Communication Leadership

For a Time Such as This: Your Parish and the COVID-19 Crisis – Week 1

March 21, 2020

Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?

Esther 4:14 (NIV) 

In a time of such unprecedented crisis and cataclysmic change, everything looks unclear.  Things we were so sure of last week – our schedules, our methods, our finances – have suddenly been thrown into a fog of doubt.

You might be doubting how your parish will continue operating in the weeks to come, or what that even means.  So much, including the public celebration of the Sacraments, has been taken away from us.

But, no matter what happens, our mission remains unchanged.  We are still called to love God, love others, and make disciples. The methods we use, however, will have to change.  We will have to sacrifice some of what we thought church should be. There is just no avoiding it.  But it’s also true that no one has any idea what the new normal will be or when it starts. 

In the weeks to come, I will use this space to explore what we are doing at Nativity to weather this crisis and rebuild beyond it.  But honestly, we’re making it up as we go along, just like you.  We’ll be sharing with you what we’re doing, what’s working, and what isn’t. As always, our only credential is that, like you, we’re actually in the trenches.

Don’t try to predict what lies in the fog.  Focus on the steps right in front of you. 

Here are three you can take right now, whatever your circumstances:

#1. Evaluate

Assess and evaluate your situation in three areas.

Pastoral Care & Communication 

  • Is your web site up to date? Does it address the current crisis? Is your email list up-to-date? Are your social media channels active?
  • How are you using the tools you have or can develop (live streaming, Facebook Live, etc.) to reach your parishioners and be present to them through this crisis. How are you providing hope and help?
  • How are you helping those in need, especially those who will become sick and the elderly? Are you calling people?

Finances 

  • What percentage of your offertory comes electronically/automatically and how long can you operate on just those funds?
  • How long can you operate if those contributions fall by 20%, 40%?
  • Where is your discretionary spending? 

Operations

  • Do you have a leadership team to lead through this crisis? Are they a healthy and cohesive group?
  • Is your team prepared/equipped to work remotely indefinitely? 
  • How are you keeping connected as a team and supporting one another?

# 2. Prioritize

You will likely be operating with reduced resources over the next few weeks and months.  This is a time to make priorities and cut all non-essential efforts and activities.  Some of this has probably already been forced on you by state prohibitions.  Focus on doing a few things well.  For example, if you’re the pastor spend more time on your weekly homily and, if you can, broadcast or record it.

Setting priorities gives your staff and congregation touchstones to rally around in this time of uncertainty.  They also give structure to your own time as a leader.  Crises tend to upend our schedules at the time when we need a steady structure the most.   

Finally, form a leadership team, if you do not have one already.  This is an essential step to navigating this crisis.  Get people around you whose counsel you trust and who you can lean on as a leader.  They don’t need to be made up of just staff.  Lay leaders in your parish can work, too.  Leadership teams are small (4-6 people) and meet regularly (at least once a week over video conference – but you might consider meeting more often, even daily, during the acute period of this crisis).

#3. Communicate

While virtual media is not the same as in-person services, they can foster genuine spiritual reflection.  There are plenty of resources online to help you live stream video of your daily and weekend Masses, daily devotions, daily homilies.  Solicit prayer requests on your website.  Make sure you have an active presence on social media at this time. 

Before this crisis, one of the greatest challenges parishes faced was just getting the attention of our parishioners and community. That no longer seems a problem. But we need a relevant message to keep them engaged.


This crisis could very well be a calamity for many churches, especially those who were already struggling. It could be … but it need not be, at least not if we approach it prayerfully, strategically, and creatively. It could be that you have been placed in your parish for such a time as this.

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