We’ve all been hearing a lot about the Coronavirus. Now, it’s here in the States, but don’t panic. Chris Gibson
“Hey friends, many of you have asked about our Coronavirus Communication Plan. We are a church here in Kirkland, Washington – the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the USA. I apologize for the delay but we’ve been slammed with press reaching out to us as well as putting together an outreach plan to help those being affected by the coronavirus. See below for a comprehensive (but not complete) communication plan we’ve put into a Google Doc.
We are by no means experts in how to communicate around this, but since we’re dealing with it first, we figured we’d give everybody an opportunity to be proactive. This is a very fluid situation for us, so I’m sure we will be adding more content as time goes on.”
ALL THINGS CORONAVIRUS
Posted 3/3/20 at 6:30 pm
A few things about Northshore: We are a 2,000 member non-denominational church in Kirkland, Washington – the epicenter of the US coronavirus outbreak. We have a budget of $5,000,000 and have 35 full-time staff members (3 of us are in the Communication Department). Hopefully, this gives you context to the approach we are able/need to take due to the size of our church and the budget we have. Not all of this information will be useful to churches of other sizes and budgets, but there is still quite a bit that can be gleaned.
Your communication around the Coronavirus should be a two-fold approach: pastoral and tactical. Communication should be pastoral because, in a time of fear and crisis, people will need to be reminded that God is their refuge, strength, and an ever-present help in times of trouble. Communication should also be tactical. People will want to know there is a plan and to be reassured that you are taking their health needs seriously.
Before you get into any discussions about pastoral and tactical communications, we recommend you take the following actions:
- Get decision-making leaders together to be on the same page. Don’t try to manage up.
- Learn about the virus here and here to help inform decisions. Don’t let fear drive decisions; there is a lot of false information out there.
- Contact your local State/County/City health office as soon as possible. You’ll want them to know that you exist as a church and for them to give you guidance in the event of an outbreak.
Before you begin any form of tactical communication, we recommend that you ask your leaders the following questions:
- What does our cleaning/sanitation process currently look like?
- Are all of our frequently touched surfaces involved in the cleaning process (i.e., doors, handles, water fountains, tables, sinks, check-in stations, touchscreens)?
- Do we need to take extra cleaning measures?
- What will we need to do about service elements?
- Will we stop having communion during this time?
- Will we stop passing the offering buckets/plates (if applicable)?
- Will we stop passing out bulletins/programs (if applicable)?
- Will we stop doing a greeting time (if applicable)?
- Are we asking our volunteers/door greeters/welcome teams to refrain from shaking hands?
- Are we asking them to wash their hands frequently?
- Do we refrain from offering coffee or other treats during this time?
- What does our cleaning/sanitation process look like for kid’s rooms?
- Are all our frequently touched surfaces involved in the cleaning process (i.e., toys, doors, handles, water fountains, tables, sinks, check-in stations, touchscreens)?
- Do we need to take extra cleaning measures?
- Are we visibly doing things that help people see cleanliness? (ie, putting out hand sanitizer stations, having staff/volunteers wipe surfaces while people are around)
- Do you have a plan if an individual in your congregation tests positive for the Coronavirus?
- Do you take attendance of kids and volunteers in case you need to reach out to a group that was around that individual?
- What would cause us to have to cancel services?
- Do a certain amount of people have to get sick in your congregation?
- Do the local health office recommendations have an impact on our decision making?
- Where are we posting our closures? (i.e., building signage, Google My Business, phone messages, email, social media, website)
Your leadership’s approach and answers to tactical questions should help inform your communications at this point. We recommend getting ahead of the issue so you aren’t caught flat-footed. Determine ahead of time what communication channels you plan on using (i.e., website, social media, email, text, from the stage).
If the Coronavirus was just discovered in your area, we recommend letting your congregation know that you are aware of it and are keeping an eye on it. You want them to feel safe and to know that there is thought behind it. Here is an example (borrowed heavily from Menlo Church):
Dear Northshore Family,
At Northshore, we want to care for our congregation in all respects, including the physical well-being of our community. To that end, we are asking you, our congregants, to take precautions to keep yourself and others safe, especially in light of recent developments with the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Please be mindful of the guidance from the Washington Department of Health and the CDC, including:
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- While asymptomatic travelers from China are not mandated to observe a 14-day quarantine, we urge you to consider refraining from attending church events, classes, and services until the 14-day time-frame has been followed. We also ask that anyone returning from a high-alert area (currently South Korea, Iran, Italy, Japan) consider doing the same. While you are out, you can access the sermons by Monday afternoon each week at Northshore.church/messages.
