated into your preparedness plan. Do you have a food program (like
“Meals on Wheels”), an outreach to immigrants or refugees, or an education program?
These can be ideal places to start when developing a preparedness plan. Before COVID-19
directly impacts your community, you could leverage each of the example ministries
just highlighted to provide education about the outbreak and share information about
additional resources available. You can also ensure contact information is updated. If your
community is eventually advised to avoid contact with others outside the home, you can
exchange in-person visits with regular calls to check in on those you have been serving.
Do you have people in your church with expertise in this area? Among your church
members, are there current or previous healthcare providers, employees of local, state or
county public health agencies, people who work for relief organizations, or perhaps law
enforcement or other first responders? People with this sort of experience can help your
church prepare. If people are too busy, consider creating special consulting or advisory
roles for them.
Are there any special liability issues that you need to consider? Consider reaching
out to your insurance provider to see if there may be special liability issues your church
should consider amidst response to COVID-19. Situations where there is a foreseeable
danger can produce liability if the congregation does not make every reasonable effort to
intervene or remediate the situation. Not all insurance policies are the same. Coverage
amounts, deductibles, and payment caps can vary significantly. This is necessary before
planning is completed, and it may protect you and your congregation from a lawsuit.
Consult with your insurance professional to be sure your policy is right for you.
The bottom line is that, whenever possible, it is best to incorporate COVID-19 preparedness
into things you already do. This leverages your experience, introduces some creative variety
that can increase interest among people in existing programs, and allows you to avoid
duplication of efforts.
For more resources visit Page 7
Actions: Start with Prayer, Reflect on Scripture, and Leverage Existing Ministries
and Activities
Get Organized Checklist:
Regularly monitor coronavirus risk and impact on your church and community.
Schedule time for your health team (in person or virtually) to go through the guide’s
step-by-step planning process.
Prepare to open your meeting in a word of prayer to seek God’s comfort and
guidance and pray for those in need.
Share a Scripture reading and reflection to draw out biblical wisdom that can help
your team plan effectively. Verses and reflections are provided at the beginning of
each step in the planning guide.
Share the manual with church staff, health team, and potential health team members.
Step 1 (Get Organized) and Step 2 (Creating a Health Team) will likely overlap.
Prayer: God, help us listen intently for what you’re asking us to do and plan realistically for
what we can accomplish.
For more resources visit Page 8
But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted
them to be...there are many parts, but one body. (I Corinthians 12:18, 20)
As we prepare for a potential crisis, we’re reminded in Scripture that God gives us each
unique gifts and opportunities to help the whole body as we respond to the circumstances at
hand. Crises can cause fracture, but we also know they can—and should—reveal unity as we
serve each other effectively. We pray God will guide us into the right roles for this moment.
Action: Frame Preparedness Efforts in Terms of Health
Form a health team to help lead and execute church planning and preparedness activities to
address the COVID-19 outbreak. We recommend the terminology of health team because some
churches already have health teams. Though not all churches have existing health teams, most
churches have significant experience navigating and supporting others going through health
Action: Recruit Lay Leaders to Support Staff
In addition to involving staff, focus on recruiting lay leaders who have health, leadership, and/
or preparedness-related expertise from within your church. When forming your health team,
define the leadership structure and each person’s responsibilities. This will create accountability
and lighten the burden of those involved. In your community, identify who might be willing to
be accountable for the tasks. Who are the members with a vested interest in the success of the
plan for how your church is addressing COVID-19?
One benefit of forming a health team is that questions and concerns of the
congregation can be tackled as a team effort, which relieves pastors and minis-
try staff from fielding all the questions and answering medical-related questions
outside their expertise. It also promotes a sense of confidence and care to
those in the church who are feeling anxious.
Action: Define Roles and Responsibilities
Define the roles and responsibilities of each position on the health team. Explain what should
happen, when, and at whose direction. In case someone on your team might get ill, be sure to
assign a backup person who could step in for each person on the team. Assignments could be
made within the team or include backups not part of the initial leadership team.
Action: Monitor COVID-19 Risk and Impact
Monitoring and assessing COVID-19 risk is an important role the health team should assist with
performing. In addition to considering how viable of a threat COVID-19 may be to your church
and community, the health team needs to also identify individuals and communities where you
are located that could be hit the hardest and struggle the most (e.g., medically frail, elderly). (See
STEP 4: Focus on Church and Community Outreach for more on helping underserved groups).
