Loving your neighbor during the time of COVID-19 social distancing is a challenging command requiring new thinking and intentional effort.
“The internet can abate our need for personal contact, but it can’t replace it,” said George Yates, church health strategist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions. “Many church leaders who thrive on people contact have found depression knocking on their doors these past weeks.”
Yates was lead presenter for “Building Healthy Connections in the New Reality,” a video conference hosted in June by the SBOM’s office of LeaderCare and church health.
Yates offered several tips for building healthy connections during disruptions of the church’s normal routine:
- Start and maintain member-to-member contact. “For Southern Baptists, this is our small group ministry or Sunday School,” he said. “But we’ve been unable to do this as we wish. Classes with a care system up and going before the shutdown are way ahead now since they can ensure frequent contacts. I’ve heard from some church members who said they’ve not received a single contact in these two-and-a-half months, and this is incredibly sad.”
Yates said he knew of some classes gathering outside, in backyards, driveways or local parks in addition to those using video resources. “It’s helpful to remember Jesus’ classroom,” he said. “He preached wherever He was and at every opportunity.”
- Match member-to-ministry contact.
Yates said classes should find some way to engage in ministry together and some way to foster “friendly accountability.”
“Sometimes we look for ‘warm bodies’ to fill spots in our ministries, but we must remember that people serve out of their passion,” Yates said. “A better way is to help members find their areas of giftedness and interests.”
Yates noted the SBOM offers assessments like the “Passion Assessment” and the “Strengths Matrix” to help church members identify their ministry gifts.
- Launch neighbor-reaching-neighbor contact. Evangelism is a significant area of ministry, and it “runs on the rails of relationships and prayer,” said Daniel Wilson, director of the SBOM office of evangelism.
“The more ‘hooks in the water’ we have in fishing for men, the better we are, but nothing beats friendship evangelism,” he said. “Oscar Thompson had it right years ago when he wrote ‘Concentric Circles of Concern.’ We all have those in our circles who need Christ, including some who share our last name — our own family.”
Wilson displayed a tic-tac-toe-style board he’d recently filled in.
“I put myself in the middle, and then listed my eight closest neighbors,” he said. “This is my missions field, and this is a simple tool Christians can use. We make a point to meet and to know and to share faith with our neighbors.”
SBOM evangelism associate Terry Long agreed that intercessory prayer is mandatory in reaching people for Christ.
Spirit at work
“People can reject our outreach attempts, but no one can withstand the Spirit of God who works on their hearts,” he said.
- Engage in member-to-community contact.
Yates recommended the SBOM’s “Community Needs Survey” resource as a way to get started, noting one question is, “How can we pray for you today?”
“This is a time to have conversations with our community leaders to discover how our churches can help,” Yates said. “These should be genuine conversations to unearth needs. Every church can do something better in its community.”
To access the SBOM resources for church members and community outreach, visit tabonline.org/connection-resources or call the SBOM at 800-264-1225.
TAB Media also has a playlist of evangelism videos at youtube.com/tabmediagroup.