How to creatively continue ministry amid COVID-19 restrictions

A survey of SBC pastors

How are churches responding to the COVID-19 epidemic? How is this crisis affecting services, groups, and ministry to the community, especially vulnerable populations? While we know that each church is unique and each community’s needs are different, we know we can learn from one another. 

The ERLC recently surveyed a number of church leaders around the country to ask them how they are addressing COVID-19 concerns in their churches and communities. This article is a summary of some of the ideas they are using to stay connected and rooted during these difficult times.


While many churches did not meet this past Sunday, for others, this coming week will be their first time to not gather in person. Many churches have completely closed their facilities and instead are using livestream technology, Facebook Live, Zoom, and even local television to broadcast services. Some churches are streaming a full service, including live worship; others are filming and streaming a standalone sermon or a sermon with announcements, prayer, and Scripture readings. 

One church is taking the service out of the sanctuary and into the parking lot. “Drive-in church” will provide a unique opportunity to gather in the church parking lot in individual vehicles. Attendees will participate in live worship and preaching, all while tuning into the vehicle's radio frequency.

While it is discouraging for churches to be unable to meet together in person, many churches saw a significant increase in online viewership compared to average in-person attendance. In some cases, online views were several times higher than average attendance. Many churches are considering ways to encourage viewers to connect with the church when worship services resume. For more information on how to connect online, check out The Gospel Coalition’s helpful article

Small groups

Some churches are encouraging small groups of people to gather in homes for worship and community. Last week, some churches’ small groups continued to meet and gathered to watch the sermon together as a small community. However, this week, the Trump administration issued new guidance that asks all Americans to gather only in groups smaller than 10. Because many church small groups are larger than 10 people, those churches that have not already cancelled small groups are beginning to this week.

Other churches are having small groups meet digitally using virtual hangouts such as Google, Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime. Others are keeping communication within groups active using video sharing apps like Marco Polo. 


Since many churches are not gathered together, they are being creative in the way they communicate with church members. Some of the best practices from the respondents to the survey include:

Senior adults

Since research shows that senior adults are more at risk from COVID-19, many churches are tailoring ministry to serve them during this time. 

Church members are delivering groceries and other necessities to older adults and those who aren’t able to leave their homes. Some churches are partnering with organizations already on the ground, such as Meals on Wheels, to provide food delivery and expand the capacity of those organizations to serve more. 

One church put together a database for a large team of deacons and volunteers that are doing daily well-checks with their older and vulnerable members and attendees. 

To alleviate loneliness, another church is working to make connections between young families and those that are homebound, encouraging them to make regular phone calls, provide for physical needs, and create a sense of community across generational lines. 


While thankfully healthy children do not seem to be as physically at risk from the virus, families still have many challenges. With many schools closed, childcare and child welfare are a concern for churches. 

For many kids from low-income families, their school lunch is their most nutritious meal of the day. Churches are partnering with schools and community centers to provide food for children served by the school meal program.

One church is organizing a program for children to write and mail cards and letters to older members of the congregation and nursing homes that are closed to visitors. These efforts foster intergenerational connection and at the same time provide activities for children and families to bond through.

One church is writing thank you cards to their schools’ kitchen and janitorial staff who are still working.


Even though many churches have an option to give online, financial giving is a concern when churches do not meet in person. Many churches surveyed said it was too early to say if or how much COVID-19 would impact giving. A few churches expected a small dip in giving but are implementing cost controls to honor missions partnerships, Cooperative Program giving, staff salaries, and other essential expenses.

Be the church

In the midst of all the uncertainty, the Lord is at work through his church. Here are some of the encouraging stories we’ve heard of churches stepping up to serve their communities in this time of need. 

Above all, we are encouraged to see the responses of Southern Baptist churches and pastors as they rise to the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our prayer is that in the midst of these challenges, God is glorified, his name is lifted high, and many come to know Jesus.

“Praise be to God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

Phillip Bethancourt

Phillip Bethancourt is Senior Pastor of Central Church in College Station, Texas. Before he was called to pastor Central, he served as the Executive Vice President of the ERLC team. He completed an MDiv and PhD in Systematic Theology at Southern after attending Texas A&M University. Phillip and his wife, Cami, have been married since 2005, … Read More

Rachel Wiles

Rachel Wiles serves as deputy chief of staff and director of placement for the Psalm 139 Project for the ERLC. In her role, she oversees the placement of ultrasound machines with pregnancy resource clinics around the country, determining placement and managing funds. She also coordinates activity in the president’s office … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24