STEP 2: Create a Health Team
For more resources visit Page 9
How to Form a Health Team for Your Church
Your COVID-19 preparedness ministry team (a.k.a. your health team) will need a
champion—a health team coordinator—someone who is passionate about how your
church can prepare and care amidst the outbreak.
Successful church preparedness begins (and ends) with leadership. This involves getting
key church leadership on board with your vision for how to help your church get ready
for and respond to this public health emergency. It also encompasses identifying and
developing the right leaders to help you carry out your preparedness activities.
The average senior church leader is already overwhelmed with a wide range of
responsibilities. It can be hard for senior leadership to take on yet another role and
ministry. In some cases, it may actually be easier (and better) for a lay leader with a heart
for serving others in times of crisis to take the lead in getting your church prepared. Here
are steps for engaging church leaders in a COVID-19 preparedness ministry:
Choose team members who will be calm and informed, such as health care
Identify a health team coordinator.
Ensure this team represents, or is able to lead and communicate effectively with, the
different parts of your membership, ministries, and community.
Ensure at least one staff member is either on the health team or is the designated
liaison to the health team.
For more resources visit Page 10
Health Team Coordinator (HTC) and Back-Up HTC Contact Information
The HTC for our congregation
Key responsibilities
First alternate HTC
Key responsibilities
Authorized emergency
spokesperson (if different from HTC)
Key responsibilities
Actions: Frame Preparedness Efforts in Terms of Health, Recruit Lay Leaders, and
Define Roles and Responsibilities.
Add as many people who are necessary to prepare and respond well, while remembering this
team will likely need to be nimble and make quick, informed decisions. Depending on the size of
your church and community, most teams will be able to perform well with sizes ranging from 5
to 12 people. Additional individuals may be added to help each of the 5-12 leaders carry out their
responsibilities as needed. You want to find a balance in numbers that will provide enough people
power to do the work at hand while being cautious of having “too many cooks in the kitchen.
For more resources visit Page 11
Health Team Member Contact and Skill Information Form
(to be completed by each team member)
Position (vocational role at church,
home, or company)
Key responsibilities on health team
Home address
Social media
Email address
Emergency contact
Emergency contact phone
Ensure this information is collected from each team member and distributed to the rest of the
team and to the church staff.
Original language from Bloomington Public Health. L. Brodsky, M. Drews, K. Henslee, N. Kafumbe and M. Schweizer, “Ready, Set, Go!
Faith Community Emergency Preparedness Toolkit.” Produced by the City of Bloomington (MN) Public Health Division with the
support of the Minneapolis – St. Paul Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS), 1800 West Old Shakopee Road, Bloomington,
MN 55431,
This material appears in modified form in Disaster Ministry Handbook by Jamie D. Aten and David M. Boan. Copyright 2016 by Jamie
D. Aten and David M. Boan. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.
For more resources visit Page 12
Monitor Coronavirus Risk and Impact:
The health team should work together to determine and update each category at least weekly
(or more frequently if warranted due to possible rapid changes in the outbreak). In the table
below, rate the possible risk and impact using the following scale:
High=3 Moderate=2 Low=1 None=0
Likelihood coronavirus
will directly impact your
church and community
Possibility of illness (from mild
to life threatening) among
staff, members, or community
Likelihood to interrupt or
cause modifications to
existing services or minis-
Based on our current risk
and impact assessment, we
need to take these actions:
Original language from Bloomington Public Health. L. Brodsky, M. Drews, K. Henslee, N. Kafumbe and M. Schweizer, “Ready, Set, Go!
Faith Community Emergency Preparedness Toolkit.” Produced by the City of Bloomington (MN) Public Health Division with the
support of the Minneapolis – St. Paul Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS), 1800 West Old Shakopee Road, Bloomington,
MN 55431,
This material appears in modified form in Disaster Ministry Handbook by Jamie D. Aten and David M. Boan. Copyright 2016 by Jamie
D. Aten and David M. Boan. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.
Prayer: God, may we identify the right people for the right roles, and may we support each
other along the way.
Based on our current risk
and impact assessment, we
may need to make these
decisions soon:
For more resources visit Page 13
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-
discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)
We’re reminded in this passage not to cower in the face of a potential emergency. Nor
are we to panic. By faith, we can act with the power, love, and self-discipline that comes
from God. With this as our guide for crisis communications, we can rise to the occasion
to provide steady and supportive information. Your church should open the channels of
communication regarding COVID-19. Provide church staff, leaders, and congregants with
access to the plan so they can understand its components and how to act. They need to know
what to do in advance, not only to get them through an incident, but also to help alleviate
panic and anxiety.
