By Bishop Michael Rinehart
Yes, only 30 minutes.
The pastor hugged her as she walked through the door. Her husband had died, one year ago today. Even her best friends couldn’t remember what day he had died. How did the pastor do it? She was remembered in the prayers, so after worship others gathered around her as well. Ministry happened. It wasn’t because the pastor had a flawless memory. It took a little bit of planning and organization.
No matter how big your congregation is, caring for people requires a little bit of planning. It doesn’t, however, require an unreasonable amount of administrative time. A little bit of discipline will go a long way. Thirty minutes each week will launch an explosion of ministry.
It begins with a care calendar. You can create this digitally, or do it on paper with a calendar that has a week on one side and space to write on the other side, like the one pictured here. We’ll go into how it’s used below.
The goal of the meeting is simply to decide who will call or visit whom. Joe is the hospital. Who will visit him and how often? Does he have a small group leader who might make a visit? A Sunday school teacher? Is he in the choir? Will the pastor go? Beth’s mother’s funeral last week. Who will call this week? When might she need a contact in the future. More on this below.
Who is at the meeting? In a small congregation this may be the pastor and the secretary/admin. It’s still important to have the meeting, so there is organization and accountability. Larger congregations will want a few other people. Is there someone in leadership who is responsible for care? Do you have Stephen Ministry? Does someone coordinate hospital visits? Who is in charge of small groups, life groups, or other subdivisions of the congregation? As you go through this, you’ll start to get an idea of who would be helpful to have at the table.
The organization of the meeting is relatively simple. Here’s an outline of the agenda. Five items.
- Scripture and Prayer (2 minutes)
- Prayer requests (5 minutes)
- Worship cards
- Web page
- Social media
- Current Events (10 minutes)
- Job loss
- Social Service
- Review Care Calendar (10 minutes)
- The Lord’s Prayer (3 minutes)
So let’s break it down.
- Scripture and Prayer (2 minutes)
Of course, always begin with Scripture and prayer. Consider using the same Bible passage and the same prayer for a year, until it’s memorized. That way it becomes part of your DNA. Consider these as possibilities, or choose others that work for you.
13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.
By your power, great God, our Lord Jesus healed the sick and gave new hope to the hopeless. Though we cannot command or possess your power, we pray for those who want to be healed. Mend their wounds, soothe fevered brows, and make broken people whole again. Help us to welcome every healing as a sign that, though death is against us, you are for us, and have promised renewed and risen life in Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen.
- Prayer requests (5 minutes)
Begin by going through the list of those who have requested prayers. Many congregations have a prayer request on their attendance cards. Some have separate prayer cards. If so, go through those, one by one and consider who will contact these folks. You prayed for them on Sunday. Prayer leads to action. Extend the ministry of the church. On the right side (notes) of the Care Calendar, write down who will contact this person. Are they in choir? If so, that might be the choir director. Are they part of the youth group? It might be that leader. If that person is not in the meeting, who in the meeting will ask that person to make the contact? Write it down. Next week, you’ll report back how that visit went and if continuing contact is needed.
Prayer requests may come in on Facebook, Twitter or other social media. They may come in by email. People may call the church office and ask. Unless you get 20 or more prayer requests a week, this part should only take a few minutes. Your goal is not to process each situation, but simply to decide who is best to make the contact. You will walk away with some calls to make. Some will be care calls, and others will simply be calls to ask someone to make a contact. If you’re large enough to have someone on staff who coordinates care ministries, that person may be assigned to call the callers. Following up lets people know you take these seriously.
- Current Events (10 minutes)
Congregation: What is going on in your congregation this week? Who is in need? Who is grieving?
Consider Margaret. Her husband died last week. The funeral was at the church. Most congregation do pretty good funeral ministry the week someone dies. Unfortunately, many congregations drop the ball after the funeral. Often the grief doesn’t set in until the flurry of funeral planning and family has subsided. Once everyone leaves, the bereaved face the empty house. Another wave hits a month or two later, as finances and insurance are worked out. Some people say the one-year anniversary is harder than the funeral.
So, back to Margaret. Her husband has just died. First, decide who will call her this week. In a small congregation this will probably be the pastor. Then decide who in the congregation might be willing to walk with her this year. A Stephen’s Minister or a trained visitor. If you have visitors, be certain to train them, so they don’t do more harm than good.
Then look ahead in the calendar. What will be the hard days for Margaret in the next year? Her deceased husband’s birthday for sure. Their anniversary. Perhaps Father’s Day. The one year anniversary. Christmas? Easter? Flip through the Care Calendar and write down her name on each of these days. You’ll need to have next year’s calendar too. If he died on July 8, then go to July 8 of next year and write down Margaret Smith (Pete died). Be sure to write why you’re calling. If you have a lot of people, a year from now you might forget why it was important to call Margaret on this day. Write her name down on his birthday: Margaret Smith (Pete’s birthday). Write her name down on their anniversary and Father’s Day.