The uncertainty of this outbreak is creating anxiety in our workplaces, schools, and day-to-day activities. Yet we remain confident of God’s constant presence and careful attention to all that is happening. Please join us in praying for those who are affected by this illness, as well as for their caregivers and those who are working around the clock to minimize the impact of this virus.
In Psalm 46, we are reminded that it is God who is our refuge and strength, and our ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, let us not fear, but with confidence use this opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus through our prayers and our care for others.
If the Coronavirus is spreading in your area, we recommend letting your congregation know your plan of action and what your expectations are of them. It’s also vital that you allow them to feel heard in this communication. Here is what we published when we became aware that it was spreading:
Dear Northshore Family,
I want to update you on what’s happening at Northshore in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in our area. Like you, I’ve been following this evolving story with great concern. I’ve also reached out to local city officials and spoken with several other pastors in the area to gain perspective on how to best move forward. Please read through this entire email as it contains detailed plans for keeping our campus safe and how you can help.
At this time, officials are not recommending the cancellation of public events or Sunday church gatherings. Northshore will remain open, and we will continue to have services on Sundays and mid-week programming. If local and state health officials do recommend closure, or we determine it is in the best interest of our Northshore family to close, we will inform everyone to the best of our abilities through our website, emails, and social media.
During this time, here’s how we are committed to keeping our campus clean:
- We will sanitize frequently touched surfaces before and after every service such as doors, handles, tables, water fountains, check-in stations, and sinks.
- Our staff and volunteer teams will wash their hands frequently and stay home if they are sick. Also, our Brew Crew will wear gloves when they serve coffee.
- We will provide additional hand sanitizer stations around campus for everyone to use.
- Offering buckets will be relocated to the back of the auditorium, so you don’t need to pass them down the row. Remember, you can also give online.
During this time, we are asking you to help stop the spread of the virus in the following ways:
- Stay at home when you or a family member are sick.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- Cover your sneeze or cough with a tissue or your arm.
- Get in the habit of NOT touching your face so often.
- Substitute shaking hands at church with a wave or a friendly smile.
- If you or someone you know tests positive for COVID-19, please let us know so we can find a way to help, pray for everyone involved, and take any necessary precautions here at Northshore.
If you or a family member are sick or need to stay home during this time, you are welcome to watch Sunday services online. We’ve got an open spot for you to watch Northshore Online during our 8, 9:30, or 11 am services on our website or our Facebook Page.
For families with kids:
In addition to keeping our campus clean, we will be taking extra care of our kids’ spaces. Kids’ toys and rooms will be sanitized before and after every service. Starting this Sunday, March 8, we will also have online content available for kids who need to stay home.
Three ways you can help:
- Pray – Pray for those impacted by the virus, as well as their families and loved ones.
- Give – In the coming weeks, we’re looking to help those at the Life Care Center, where the virus first appeared in our area, as well as others in our area. If you’d like to join us, you can donate by heading to Northshore.church/give and selecting the “Together For” fund.
- Serve – As we’ve been praying and thinking about ways we can be together for our neighbors in the midst of this outbreak. We’ve been in touch with the leadership at the Life Care Center of Kirkland to see how we can help. As you may have heard, they are dealing with a number of potential coronavirus cases and are in quarantine. We sent out an email earlier today detailing our plan to prepare and deliver care packages to their residents and staff.
Questions or concerns?
If you’d like to share your thoughts, concerns, questions, or ideas with us as we navigate our response to this situation, we’d love to hear from you. Your input and feedback are truly important to us. Please email email@example.com with any questions or comments.
While we cannot control the virus, the spread, or the impact it has on our church, we’re doing everything we can to make this campus as safe and clean as possible. We appreciate your cooperation and commitment to help us do just that. We must also remember that God has not called us to live in fear, but in faith. As the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For the Spirit of God does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.” My prayer is that God will fill us all with these three gifts, no matter what comes our way.
Before you begin any form of spiritual communication, we recommend you ask your leaders the following questions:
- What are we doing to encourage our congregation not to live in fear?
- What opportunities do we have to help our local communities?
- What are we doing to encourage our volunteers to show up and serve?
