A Coronavirus Guide for Churches

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Churches have always served as places of refuge and hope in times of uncertainty. Today, church leaders are being called upon to comfort congregations that can no longer gather safely together. Staff and volunteers are looking to church leadership for guidance on how to safely perform outreach to congregants stuck at home, some of who may already be ill.

These unprecedented times call for both calm heads and helping hands. Here are some tips on how churches can provide both:

Stay informed.

Social media can be both a blessing and a curse; a blessing since many people are looking for social connection and a curse because of misinformation that spreads panic and anxiety. Encourage your congregants to use reliable sources of information to stay informed, like the CDC COVID-19 Website that has up-to-date information on coronavirus including tips on how to protect yourself and what to do if you are sick. Another helpful site is California Coronavirus Response for the latest news on the state’s COVID-19 response. The U.S. Center for Disease Control has also provided Interim Guidance for Faith-Based Organizations that provides churches and community organizations with tips and tools for planning your response to this ongoing health crisis.

Prepare for Remote Operations

Ensuring that the church’s key financial operations can function remotely is essential. Organizations that have already switched to cloud-based systems will be better prepared to operate remotely with an adequate Internet connection. Churches that do not have cloud-based systems should establish protocols for team members to operate remotely. Your IT team should be able to make it possible for staff working remotely to access the organization’s servers.

Other considerations for remote operations include:

Online giving — ensure that your organization’s online giving function has been fully tested and is operational. If you have not yet instituted online giving, PayPal offers charitable organizations a reduced fee for online donations. Remember that in times of crisis, people look for a place to give.

Online payables — for payments to staff and vendors, consider using a cloud-based payables management application like Bill.com to eliminate the need for physical checks.

Phone systems — organizations with Internet-based phone systems can have calls redirected to staff members’ cell phones. If your church does not have this type of system, you need to develop protocols for staff members to retrieve voicemail messages remotely.

Internal controls — in times of crisis, it is more necessary than ever to maintain good internal financial controls over the organization’s resources. Now is the time to re-examine internal controls and apply reasonable safeguards to ensure this health crisis doesn’t create a financial crisis for your organization.

Form a Crisis Management Team

Churches that do not already have a crisis management team (and plan) in place should consider creating one as soon as possible. Your team should include a member of the pastoral staff, a financial team member, a communications team member, a human resources team member, and a local health care professional. This core group will be responsible for planning the church’s preventative measures and response to the COVID-19 crisis, including coordinating with local community and public health agencies to help your community.

Communicate Often

Now is the time to ramp up your normal outreach to congregants via the organization’s website, social media pages, and email. Since Californians can no longer gather together for worship in person, scheduling online services to be broadcast on your website and YouTube or hosting a live Facebook event can bring your congregants together for remote worship. If your church does not have experience with online worship, review this guide for livestreaming church services from HackingChristianity.net. Be sure to follow their guidelines for the proper use of copyrighted music — even hymns that are published in hymnals are usually only authorized for singing in church, not for a live broadcast. You will need to obtain a license; OneLicense is giving free access to one-month streaming licenses valid through April 15.

Unfortunately, older church members are at the highest risk for infection from COVID-19 and are also less likely to be active online. But staying in touch with them has never been more important! You will need a strategy for pastoral care of older members. Consider enlisting church volunteers to call and check on elderly members on a regular basis.

Be Flexible with Employees

Church staff will undoubtedly be worried about their jobs. If you can in good faith reassure them that this crisis is temporary and that the church will make every effort to keep paying salaries and benefits, please do so. The more information you can provide, the less anxiety your staff will experience from this “new normal.”

The church may also need to be more flexible when it comes to granting sick leave to those who have fallen ill or have to take care of sick family members. In addition, staff members may need to work flexible hours because of school closings resulting in children being at home all day.

If your church has more than 50 employees, they may be protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). On March 18, 2020, the President signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which has expanded FMLA leave to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to care for a child whose school or daycare facility has been closed. To qualify, employees must have worked at least 30 days for organizations with less than 500 employees.

Have more questions? We can help.

The Church Law Center of California advises churches and other nonprofits on how to protect themselves from risk while furthering their mission, especially in times of crisis. If you have questions about how to mitigate risk and protect your organization during the coronavirus crisis, call us today at (949) 689-0437 or reach out to us through our contact page.

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