Action: Leverage Familiar Communication Platforms
As noted throughout this guide, the best place to begin is with how your church already
communicates with leadership and with congregants. If you don’t already have it, collect
emergency contact information from church members and leadership. If you do, make sure this
information is up to date. Determine how the congregation will communicate with all of the
individuals who are directly or indirectly affected by COVID-19. In some cases, you may find a gap
and, for example, need to set up new group texts or messaging services to make sure everyone
gets reached.
Action: Be Intentional in Communicating with
Vulnerable Groups
Remember that some in your community may lack access to certain
forms of technology, so be sure to discuss how you will stay in touch
and support potentially vulnerable members of your church and
community. Also keep in mind that your communications strategy may
also need to be tailored to the unique needs and questions of vulnerable
individuals and groups, such as conveying information to parents on
developmentally appropriate ways to talk with their children about
COVID-19. The same holds true when communicating with
your community.
Action: Prewrite Messages
Consider writing template letters in advance so you are not composing messages during the
confusion and chaos of crisis. For example, you can pre-write an email about canceling services,
though you don’t know if you will need it. This will give you time to think through the tone and
the message you hope to send. Also, think through the logistics of the tools you would use to
live-stream, send a video or reflection, or however you plan to respond.
STEP 3: Develop a Communications Strategy
should involve sharing how
you plan to communicate
about COVID-19. Decide
when, where, and how
you will maintain ongoing
information-sharing with
your church and community
and let others know.
For more resources visit Page 14
Communications Strategy Examples
Text Messaging: This service uses less bandwidth than cell phone calls, and many text
messaging servers will continuously attempt to send the message until the cellular
signal is restored.
Text Broadcasting: Now is the time to implement group messaging services so you
can broadcast text messaging alerts during crisis situations.
Social Media Networking Communications: Examples of how social media can be
used before or during public health crisises include posting communications, sharing
information, downloading resources, updating news, sharing geographical location,
and taking or sharing pictures of developing events. To stay consistent and current
in an emergency, follow your state-certified local public health department on social
media and use their messages during an emergency.
Call-Down Procedure (Phone Tree): Clergy calls assigned congregational leaders,
congregational leaders call assigned congregation members, congregation members
call assigned congregation members, and so on. This system should include everyone
who needs information, but especially individuals at risk.
Prepare for Media Engagement: It would also be wise to decide in advance if
and how you might work with media if they contact you about how your church is
navigating COVID-19.
How to Help Anxious and Worried Members of Your Church
A quick skim of headlines reveals that panic has already been trigged, as evidenced by the buying
up of protective equipment that isn’t needed or useful against COVID-19. Not surprisingly,
many pastors and church leaders have begun sharing about members of their church who are
struggling with high levels of anxiety and worry about the outbreak.
Following is a handout that you can give to members of your church who are struggling.
For more resources visit Page 15
Pay Attention to Your Body and Your Emotions
It’s natural to experience stress and anxiety in the face of a threat we cannot control. Because
every person reacts differently, notice what your body and emotions are telling you:
Listen to your emotions, noticing any anxiety, sadness, anger, or detachment;
Listen to your body, noticing any change in appetite, new aches and pains, or feeling
particularly hot or cool; and,
When you notice troubling symptoms, pause to care for your body and mind. If you become
unable to manage or function well, seek the assistance of a professional.
Embrace Best Health Practices
Though there’s much about the COVID-19 outbreak over which you have no control, you can
choose to embrace the kinds of practices that will keep you and your loved ones safe. The
Center for Disease Control suggests:
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Stay home when you are sick.
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household
cleaning spray or wipe.
Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Access Reliable Resources
You can choose how you will receive and consume information about the outbreak. If you rely
on panicked phone calls from your anxious loved ones, you’re likely to suffer more than if you
choose to rely on credible sources. Two reliable sources for health news include the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization. Also, if you become consumed
by breaking news about the spread of COVID-19, you can also choose to step away from media
reports for a time.
Share Reliable Information
Another way to care for yourself is to care for others by sharing the best information you’ve
discovered. When you find a reputable resource that’s particularly helpful, share it with a loved
one. When you learn about practices that keep people safe, let a relative who is vulnerable to
illness know. In a culture where people are feeling anxious, you can be a gift to others.