- What are we doing to help people who are staying home to stay engaged with our church (i.e., Livestream, digital content, phone calls)
Your leadership’s approach and answers to spiritual questions should help inform your communications at this point. We recommend spending twice as much time communicating about this than about tactical content. People will remember more about how you’ve impacted their hearts than the list of procedures. Every church’s approach to this will be different. You will know what the best approach is for your congregation.
- We recommend your pastors or hosts acknowledge the crisis from the stage. Here is a sample of one weekend we talked about it (skip to 15:25 & 1:00:15).
- We recommend that leaders send a video, text message, or phone call to your volunteers, letting them know how their service is making a difference. Remember, people often come back to the church in times of crisis – this time, they might reach out from afar. Don’t guilt them into this; let them know how they are valued and how they make an impact. Volunteers may be tempted to stay home during this crisis, which is why it is important to do this.
- We recommend looking for ways to make an impact in your community during this crisis. For us, it was simple. We wanted to help out the staff and patients of the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, where unfortunately many residents passed away. We decided to provide the staff with Chick-Fil-A lunches one day, and the next day we delivered care packages to the residents. We posted this on social media, and it gained A LOT of traction in our community (especially in community Facebook groups). You’ll notice a lot of fear and negativity on social media feeds during this time, so this is a stark and welcomed difference.
Here is the email we sent out asking for our congregation’s help:
It’s been quite a week. Whether you joined us in person or online, Sunday’s gathering was a fantastic opportunity to be reminded of the power of God’s love, even in uncertain times. If you haven’t watched it yet, make sure you do. To view this Sunday’s message, click here.
We’re continuing to pray for wisdom on how best to prepare and respond to the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in our area. We’ll be sending an email out later today with a more detailed approach to how we are responding and doing our part to keep our campus safe and clean. In the meantime, we’ve been praying and thinking about ways we can be together for our neighbors with all that’s happening. We’ve been in touch with the leadership at the Life Care Center of Kirkland. As you may have heard, they are dealing with several potential coronavirus cases and are in quarantine.
They were excited and encouraged by our offer to bring care packages for their residents and staff with treats, activities to do in their rooms, and other items to help brighten their days through this challenging time. They have 104 residents and around 150 staff members. If you’d like to help out, here’s what you can do:
- Please bring items to fill the care packages to Northshore this evening and tomorrow morning. The main lobby will be open until 9 pm tonight, and our office opens again at 9 am tomorrow. Here’s a list of suggested items:
– Playing cards/jigsaw puzzles/puzzle books (word searches, crosswords, sudoku, etc.)
– Individually-packaged, non-perishable snacks (granola bars, fruit snacks, crackers, canned drinks, etc.)
– Hand lotion
– Fuzzy socks
– Premium facial tissues (the kind with cream to soothe irritated noses)
– Please DO NOT bring any homemade food, items with nuts, or used things that could carry germs or allergens.
- If you feel healthy, please join us at 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning at Northshore in the Glacier room to assemble these care packages, which will be delivered later that day. Childcare will not be provided, but older children are welcome to help construct the boxes.
- If you’re unable to drop off donations or help us assemble care packages, you can donate to our efforts by visiting Northshore.church/give and selecting the fund, “Together For.”
It’s part of our DNA as a church to be together for our neighbors, the next generation, and those in need so that the Puget Sound and beyond can flourish. We believe God calls us to be agents of love and care for those who are hurting, especially in times like this. This is our chance, Northshore! Thanks for being a part of helping those at risk however you can.
A couple of different pieces of information your leaders should consider:
Staff communication: Always let the staff know your plans before anyone else. Always. They are your team members and can help answer any questions on your behalf.
- What policies/closures do the staff/volunteers need to be updated on?
- What does it look like for staff to work remotely?
- What does PTO/Sick Time look like?
- Who is the point person for communication? You’ll want this person to set the standard for all forms of communication. You’ll want your staff and volunteer reiterating what has already been communicated – be consistent and clear!
- Are there staff/volunteer social media policies in place? You don’t want staff or volunteers mentioning they think they know someone who attends your church and has the virus.
Dealing with the press: Be prepared for the media to come knocking. This can be an excellent opportunity for exposure in your community – if you’re ready and have a plan!
- Who is the point person to talk to the press? You’ll want that person to know the entire approach and your church’s policies. They’ll need to be consistent with what is posted and said – they pick up on inconsistencies! Try and control some of the narratives and stay positive, encouraging, and calm. Avoid letting them walk up to people in your congregation who you don’t know. It could be someone’s first day there, and you don’t want them feeling out of place and uncomfortable
- Try reaching out or tagging the press if you are making an impact in the community.