Do this after each funeral. This is organizing for grief ministry at its best.
If you don’t have a funeral, consider who else might be grieving in any way. Grief comes in many forms. A distant relative may have died. Someone might have lost a job, or have a child who lost a job. Someone might have had a diagnosis. These will usually show up in prayer requests, but sometimes not. So it’s good to take a moment and check in.
Next, is there anyone in the hospital? Who will visit? This will differ person to person. Some people are private and would prefer fewer or no visits. Others are lonely and would love regular visitors. The first visit will make that clear. Who is going to visit this week? Several people on rotation? Just once, or every day?
Give some thought to your homebound people. A best practice is assigning each homebound person a family to take them communion monthly, straight from church. These families will develop a relationship that will continue even between pastors.
Then consider birthdays and anniversaries. Most congregations track these. Does anyone call? It’s not required, and in a large congregation could become cumbersome, but it’s a nice touch. Pastor Jim Giannantonio of Christ the Servant in Houston calls every member on their birthday. If you have 240 members, that’s about five a week. They’re often short calls, and sometimes just a thoughtful voicemail. Other times something is going on and the call comes at a good time. This isn’t going to be possible in a congregation of 2,000 members, but most congregations in the U.S. have less than 200 active members.
Another consideration is visitors to the congregation. In a large congregation this will be a separate evangelism or witness or welcome team. In a small congregation, this can be part of the Care Team. Visitor calls are often care calls. People visit churches because something is going on in their lives. Maybe they’ve just moved, which is a huge transitional time in life. They are looking for friends and community. Or maybe they are unchurched, but something in their life has caused them to search out spiritual community. These are not recruiting calls. They are care calls, that need to be made by trained callers, or the pastor in smaller settings.
Community: Don’t stop with congregational concerns. Consider the community and the world. Are their neighbors to the church building, people who live next door? Who contacts them? My first congregation in Iowa used to shovel the driveways of the houses adjacent to the church as a way to be a good neighbor and thank them for putting up with the hassles of being next door to a bustling congregation. How about your local school? Is there one across the street? Who calls the principal and asks what is going on? What if you called the mayor of your town on his or her birthday to say thank you for his or her work? Consider appointing someone to touch base once or twice a year with the officer or sheriff’s deputy who works in your area. The local fire house that serves you. The community is your parish. Who is hurting in your community that should be part of your Care Calendar?
Finally, think about your companion synods and your companion congregation. Who is in touch?
All of this may sound like a lot, but it really only takes about 10 minutes of brainstorming in most congregations to write a list and consider who should make the call. Do this in your Care Calendar.
- Care Calendar (10 minutes)
Once you’ve done all of the above, you’re going to have a list of people to receive calls or visits this coming week. Next to each name you’ll have the name of the person who is going to make that contact. Then next to those names, you’ll have the name of the person in your meeting who is going to ask that person to make the contact. You’ll ask those callers to let you know once the call has been made so you know the call has been made. You will also have, over time, a calendar of calls. When Mother’s Day comes, you may have a lot of calls. They tend to pile up around the holidays, which are hard times for many people.
The last part of the meeting is to look at your calendar and see if you had previously written any names on the days for this week. If it’s the week of July 8, you’ll see Margaret’s name there, and be reminded that her husband died at this time last year. Assign someone to make a contact on that day.
Then review last week’s calls. Were each of those calls made? If not, reassign them for this week. If the call was made, when does the next call to this person need to be made? You may decide one call was sufficient. Or maybe you want to check in again next month. Write it down in the Care Calendar for a month from now. Perhaps your contact is grieving and needs monthly contact for a while. Write their name in the calendar for several months ahead.
Be careful. This is the place that the meeting can drag on. How much does everyone need to know about the phone call you made. This is not a time for gossip. Respecting confidentiality will raise the trust level in your congregation, and it will also keep meeting times within reasonable parameters.
- Prayer (3 minutes)
You’re going to begin and end this meeting with prayer, but this is not a prayer meeting. A prayer group is a fantastic idea, but this is an administrative meeting to organize care teams. You can hand prayer requests on to the prayer team, or tag a prayer meeting on to the end of this meeting. The assigning of contacts need only take you about 30 minutes, and it will result in a lot of ministry contacts, listening ears and prayers all during the week.
Close this meeting by reading through the names of all who are going to receive contacts this week and then pray the Lord’s Prayer together.
Okay, yeah, there will be weeks when this will take longer than 30 minutes, but there will also be weeks where it will take less. Only a few prayer requests, no funerals or hospitalizations. You pray, touch base and move on to the many other tasks of ministry. So go ahead and budget an hour if you wish, and go 40 minutes. Then be sure to take a 20 for a coffee break together.