Continued on next page
For more resources visit Page 16
Practice Self-Care
In the midst of a stressful season or situation, many self-care practices are the same ones that
prove helpful in everyday living:
Maintain your normal routines.
Connect with family and friends.
Eat well.
Stay active.
Get adequate rest.
Do enjoyable activities.
Employ coping skills that nurture your spirit, like mindfulness exercises or prayer.
Support Each Other
We aren’t created to go through extreme stress alone, so this is also a time as part of God’s
family to care for each other. Here are two questions to keep asking yourself:
What opportunities do I have to help others?
What is overwhelming right now that I should ask someone for help with?
While it feels like there is a lot we can’t control amidst concerns over COVID-19, every one of
us can make choices to stay emotionally healthy.
This section adapted with permission from M. Starbuck. (2020, March 3). How to Stay Emotionally Healthy During the Coronavirus
Outbreak [Blog post]. Retrieved from
For more resources visit Page 17
Actions: Leverage Familiar Communication Platforms, Be Intentional in
Communicating with Vulnerable Groups, and Prewrite Messages
should you
Who are you
communicating to?
(Ex: congregation,
staff, local
Who should
communicate the
message? (Ex:
Health Team
Coordinator, Pastor)
How should it be
(Ex: electroni-
cally, phone call/
tree, mail)
(Ex: talking points,
key messages,
Impact on
church to date
services or
(e.g., Bible
offered or
Funds or
For more resources visit Page 18
Directions for updating the
church voicemail, including
Additional communication
Person responsible:
Directions for sending
churchwide emails and texts,
including remotely:
Person responsible:
Ensure you are clear with the church how you will use these different channels of
communication. For example, how will they learn if the Sunday morning service is canceled? And
also consider that different people may have different tools available (e.g., if some don’t have a
computer or email address).
Original language from Bloomington Public Health. L. Brodsky, M. Drews, K. Henslee, N. Kafumbe and M. Schweizer, “Ready, Set, Go!
Faith Community Emergency Preparedness Toolkit.” Produced by the City of Bloomington (MN) Public Health Division with the
support of the Minneapolis – St. Paul Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS), 1800 West Old Shakopee Road, Bloomington,
MN 55431,
This material appears in modified form in Disaster Ministry Handbook by Jamie D. Aten and David M. Boan. Copyright 2016 by Jamie
D. Aten and David M. Boan. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.
For more resources visit Page 19
Sample Calling Tree (Note that some churches may have a prayer chain that can be adapted for
this purpose):
Leader Name:
Leader Name:
Leader Name:
Leader Name:
Instead of using a “prayer chain” model, some churches may decide to divide a list of vulnerable
people who need to be checked in with regularly among staff and laypeople. For example, each
person would get a list of several people who they are committed to check in with daily or every
other day. In these circumstances it can be as simple as:
Check-in List
Prayer: God, free us to lead our communication not with fear, but with power, love, and
Original language from Bloomington Public Health. L. Brodsky, M. Drews, K. Henslee, N. Kafumbe and M. Schweizer, “Ready, Set, Go!
Faith Community Emergency Preparedness Toolkit.” Produced by the City of Bloomington (MN) Public Health Division with the
support of the Minneapolis – St. Paul Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS), 1800 West Old Shakopee Road, Bloomington,
MN 55431,
This material appears in modified form in Disaster Ministry Handbook by Jamie D. Aten and David M. Boan. Copyright 2016 by Jamie
D. Aten and David M. Boan. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.
Person Responsible
name and number:
Check-in recipient
name and number:
Check-in recipient
name and number:
Check-in recipient
name and number:
Senior Staff Member or Health Team Coordinator:
Leader Name:
Leader Name:
Leader Name:
Leader Name:
Leader Name:
Leader Name:
Leader Name:
Leader Name:
Leader Name:
Leader Name:
For more resources visit Page 20
The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
(Proverbs 12:18)
When it comes to potential public health emergencies, thoughtful, true, and timely
communication is key. Proverbs reminds us that quick and reckless words can damage. As
we inform our congregations and communities, both before and during potential crisis, we
ask God to give us the wisdom and resources we need to communicate well.