Cancellation of Services
The church isn’t something you can cancel. It’s what happens whenever ordinary people show the world the good news of Jesus. So, whatever you do, don’t use the word or any variant of the word “canceled” (I know I just did in the heading, but it was to get your attention). Instead, find ways to take the church to your people. But what happens if the coronavirus starts to impact your church services/ministries? A couple of pieces of information your leaders should consider:
- Mid-week services/ministries should be easier to make plans for, but ask these questions:
- What ministries meet throughout the week on your campus? (e.g. students, MOPS, Bible studies)
- How large are these groups? If the groups meet in close quarters or have 10+ people in them, the CDC and local health officials recommend not gathering in person.
- Are the people in these groups considered high-risk? People who are generally at high-risk are those 60+yrs old, women who are pregnant or those who have underlying health issues.
- Can any of these services/ministries meet virtually?
- Have you looked into any free or paid digital content providers? Facebook and Youtube are a great way to broadcast for free. Zoom is a great way for groups to gather and is free for up to 100 people for 40 minutes! RightNow Media is a great paid resource for countless Bible study curriculum for adults and kids.
- What criteria are you using to postpone or move these services/ministries online and for how long?
- Are the criteria based on local/state health officials, school districts, or the Mayoral/Governor’s Office? We recommend going with whoever has the most impact on your day to day operations and is most respected.
- For all of Northshore’s Mid-week services/ministries, we follow our local school district’s lead regardless of what the issue is (snow, power outages, coronavirus, etc.). We follow their lead because they are the most respected and have a direct impact on mid-week ministries/services. If school is closed, canceled or delayed, many of the parents that would normally come to these ministries/services have to make plans around caring for their kids. Our local school district recently decided to close for 14 days. This means for the next 14 days we are taking church online for these ministries.
- What communication channels will you plan to use if you are postponing or taking church online? (e.g.. website, social media, email, text, from the stage).
- Sunday services are the most difficult to make plans for, but ask these questions:
- What criteria are you using to postpone or move Sunday services online and for how long? A number of factors should come into play when figuring this out.
- Outbreak – If you’ve found out someone has tested positive in your church, this should be cause for concern for the health of your church.
- Government Recommendation/Edict – if there is rapid growth in your community, at some point the government will publicly recommend the suspension of large gatherings. We strongly encourage you to heed their advice.
- It’s been our experience that when the local government announces these recommendations, they’re already several days behind the curve of when they should have announced these recommendations.
- Optics – Your local community and congregation will be watching and judging your response. You may personally feel canceling is an overaction (and it may be depending on the situation) but what are you silently communicating to them? That your church doesn’t care about their health and the good/well being of the local community. Reality is how people perceive things and if the reality to everyone else is a big deal, then it’s a big deal! This doesn’t mean you should make decisions based on fear or pressure but use wisdom. But ask yourself this question, what happens if your community or the press finds out the coronavirus has spread at your church due to negligence? It doesn’t matter how much good you’ve done in your community through your various outreach programs, your church reputation is tarnished and it will take a very long time to dig out of that hole.
- What options do you have when it comes to taking church online or postponing?
- Do you have the option to Livestream your services?
- If so…
- Do you have a plan for backup staff or volunteers to help run the Livestream in case they become sick?
- Do you have a backup plan for a live-stream service or equipment failure?
- With Wes quarantines, many more people in your community will be online and could affect data speeds.
- With many more churches going to Livestream, does your Livestream service provider have the bandwidth to handle the recent surge in broadcasting?
- Will you have a simple worship set or the same worship set?
- Will you continue your message series or will you adjust to meet people where they are at?
- If not…
- Can you record a message/sermon and set it to go live/premiere on Facebook or YouTube?
- Can you approach a local church that has the capability to do live streaming and ask them to record a message in the middle of the week so you can broadcast it from Facebook or YouTube on Sunday?
- Would you consider asking your congregation to tune into another church’s live stream until you are able to gather again?
- If so…
- Do you have the option to Livestream your services?
Here is the email we sent out letting everyone know we are doing Sunday services online:
I’d like to take a few minutes of your time to update you on what’s happening at Northshore as we navigate the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in this part of the world which we call home.
