Now that federal social distancing guidelines extend through at least April 30, it’s time to plan for how to do ministry remotely for a longer period. Even if the government changes social distancing guidelines in May, some parts of the country might have to remain online-only for longer based on how COVID-19 is spreading in their region.

For now, planning remote church for the next 30-90 days (and planning for when we’re able to meet in-person again) seems wise.

Over the last two weeks, church leaders have started (or continued) online services. Many have provided videos for children, delivered groceries to those who couldn’t get out, called parishioners to make sure they were OK, and much more. As your team plans for the next several weeks of online church, here are several things to consider:

No. 1: Communicate

Even though we can’t meet in-person, we can still stay in touch. Emails, blog posts, social media posts, Facebook lives, YouTube videos, phone calls, Zoom video calls, and text messages are all ways to keep in contact with members of your church. Here are a few ways to leverage these tools:

Blog posts: Write a short devotional (200 words or so) and include a few questions at the end for families or small groups (meeting virtually, of course) to discuss together.

Sermon notes: Provide sermon notes on the church website for people to use as they watch the message online.

Social media: Post encouraging messages and verses, share bloopers from recording last week’s sermon, and offer information on how to let church leadership know if they need assistance or prayer.

Children’s ministry: Have your children’s ministry team members record short videos for parents to watch with their kids. Provide downloadable PDFs that go along with that week’s message for parents to print and give to their children. If you have craft or activity ideas to go with the message, those are great to provide as well.

Phone: Call members who you know (or suspect) may need some assistance (grocery runs, etc.).

Email: Send emails to the congregation (1-3 per week). Offer encouragement, remind them about church online times/ways to watch the sermon, share ideas on how they can help those in need, and provide information on how to receive prayer and/or assistance during this time.

No. 2: Keep your church facility ready

At some point, we’ll get to meet in our buildings again. When that day comes, you’ll want everything in excellent shape. Take this time to check your HVAC settings (you don’t need it running full blast since no one’s there). Go ahead and clean up the landscaping, handle some minor repairs, or work on a few projects that are easier to do when the building isn’t in-use (just make sure you comply with local guidance).

Be prepared to disinfect pretty much everything before the next in-person church service. Look up EPA guidelines on approved cleaning solutions and techniques. Clean playground equipment, toys, handrails, door handles/knobs, bathrooms, and more.

The virus will probably still be around to some degree even after we get the all-clear to start in-person services again. Develop and document new cleaning processes now so you can quickly implement them at that time.

No. 3: Tackle the financial situation

If you haven’t set up online giving yet, do that now. Online giving provides people with an easy method for tithing to the church from their smartphone or other mobile device. Since you can’t pass an actual offering plate around for the foreseeable future, online giving is the new offering plate.

Many members of your congregation might become unemployed in the coming weeks and therefore, won’t be able to tithe. Donations might go down if they haven’t already. First, our hope and provision comes from God, so don’t allow fear to creep in.

Second, while we trust God to provide, we also need to take action. Evaluate the church budget to see where you could reduce expenses. Research how your church might be able to leverage the CARES Act recently signed into law. Several companies are offering webinars and tips on how the CARES Act helps non-profits. Check those out here and here.

No. 4: Keep in touch with your team

We’re all missing the ability to chat in-person and be around more people (yes, even us introverts are feeling it!). Make sure you have a plan for staying in contact with your staff and volunteers. You can host weekly video staff meetings, daily collaboration via Zoom, and keep current on to-dos via an online project management tool (Asana, Basecamp, Monday, are a few examples).

Don’t just talk about work during these times. Ask about each other’s families, share funny stories from your attempts to cut your kid’s hair, offer tips on how to ration toilet paper (kidding…mostly!), etc. Bring some levity into this overwhelming situation. Laughter is still good medicine, so bring on the extra doses.

Finally, extend lots of grace to others and yourself throughout this situation. We’re all trying to figure out what life is supposed to look like and how to “be the church” while remaining physically apart. There’s plenty of trial and error involved, and no one will get it “right” all the time.

Ask God for wisdom, reach out to those who might have a bit more knowledge or experience than you do on a topic, and work with your team to come up with creative solutions. We’ll get through this together…even while physically apart.