March 21, 2020

Strategies and Tools for COVID-Related Outreach

This blog is a part of a series. Read the previous post here.

How can our congregations do effective outreach while the COVID 19 pandemic makes social distancing necessary?

How can our congregations contribute to controlling the Coronavirus?

These are two important questions to ask and answer during the current pandemic (and there are likely many more)...

First, ground yourself in hard data from reliable sources about Coronavirus and COVID19: What is it? What does it do? How does it spread? How can people both protect themselves from the virus and avoid spreading it to others? How do you know you might have it? What do you do if you think you do? What COVID-related resources are in your area?

Reliable, data-grounded sources and resources include:

  • State and local government or local health department websites. Your local health depart, in particular, will be a great source of local COVID information. For example, mine has a COVID19 Information page and a COVID Closures page.
  • The Episcopal Church website and your diocesan website. The Episcopal Church has a very useful Concerning COVID19 information and resources page, including links to the COVID advisory pages of most of its dioceses. My own diocese, the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, for example, has an entire page dedicated COVID information and resources, including links to all local health departments within its bounds.
  • The Episcopal Church Foundation is compiling a curated list of COVID resources and ECF Vital Practices has invited its bloggers to focus on COVID-related issues in posts such as these.
  • COVID19 Tracking Dashboard. Johns Hopkins and ESRI partnered to develop this tool that provides regular infographic updates on the cumulative number of COVID infections, active cases, deaths, and recoveries by country, state, and some larger cities.
  • MapDash for Faith Communities. Those judicatories and congregations who have or have access to this powerful demographic and analytic missional assessment and planning platform will soon be receiving updates to their dashboard, including localized data on incidences of COVID-19, hospital locations and capacity, locations of doctors, COVID-related Twitter feeds, and more. (Full disclosure: FaithX is an affiliate of Datastory, the GIS firm that developed MapDash with our assistance).

Second, explore the needs and outreach opportunities in the neighborhoods you serve. Different neighborhoods will have different needs and resources, which taken together will reveal unique opportunities to exercise our burden of care for our communities.

Possibilities for exploring neighborhood needs and resources include:

  • Local Health Departments. A primary source. Yours may be able to provide you with information on the level of risk in your area and what restrictions are in place.
  • Local Housing Authorities. Yours may be able to provide you with the locations of public housing developments and Section 8 housing, where low wage, hourly workers tend to live, who may be more likely to lose their jobs in a pandemic-induced recession.
  • Local Police Stations. Yours may also provide good information about what they are seeing.
  • Local Hospitals. Like local police stations, yours may be a good source of “front line” information.
  • Neighborhood Missional Intelligence Reports and Neighborhood Missional Assessments. NMIRs are two-page infographic reports about demographic and community characteristics of populations within a 5, 10, or 15-min drive of your congregation, including prevalence of higher risk populations, such as adults over 60, families in poverty, families receiving food stamps, persons without transportation, and households without medical coverage. NMAs can go deeper providing information on the location of higher risk locations, as well as the locations of local health departments, housing authorities, police stations, hospitals, public housing, and other useful resources. (Full disclosure: NMIRs and NMAs are provided by FaithX).

Finally, from the above information prayerfully discern what part God is calling your congregation to do in this uncertain time.

A few possibilities might include:

  • Send postcards to people in the neighborhoods surrounding the congregation inviting them to your online worship services, virtual bible studies, and digital gatherings, and encouraging congregation members to invite their neighbors.
  • Setting up a telephone (or email) tree to check on members whom you haven’t seen in a while (even those who may have left on less than positive terms) and invite them to participate virtually, as well.
  • Providing financial assistance to low-income hourly workers who have been laid off or those who might otherwise consider going to work for the sake of income.
  • Identifying shut-ins, the elderly, and people without transportation and finding ways to get food and other necessities to them or get them to a doctor if needed.
  • Partnering with food banks or other community assistance organizations (or increasing your support and congregational participation), and encouraging congregation members to do the same.
  • Encouraging parishioners to reach out to their neighbors via email, phone, or postcard to invite mutual support.
  • Encouraging healthy parishioners to give blood if the Red Cross announces a need.
  • Any other acting-outside-the-box ways you can think of to match what your community needs with your congregation’s gifts and calling

This is obviously not even close to an exhaustive list. We welcome you to share ideas you may have or your congregation may be doing to support your community during the pandemic.

As a colleague of mine said in a recent online clergy discussion with our bishop, “If there is one silver lining about the COVID pandemic it’s this: We’ve been talking forever about how the church needs to start experimenting with new ways of being and doing church. But now the Holy Spirit has taken us by the hair and said, ‘Enough talking! Start experimenting!’”

Watch for future posts in this series, which may include:

  • Tools and strategies for hosting online fellowship.
  • Tools and strategies for facilitating online bible study and formation.
  • Tools and strategies congregations can use to locate and reach populations most vulnerable to COVID19.
  • Tools and strategies by which judicatories can resource their congregations
  • Tools and strategies for giving opportunities for giving by mobile phone or online.
  • Things people can do to create a sense of community with their own neighbors and neighborhoods.