First of all, I want to say how proud I am of this church family. The care packages that were assembled for residents of the Life Care Center, the resources that have been given and the prayers that have been prayed have been such an example of love in the midst of uncertainty. People of all ages are coming together for our neighbors, the next generation and those in need.
We’ve received phone calls from people who don’t go here to say thank you and strangers stop by to donate money. One local artist even auctioned off a painting and gave the proceeds to Northshore. All of this happened because people are seeing a church that’s living out of faith, rather than out of fear. So thank you Northshore for your courage and generosity.
Last fall, when we launched Northshore Online, we dreamed about how this could help more people hear the good news of Jesus and take the next step in their faith. What we didn’t know then, was that God was actually preparing us for this moment when we would be called on to adapt how we do church together to meet the needs of our community and reach the hearts of our neighbors. So here’s what’s coming next.
Online-Only Sunday Services
This Sunday, March 8, our services will be held online only. Service times will remain the same at 8, 9:30 and 11am. Our hope is to be able to gather together on our church campus in Kirkland as soon as possible, but in the meantime, we believe we can continue to learn and grow together as a church by worshipping together in our homes with friends and family. And you can still invite your friends! If you’ll be watching the Livestream on Facebook, we encourage you to share it on your feed. If you’ll be watching on our website, consider inviting someone to join you by sending them the link.
To watch the Livestream on our website, click here
To watch on Facebook, click here
For Families with Kids
Please know that your families will continue to be in our prayers as we navigate these circumstances together. Our hope is to keep your kids engaged and provide ways for them to grow spiritually. We’ve curated an online curriculum for your kids through Right Now Media, which we highly encourage you to utilize. It’s super easy to register and is a great way for kids to do church online along with the rest of your family! We provide anyone who calls Northshore home free access to this service. After you register, head on over to the Northshore Community Church channel on the left side and you’ll be able to see all of the curricula that have been uploaded to the NKids section. There are several videos for kids with optional discussion questions and activities that can be downloaded.
To register for Right Now Media, click here
To login to your existing account, click here
Questions? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Since our midweek programs traditionally follow the Northshore School District schedule, we are suspending all on-campus ministries for the next 2 weeks. We will evaluate this decision week to week as the situation around the outbreak continues to unfold. In the meantime, we will be providing alternative ways for you to grow closer to God and learn more about Him.
Opportunities to Serve & Give
While the impacts of the coronavirus mean some changes to our daily lives, the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of people have not been put on hold and we must continue to care for those around us. The residents and staff at Life Care Center of Kirkland have been going through a difficult time and we want to come alongside them to provide encouragement, hope, and practical help. One way we can help is by providing meals for the employees there.
We’ve coordinated with the leadership at Life Care to arrange two meals a day for their staff through Saturday, March 14. We’re asking people to sign up to deliver store-bought or restaurant-made meals to feed either 10 or 25 staff members. You will not need to enter the facility or come in contact with any staff or residents.
Sign up here.
Consider gathering a group of friends or neighbors to share the cost. If you cannot provide a meal, consider donating to this effort by going to our giving page and choosing “Together for” from the dropdown menu. All donations will be used to support this initiative as well as others being impacted by this outbreak. We’ll be sending out an email soon with more information on how you can sign up, so be on the lookout for that.
Even though we’re not gathering in-person for a church, you still have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others by giving your tithes and offerings through our giving page.
Even though our world has changed, the power of God has not changed. The truth of Scripture has not changed. The hope of Jesus has not changed. Our mission as a church has not changed. Let us not give in to fear. Rather, let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, the author, and the perfecter of our faith.
- Easter services are the hardest one to plan for right now. The coronavirus is rapidly spreading across the globe and is lingering in cities for several weeks/months. Unfortunately, the timing of this will leave many churches in limbo. Here are some questions (we don’t have answers for) that you should ask:
- How many services should we plan for?
- If you are meeting in a public place, is there a possibility those places could be closed during that time due to an outbreak?
- Are you hiring any guest speakers or musicians that could get sick or cancel?
- Are you planning on using communion?
- Are you planning on baptisms?
- Are you planning to serve any food or drinks?
- If you are asking your congregation to invite people, regardless of method, will people actually want to come to your Easter Services during an outbreak?
- This should help you use caution around how much money you’re spending for marketing/promoting Easter
- If you can’t meet for Easter, is there something BIG you can do for your community instead?
Chris has stored this information on a Google Doc. Be sure to check it out for any updates. Stay safe, and don’t live in fear!