Action: Provide Vetted Information from Trusted Resources
Make prevention education and outreach part of your everyday ministry. Share up-to-date,
trusted, and vetted information on COVID-19—information that fosters preparedness rather
than stoking fear. Look for ways to share helpful updates and information. Programs such as
health education can be a service your ministry offers. Other examples of things your church
can do to reduce risk and impact of COVID-19 include:
Provide information from local, state, and federal public health agencies on the signs and
symptoms of COVID-19.
Educate others on infection prevention habits, like proper
handwashing techniques and other common practices frequently
taught to combat influenza.
Teach infection control strategies at meetings and events, like
reminding others to stay home if they feel ill or are starting to feel ill.
Post fliers and reminders of healthful habits, including “cover your
cough” and “stop the spread of germs.
Disseminate information regarding healthful infection prevention habits through emails,
phone messages, text messages, handouts, social media platforms, and your website.
Partner with local, state, or federal agencies or trusted nonprofits with public health expertise
to provide training on COVID-19 for members of your church and community. This could be
conducted in person or online through webinars, for example.
Action: Focus on Underserved Individuals and Communities
COVID-19 is likely to disproportionally impact the socially and economically vulnerable. Though
public health crises may reveal inconsistencies in our thoughts and injustices in the communities
we call home, preparedness ministries reveal God’s love, mercy, and grace. God has called for us
to care for those in need.
In this season when we’re facing COVID-19, there is an immediate and pressing need. God’s
commandment to bring good news and healing to those who suffer is clear. As Christians, we
are created in the image of a loving, merciful, and gracious God, a God whose son taught us to
open our hearts and use our talents in service of the kingdom. Thinking about preparedness
differently is an opportunity to help your church more effectively reduce potential harm to the
most vulnerable.
STEP 4: Focus on Church and Community Outreach
For more resources visit Page 21
Here are some examples of vulnerable people in your church and community whom you should
keep in mind as you plan:
Older people are especially vulnerable to this virus. We can focus on reducing their risk of
exposure and also plan, for example, to provide extra social support (by phone, computer) if
your community moves into a phase of significantly reduced social contact.
Children and families with limited resources may rely on school meal programs as a significant
source of food security. If schools close, it will be important to help ensure these children and
families get enough food.
People whose health is already compromised in ways such as respiratory illness are especially
vulnerable, so we can work to support them in holistic ways.
People whose income will or already has dropped quickly (for example, service jobs, travel
industry) is another group for whom the church should be paying special attention as you plan.
People of Asian descent have faced stigmatization and discrimination because the COVID-19
outbreak has its origins in China. Your church has an important role in promoting faithful
preparedness, and also in reducing fearful panic and prejudice.
Outreach Examples
Include inserts in the worship bulletin that encourage preparedness and/or provide
steps for developing and implementing a preparedness plan.
Include preparedness messaging with other congregational announcements.
Regularly set aside a segment of time during meetings or worship services for updates
by congregational leadership on COVID-19.
Post informational flyers in your building or on your website and social media.
Have the pastors and other church leaders publicly show their support of planning
and preparedness.
Develop a sermon or sermon series focusing on theological issues related to
preparedness-related topics.
Encourage church small groups and your other ministries to study biblical examples
of preparedness together (this could be done in person if safe to do so or via virtual
small group meetings).
Prayer: God, help us to reach the people who need our help the most.
For more resources visit Page 22
Actions: Provide Vetted Information from Trusted Resources and Focus on
Underserved Individuals and Communities
Select a few of these services from examples below that you will provide to underserved
church members and communities and describe how each will be carried out:
Sample Outreach Actions How Action Will be Achieved
Church staff and lay leaders model
Promote faithful preparedness (e.g., in
Sunday school, sermons, Bible studies)
Disseminate vetted information from
trusted resources to reduce panic
Pastoral services (spiritual care)
Outreach & support to vulnerable
Health services
Home visits/or calls if advised against
meeting in person
Language translation
Legal assistance
Managing volunteers
Managing donations
Food services (cooking, feeding &
distribution including home delivery)
Improve access to community
healthcare services
Special or alternative (e.G., Streaming)
worship services
Encourage individual/family
For more resources visit Page 23
But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so
that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern
for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every
part rejoices with it. (I Corinthians 12:24-26)
As Christians, and as a church, you are part of one body with different gifts and roles. This
metaphor also identifies the strength of collaboration. As the passage says, the “parts should
have equal concern for each other.” We know we need each other. A crisis is a time both to
help and be helped.
