The COVID-19 virus may be preventing churches from offering in-person worship, but the work and ministry continues outside of worship times. Pastors and presbytery leaders are relying on technology to help them stay in touch with congregations and staff. It is also helping keep church offices organized.

Teaching Elder Andy James of the Presbytery of New Hope, who also serves on the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, offers suggestions on how to stay organized and effective in this time of social distancing. The first thing he suggests is checking your contact list and communications.

“Verify that you have current contact information for all members and regular attendees at your church. Go over the protocol for communicating the cancellation of worship or other events to these persons and the broader public,” he said. “Even smaller congregations that depend on family networks may want to make sure that everyone has a ‘buddy’ who is not part of their own family.”

James also suggests that church staff have remote and shared access to key information.

“Put critical electronic files in cloud-based storage so key leaders can access information from home. Know how to access the church’s voicemail system or answering machine remotely in case important messages are left there or you need to update the recording to reflect a cancellation or closure,” James said. “Set up an electronic distribution list through a database or distribution service (i.e. Constant Contact or Mailchimp) so that access is not limited to a single person.”

Churches and presbyteries are currently relying on electronic conferencing options to keep people connected.

“The church’s ministry does not have to stop if in-person gatherings have to be canceled for health and safety reasons. Explore ways of gathering for worship, prayer, and/or Bible study via conferencing technology like Zoom (videoconferences) or FreeConferenceCall,” said James. “These have the added benefit of providing options for bringing people together in our increasingly complex lifestyles.”

James also suggests adopting rules for electronic meetings.

“Sessions and other church committees can meet electronically via videoconference or teleconference if the church has adopted appropriate procedures for such in advance,” he said. “Make sure your session’s manual of operations includes these provisions before you need to use them, even if you don’t have the technology yet!”

Finally, James says churches should set up giving online. Contributions to the church can continue even when worship is canceled, or attendance diminished through any of several online giving options.

“Look for a service that integrates with your church’s database software or consider the Presbyterian Foundation’s Online Giving Program, which offers low transaction fees, then encourage members to establish automatic recurring gifts,” he said.