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Church reaching out

How the church can provide practical, emotional and spiritual support during outbreaks of infectious diseases


A lady with a face-mask giving a food parcel to a smiling woman in Columbia

A church member in Colombia delivers a food package to a family affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Edrai Cueto/Tearfund

A Congolese man washes his hands at a community wash station

From: Covid-19: Footsteps Special Edition

A practical resource on Covid-19 including how to address misinformation and the long-term impacts of the pandemic

Churches have a very important role to play during outbreaks of diseases such as Covid-19. As well as providing hope and practical care, they can promote clear health information and offer a good example.

Here are some practical tips to help churches and church leaders respond well to any public health crisis.

Promote correct information

Provide clear, up-to-date and correct information about the disease, treatment and vaccines that is appropriate to the context and based on scientific advice (eg from the World Health Organization).

Use creative ways to share this information, for example church and community meetings (if permitted), dance, drama, phone calls, social media, community radio, videos and posters.

The messages should include clear guidance on how to reduce the spread of the disease such as handwashing, physical distancing and wearing masks.

Challenge false information

Fear or lack of understanding may result in panic. False accusations might be made against people with the disease, causing stigma and discrimination. There may be a spread of wrong information about the vaccines.

Listen to your community to discover if inaccurate information is circulating, and then speak out and correct it. Try to calm fears and promote positive attitudes and behaviours in a non-judgemental, loving way.

Help church members use the Bible to shape their response to the disease. The Bible shows us that we should not blame those who become unwell. Instead, we are called to bless the people around us, practically, emotionally and spiritually (Hebrews 13:16).

Demonstrate safe behaviours

All church members should lead by example, demonstrating behaviours that have the potential to save lives and prevent the spread of the disease, for example regular handwashing.

Care for the congregation

Church members may be feeling isolated, fearful or sad. Some may be unwell or mourning the loss of loved ones. Others may be struggling financially.

If it is not possible to meet in person, find new ways to help members stay connected so they can support each other. This may include video calls, phone calls or social media groups.

Care for the community

As the body of Christ we are called to love God and love our neighbours (Mark 12:30–31). We should model Jesus' lifestyle during times of crisis, speaking about and living lives of hope, love and care for the people around us.

This may include checking on vulnerable and isolated people to ensure they have enough food and that their other basic needs are being met. We can also speak up on their behalf, making sure that the most vulnerable are not forgotten by policymakers.

Pray for an end to the disease

The church has been given the full armour of God to respond to the brokenness of this world (Ephesians 6:10–20). Jesus understands our fears and worries and asks us to bring them to him in prayer (1 Peter 5:7).

Case study Psychosocial support

In Zimbabwe, pandemic-related restrictions on movement meant that church members were finding it difficult to provide practical, emotional and spiritual support to community members.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe approached government ministers and asked them to give church leaders permission to visit the communities, if they could do so in a way that minimised risk.

As a result, they received an exemption letter from the Ministry of Home Affairs allowing church leaders to operate because they were providing psychosocial support, which was considered to be an essential service.

A Zimbabwean woman wearing a facemask holding a bucket of water on her head.

Providing practical support in Zimbabwe. Photo: Tearfund

Case study: United

Early in 2021 the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) became aware that false information was circulating about the Covid-19 vaccines.

With Tearfund’s support, EFZ gathered together denominational leaders, a respected theologian and a scientist experienced in vaccines. Together, they helped the leaders to understand that the common myths about the vaccine were untrue.

The denominational leaders agreed a statement on the Covid-19 vaccines and supported local churches to address misinformation. This unified position allowed EFZ to facilitate conversations between church leaders and the Minister of Health, enabling the church to influence the government’s Covid-19 vaccination plans.

Further reading and resources

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