Action: Work with Other Churches
Working with other churches allows you to make connections locally, regionally, and even
perhaps nationally or globally. These connections allow you to share knowledge and resources
and to learn from others. Talk with other pastors from churches in your area to discuss the
possibility of working together. Consider the following topics:
Discuss how COVID-19 could affect your community.
Explore ways you might collaborate with other churches. This could
include national, regional, and local denominational bodies to which
you’re connected.
Identify the special resources that each house of worship possesses
(and potential gaps in knowledge, skills, resources, and capacity).
Discuss ways to share, and avoid duplicating, your efforts.
Create a simple plan for coordinating and sharing resources and for
filling potential gaps.
Consider partnering with public health, emergency response,
government, or nonprofit groups; many groups around the U.S. are
offering virtual planning meetings.
Describe the role of each participating group based on its unique
Arrange a mutual-support agreement with churches located in a different area so support is
available in the event your church is significantly impacted by COVID-19.
Identify the contact person for each church, plus a backup person, in case the main contact is
unavailable. Include multiple ways to contact this person.
Include a schedule for updating information such as contacts, organizational needs, and
resource availability.
Assign a coordinator for the plan, someone who will ensure the plan is current and follow and
update the schedule.
Work together to modify the plan and address any challenges or problems.
STEP 5: Strengthen Preparedness Through Collaborations
Working with other churches
and public health agencies can
greatly improve your ability
to respond in a public health
crisis. It allows churches to
focus on things they do well
while being supported by other
churches in aspects they find
more difficult.
For more resources visit Page 24
Preparing as the Full Body of Christ
Look for ways to partner with other churches and to leverage the strengths of multiple
churches in order to enhance capacity. Your church may have an incredible ministry and
people who know how to work well and care for children. Another church may have a
heart for working with the elderly. When we come together as the full body of Christ, we
make even a larger impact than if we try to respond by ourselves.
Prayer: God, help us recognize and lean into our need for each other.
Sample Collaborative Actions How Action Will Be Achieved
Connect with a network with other
churches that shares preparedness
ideas and resources.
Identify other churches or agencies in
your community who are working on
preparedness to learn from, consult,
and network.
Host a webinar or seminar on how to
prepare for the coronavirus for your
church and community members
(or consider joining one of the
Humanitarian Disaster Institute’s
limited run of weekly webinars on
preparing churches for coronavirus;
visit to
learn more).
Actions: Work with Other Churches and Consult with Local Public Health Agencies
Use the following checklist to consider ways your church might plan to build collaborations to
help better prepare:
For more resources visit Page 25
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)
In this verse, James reiterates one of his central points: that faith without action is
incomplete. In a similar way when preparing for a potential crisis, we need to listen well
when creating a plan. We need to pray without ceasing. We need to do the work of putting
our preparedness plan into action. Implementing our plan is a practical way to ensure that
our faith, love, and actions line up.
Action: Stay Informed
Staying informed by following updates disseminated by local, state, and federal public health
agencies is key to putting preparedness into action. Seek out and listen to trusted sources
that have been monitoring COVID-19 and issuing updated information, resources, and
recommendations. Though not meant to serve as an exhaustive list, here are a few agencies that
you might consider looking to for information (in alphabetical order):
Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives at the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Healthcare Ready
Johns Hopkins University CSSSE Interactive Web-Based COVID-19
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
World Health Organization (WHO)
As noted earlier, churches are also encouraged to reach out to local
public health agencies and establish relationships. Research shows
that partnerships between faith-based organizations and public health
agencies can help save lives.
Action: Consider Modifying Practices
Churches offer significant social support that enhances resilience, yet when it comes to public
health emergencies like COVID-19, this can actually put churches in a high-density outbreak
region at greater risk. As central gathering places, churches need to think through how typical
patterns of coming together put people at risk. For example, think about how worship practices
and greeting times may need to be modified to limit exposure.
Take the practice of communion. Different churches will be less or more hesitant to adapt
practices. What is important is to be asking questions like: How can we make communion more
hygienic while spiritually ministering to people now? How can we both encourage those who
don’t feel well to stay home, while also continuing to minister to them? At what point do we
make more radical changes or suspend communion?
STEP 6: Adapt to Changing Needs
there is almost always an
element of surprise and
accompanying confusion
when it’s time to roll out the
plan and take action. The
good news is that there are
steps your church can take to
help navigate the unexpected.
