Coronavirus has been a hot topic around the world in the last few weeks, but it feels like that kicked up a notch this week. Around the world, governments have put restrictions in place to help slow the rate of infection.

We are not recommending any health advice other than: follow the instructions provided to you by your government and their health services.

Here are some recommendations for how your teams can better handle the challenges and stay effective in meeting people’s needs. This article talks about why using email isn’t enough and why you need to use different communication channels to inform people adequately.

Social distancing is a key tool to slow the rate of infection, and many companies are asking people to work from home. As most UCare team members have worked remotely for many years, this article also has recommendations for how you can get the most out of remote work.

Finally and most importantly, this article has suggestions for streaming your services and using small groups to help maintain community in your church.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

One key that we all need to learn is that communicating as soon as possible helps your people. While we do not have a spirit of fear, to help reduce anxiety, it’s crucial you create COVID-19 policies based on the best advice from government health agencies and communicate this to your people often.

If part of your policy is that you are canceling large meetings, tell your people as soon as you can, tell them why you have made the decision, and tell them when they can expect an update on future meetings.

If you are going ahead with services, let people know what plans and precautions you have put in place. Ask people to do their part, and you should find that most people will be more than happy. Encourage your people; if they are even a little sick, then for the sake of our broader communities, they should stay home to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Also, remind people that self-isolating isn’t just about looking after their health; it’s about being socially responsible towards those most at risk. You may still want to suggest to those that are at risk (older adults and those with chronic medical conditions) that they take extra care and maybe skip attending for at least a few weeks.

Keep reading for suggestions on how you can help those people that are self-isolating to stay connected at this important time.

The problem with email

We have already seen most churches starting to communicate their plans, many via email. We have already sent 175% of our average monthly email volume sent in the first 14 days of the month.

Many churches, companies, sporting organizations, and many other organizations have been communicating about coronavirus related changes via email. And this leads to one of the big problems with email. Most email services have spam protection; the more prominent services protect against email floods. When a wave of email messages are being sent, services like Gmail, Hotmail, Office365, etc. pause email delivery and put the messages through additional checks.

These additional checks have meant email recipients for these more prominent email services have been receiving messages much later than churches have expected. Delays have been a widespread issue, UCare supports Mailchimp and has built-in mass email options. But regardless of the service you use to send email messages, you will potentially be running into the delay problem.

You may already understand that because of spam filters, there is no certainty that your email message will arrive in everyone’s inbox. When you add the potential for messages to be delayed, it should be clear why you need a multi-channel communication strategy.

Before you even send an email, add an announcement to your website about your policies and any changes. Next, create a Contact List search group that lists all your regulars, recent visitors, and if you have online streaming options, then maybe include past attendees. Past attendees may not be connected to a church, and this is a great time to reach out to them with the message of Jesus.

SMS is the best way to communicate with people quickly, so send an SMS message to the new group with a link to the website announcement. If you use the UCare app, you can send SMS using the credit included with your phone plan. Note that sending SMS through the app is slower as your phone can only send the message to one person at a time.

Alternatively, if you haven’t already; enabled SMS for your account in UCare Settings. The web-based SMS option has a small cost-per-person but will send all the messages quickly. If your contact list is over 300 people, then the web-based SMS is your only real option as your phone would take up to 30 minutes to send to a contact list that size.

If your church has a Whatsapp presence, then publishing the same message that links back to your church website announcement is also a great idea.

After the SMS, send your announcement through email to your contact list. Publishing to all your Socials comes next. For platforms like Facebook and Instagram, use images or videos that link back to your website. Plus, if you use videos, then include the message in written format. Instagram is another platform where a video is a great option where your message can be a simple selfie-style video. People will tend to be more appreciative that you are communicating than worry about the video being broadcast quality.

If you are still running services over the coming weekends, then it’s also important to reinforce your key messages during the service about what’s changing while focusing on how your church is staying in faith. Adding prominent notice boards that encourage people to maintain a minimum distance from each other is also a great idea.

We need to mention that before you send any messages, it’s essential to consider your tone. We have seen messages like “Don’t miss church” or “Make sure you’re in church” sent in the last 24 hours. These messages may be the result of SMS scheduled through UCare, but they miscommunicate the important idea of people self-isolating if they are unwell.

As part of your tone, take the time to craft the language that your church is using so that people can sense your empathy. Ensure your tone is realistic and doesn’t over-promise. If you’re not sure about a time from or the specifics, then let people know that you will have more to say. Also, let them know when you will be communicating that information and what the best channels are to stay connected.

Additionally, create a feedback loop. People may have more questions that you haven’t thought about yet. Create a UCare Form to collect feedback, then share the Form in your emails, Socials, or embed on your website or in your church app.

Once your messages are out, start planning how to keep people updated with changes and new information.

Day to Day Church

Let’s start with a focus on your teams. Most of the UCare team members work remotely every day of the week, and our teams regularly mention how much they love the family flexibility it provides. But not being in the same room as the people you work with has its challenges in keeping everyone on the same page.