For more resources visit Page 26
For example, if you use a “common cup,” this could be the time to start preparing communion
in individual disposable cups. Perhaps your congregation already does this. However, if you are
passing the cups via communion trays from person to person down the pew, it increases risk.
The same holds true for similar practices that require passing objects from one person to the
next, such as collection plates.
Explore modifications to practices that could reduce the number of “touches.” If you are a faith
leader who decides to implement some changes to typical practices, make sure you take time to
communicate the reasoning and process that went into the conclusion.
Action: Adapt Services if Needed
Many churches are asking if they should continue to meet and gather together in public. In many
communities, canceling church services would be premature if they’ve not yet been directly
impacted by the outbreak. However, in other U.S. communities with documented cases of
COVID-19, church closures are warranted.
Regardless, now is the time for church leadership and members to put plans in place to inform
attendance and closure decisions should they be needed at some point. Church leaders should
begin talking about possible ways to adapt to COVID-19, which includes alternative meeting
approaches if the church body is unable to gather. For example, some churches already stream
services or communicate with each other over social media, and that may be an option for
fostering community if meeting in person is not possible.
In these cases, however, don’t forget those in your church who may be homebound, unable to
afford technology or lack access to it, and those who are not as tech-savvy. Also, some in your
church might struggle if you church doesn’t gather because they lack a strong social network
outside the church. In such cases, it could be helpful to bring back the “prayer chain” call
approach and have people check in regularly by phone. Though there aren’t any perfect solutions,
and although these discussions can be difficult, it’s better to have them now versus later.
If you anticipate that alternative meeting and worship approaches might be needed, be sure to
talk with your staff how they might work remotely. Similarly, you should talk with your staff about
how your church will navigate potential employee absences.
Should your local, state, or a federal agency warn against public gatherings or advise
congregations (or your church specifically) not meet, take the advice seriously. Follow the
guidelines and instructions provided.
A Review: Preparing Your Church Checklist
Get organized
Create a health team
Develop a communication strategy
Focus on church and community outreach
Strengthen preparedness through collaborations
Adapt to changing needs
For more resources visit Page 27
Implementation Checklist
Regularly monitor coronavirus risk and impact on your church and community..
Assess your church’s activity and progress toward helping your church and
community prepare.
Make gaps in your plan and preparedness known to other leadership so that you can
work toward solutions.
Revisit your plan regularly and update the plan so it remains viable.
Continue to communicate your plan as it changes to church members and partnering
churches and agencies.
Actions: Stay Informed, Consider Modifying Practices, and Adapt Services if
Prayer: God, lead us to be do-ers, loving our neighbors out of gratitude for your love for us.
For more resources visit Page 29
About the Humanitarian Disaster Institute
Founded in 2011, Wheaton College’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) is the country’s
first faith-based academic disaster research center. Our mission is to help the church
prepare and care in a disaster-filled world. HDI carries out our mission through research,
training, convening, and resourcing.
HDI offers an M.A. in Humanitarian & Disaster Leadership at Wheaton College Graduate
School that can be completed in one year on campus or two years online (which includes
a week of on-campus coursework at the beginning and end of the program). We have also
partnered with the School of Psychology, Counseling, and Family Therapy at Wheaton
College Graduate School to offer a new Trauma Certificate in a specialized track specifically
tailored to humanitarian and disaster responders. Learn more at
Jamie D. Aten, Ph.D., is founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster
Institute (HDI) and Blanchard Chair of Humanitarian & Disaster Leadership at Wheaton
College (IL). His books include the Disaster Ministry Handbook (InterVarsity Press) and
A Walking Disaster: What Katrina and Cancer Taught Me About Faith and Resilience
(Templeton Press). Follow him on Twitter @drjamieaten.
Kent Annan, M.Div., is director of humanitarian and disaster leadership at Wheaton College’s
Humanitarian Disaster Institute, where he provides leadership to the M.A. program within
the Humanitarian Disaster Institute. His most recent book is You Welcomed Me: Loving
Refugees and Immigrants Because God First Loved Us (InterVarsity Press). Follow him on
Twitter @kentannan.
Humanitarian Disaster Institute (2020). Preparing your church for coronavirus (COVID-19):
A Step-by-Step, Research-Informed and Faith-Based Planning Manual. Wheaton, Illinois:
Contact Us
Our website and social media accounts provide ongoing updates and resources for
preparing your church for COVID-19.
Instagram: @wheaton_hdi