Here are seven tips in case you find yourself in the position that your church team needs to work from home:

  1. Create a daily routine. For example, each morning, get ready for your day as you usually would, then go out for a 15 minute walk or check the letterbox as the first routine that signifies the start of your day.
  2. Set yourself up in a dedicated space that allows you to focus and then, at the end of the day, deliberately leave that space. If the space is a room, then close the door as you finish for the day. If you do different types of work during your day (e.g., creative work), then it can also help to find an additional space that allows you to get the creative juices flowing.
  3. The power of focus is also a necessary ingredient for productivity, find the things that enable you to remove the distractions. For example, some of our teams like to wear headphones. Find the things that help you reduce distractions and focus during your day.
  4. Have a way to keep your teams connected and on the same page. At UCare, we use Microsoft Teams for discussion boards, task tracking, project management, file sharing, video conferencing, and more. A few days ago, Microsoft announced that for the next six months, they are giving Microsoft Teams away for free. If you don’t have a tool that can provide your teams with a way to stay connected, then we recommend you start with Microsoft Teams.
  5. Daily Check-ins. Let your leader and team know at the start of the day what your goals are. At the end of the day, let them know what you achieved and any roadblocks you hit. If there is anything you are struggling with as part of working remotely, then raise it. We use Microsoft Teams for these daily discussions. Microsoft Teams is also excellent for running check-ins as a video conference call, which allows team members to feel more connected.
  6. Each team member needs to know currently what their most important objectives are. In other words, what does success look like for them today, this week or this month? Keep the list short; you may need to postpone some objectives to later in the year.
  7. Provide lots of feedback. When working remotely, it often feels devoid of the usual feedback that you get when working in the same office. So ensure you provide regular feedback. Be specific, what have they done well, and why. Also, let them know where they missed an objective. Your objective is not to be critical; it’s to set them up for succeeding in their role. It may seem simple, but if the feedback doesn’t help the person grow in their capacity, then it’s not useful feedback.

Once you have your team members effectively working remotely, make sure you forward phones and update all your communication options so that people can still get in touch with you. Adding a UCare Form to your mobile apps, website and Socials will give you an effective option to track those people that are reaching out for help. If you link the Form to a Process, then you can track people through the follow-up steps.

We’ve heard of cases in the last few weeks of people had to self-isolate, but they then ran out of groceries. In one particular case, the church had a Form embedded on their website, and when the request came in, it was instantly routed to the church Pastoral Care team. Because the Form was linked to a Process, the team simply followed their normal crisis Process. The Process not only ensured that a person contacted them and arranged for delivery of meals, but the Process also automatically notified the hospitality team to request extra meals for the food bank.

Streaming your services

God created people for the community, so look for ways to help your people feel connected. If you’re not streaming services yet, now may be a good time to start.

If you haven’t shut down services, still be mindful that many people; for instance, parents who have kids with regular runny noses or the elderly won’t be able to attend and will want a way to stay connected.

Facebook, YouTube, and the Church Online Platform provide free streaming services. Boxcast and Crowdcast also provide inexpensive streaming services.

Here at UCare, our product team often finds that 80% of what is required for a new feature only takes 20% of the time. “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better and your better is best.” was spoken by St Jerome and is still a great reminder that sometimes 80% is good enough. Don’t let the desire for perfection be the enemy of keeping people connected.

For larger churches, you probably already have streaming options, but for smaller churches, keep it simple. Use a cost-effective and straightforward camera that you can stream in realtime. If you had been considering a more advanced camera, you could always purchase it at a later date when there is less pressure.

In regards to regular giving, suggest to people watching the live stream that they give via their mobile bank app or using internet banking. When people give via their bank, you avoid credit card transaction fees. Even if you have a giving app, the more you can get people to use the options provided by their bank, the less you lose in giving fees. Most banks even make it easy to set up recurring giving, and it’s what many people are most familiar with.

For those people who still want to use credit card giving, you can embed the UCare payment form into your live stream chat. UCare can process the payments using Stripe. With Stripe, the credit card fees will be as low as 1.75% + 30c per transaction.

Continue fellowship through small groups.

Many churches we’ve spoken to this week that are shutting down services; are instead using their small groups as a place for connection. And having a live stream makes this even better.

While running church as Small Groups doesn’t have a corporate worship feel, it has the benefit of feeling much more intimate. If people can gather, watch a message, and discuss after it allows community to continue while still being socially responsible.

Here are some tips for organizing new groups.

  • Give your service small groups a new type. For example, while you may have existing small groups under the “Small group” type, you could create new groups under the type “Small group service.”
  • If the group is meeting online via Microsoft Teams (or similar service), then in the group “where” field paste the URL for your online team.
  • Have group leaders complete an attendance report; the report will be sent via email, avoiding the need for group leaders to have a password. The leaders can even search for an attendee by phone number, helping avoid duplicates for existing profiles. An attendance summary email is sent after reports are saved; the summary allows the leader to see who needs follow-up quickly.
  • Publish your groups to your website, mobile app, or Socials so that people can find a group in their area and then contact a leader to get connected.

Hopefully, these suggestions around communication, remote work, streaming, and small groups are beneficial to you. If there is anything we have missed or that you have questions about then, please tap the green Help button below or click the question mark in the top right of the UCare app to send a message.

Our support team is here to help you better navigate the COVID-19 outbreak in the weeks and months ahead. Let us know if there is anything else you need and we will work with you.

Blessings,

The UCare Team