How churches, pastors are eligible for relief in stimulus package

The original story can be found here. (Reprinted from Baptist Press (www.baptistpress.com), news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The COVID-19 Pandemic Phase III Stimulus Package signed into law today (March 27) by President Trump will provide potential relief for churches and pastors, thanks to efforts by the Church Alliance, a national coalition of large and historic church benefit boards, including GuideStone, and Southern Baptist partners to ensure churches and pastors have the same options as small businesses and self-employed individuals attempting to financially weather the economic turmoil wrought by COVID-19.

“Churches and pastors have options available to them depending on their own situations and convictions,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said. “While we would never tell a pastor what he must do, it is good that the options are available for pastors and churches who may wish to avail themselves of the options available through this legislation.”

Like other taxpayers, pastors will be eligible to receive a rebate up to $1,200 ($2,400 if married), plus $500 per child. Those amounts are reduced for certain higher-income taxpayers. Additionally, unemployment benefits, usually not available to church or ministry employees, may be available under certain circumstances.

GuideStone’s legal team, led by Chief Legal Officer Harold R. Loftin, created the following Question-and-Answer document to provide general information on the new law signed Friday (March 27). The answers offered below are based on a reading of the statute and in many areas, additional guidance from the IRS or other administrative agencies may be issued in the future that may cause these answers to change. Since every taxpayer’s situation is unique, it is recommended that individuals consult with an accountant or attorney familiar with the unique status of ministers’ taxes before taking action.

Questions and answers follow:

Questions and Answers concerning the recovery rebate.

As a pastor or an employee of a ministry, am I eligible for a recovery rebate?

If you are a U.S. resident with adjusted gross income under $75,000 ($112,500 for head of household and $150,000 married), are not the dependent of another taxpayer and have a work-eligible Social Security Number (“SSN”), you are eligible for the full $1,200 ($2,400 married) rebate. If you have children, you are also eligible for an additional $500 per child.

What if I earned more than $75,000 ($112,500 for head of household and $150,000 married)? Am I eligible for any rebate?

Yes, depending on how much you earned over these amounts. The rebate amount is reduced by $5 for each $100 your income exceeds the phase-out threshold. The amount is completely phased-out if your income exceeded $99,000, $146,500 for head of household filers with one child, and $198,000 for married couples with no children. For a typical family of four, the amount is completely phased out for those with incomes exceeding $218,000.

What if my income was above the threshold in 2019, but I’ve lost my job due to the coronavirus? Can I still get a rebate check?

Yes, if your income in 2019 was in the phase-out range you would still receive a partial rebate based on your 2019 tax return. Since the rebate is an advance on a tax credit that you may claim on your 2020 tax return, any additional credit you are eligible for will be refunded or reduce your tax liability when you file your 2020 tax return next year, assuming your income is lower in 2020 than in 2019.

Is the rebate taxable or will I have to pay back any amount?

No, the rebate is not considered income.

Who qualifies as a child for purposes of the rebate?

Any child who is a qualifying child for the purposes of the Child Tax Credit is also a qualifying child for the purposes of the recovery rebate. In general, a child is any dependent of a taxpayer under the age of 17.

Do dependents other than children under 17 qualify a taxpayer for an additional $500 per dependent?

No, the additional $500 per child is limited to children under 17.

If I have little to no income or receive federal benefits, such as SSI, am I still eligible for a recovery rebate?

Yes, there is no qualifying income requirement. Even individuals with $0 of income are eligible for a rebate if they are not the dependent of another taxpayer and have a work-eligible SSN.

As a pastor I opted out of Social Security years ago. Am I eligible for a recovery rebate?

Yes, as long as you are not the dependent of another taxpayer and have a work-eligible SSN.

I am retired and my only income is from Social Security, my 403(b) account at GuideStone and/or I receive an annuity form of benefit from GuideStone. Am I eligible for the recovery rebate?

Yes, if you are not the dependent of another taxpayer. Seniors are still encouraged to file their 2019 tax return to ensure they receive their recovery rebate as quickly as possible.

Are my college-aged children eligible for a recovery rebate?

Only if they are not considered your dependent. Generally, a full-time college student under the age of 24 is considered a dependent if their parent(s) provide more than half of their support.

I am a Mission:Dignity recipient. Am I eligible for a recovery rebate?

Yes, if you have a valid SSN and are not claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer.

Will my Mission:Dignity grant or assistance payments be reduced based on the recovery rebate?

No.

What do I have to do to receive the recovery rebate?

For most people, nothing. The IRS will use your 2019 tax return, or your 2018 return if you haven’t filed your 2019 return, to either deposit the money into an account you authorized to receive a refund or send you a check.

What should I do if I did not file a tax return for 2019 or 2018?

The best way to ensure you receive a recovery rebate is to file a 2019 tax return if you have not already done so. This could be accomplished for free online from home using the IRS Free file program (https://www.irs.gov/filing/free-file-do-your-federal-taxes-for-free). The law also requires the IRS to publish an alert notifying all individuals of their eligibility for the rebate and how to receive it if they have not filed either a 2019 or 2018 tax return.

If I have a past-due debt to a federal or state agency, or owe back taxes, will my rebate be reduced?

No, the law turns off nearly all administrative offsets that ordinarily may reduce tax refunds for individuals who have past tax debts or who are behind on other payments to federal or state governments, including student loan payments. The only administrative offset that will be enforced applies to those who have past-due child support payments that the states have reported to the Treasury Department.

Questions and Answers concerning federal assistance available to pastors or ministry staff that have lost their jobs.

I have heard that unemployment insurance may be available to pastors or ministry staff that lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic. Is this true?

Yes, the COVID Phase III Stimulus Package provides specific provisions that will allow pastors or ministry staff who have lost their jobs to apply for unemployment benefits. The law creates a temporary program through December 31, 2020, to provide payment to those not traditionally eligible for unemployment benefits (self-employed, independent contractors, those with limited work history and others) who are unable to work as a direct result of the coronavirus public health emergency.

How much is this benefit?

The amount of the benefit is established by the unemployment insurance program in the state in which you live. The Stimulus, however, provides an additional $600 per week payment to each recipient of unemployment insurance as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for up to four months and eliminates the requirement that unemployed individuals incur one week of unemployment before becoming eligible for benefits. In addition, the law provides an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits through December 31, 2020, to help those who remain unemployed after state unemployment benefits are no longer available.

My employer reduced my work schedule instead of laying off employees. Am I eligible for a partial benefit?

Yes, the law allows employees whose hours were reduced by employers to avoid layoffs to receive a pro-rated unemployment benefit.

How do I apply for these benefits?

The state in which you live administers the unemployment insurance program that provides these benefits. For instance, in Texas, the Texas Workforce Commission is responsible for administering this program. If you choose to apply for this benefit you will need to contact the appropriate state agency where you live. Here is a website that will allow you to navigate to the agency responsible for unemployment benefits in your state: https://www.careeronestop.org/localhelp/unemploymentbenefits/unemployment-benefits.aspx.

Questions and Answers concerning accessing retirement plan accumulations by pastors or ministry staff affected by the COVID Pandemic.

Does the Stimulus package allow me to take money out of my retirement account to pay for expenses incurred during the COVID Pandemic?

Yes, if you have money available for distribution, the law waives the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty for distributions up to $100,000 from qualified retirement accounts for coronavirus-related purposes made on or after January 1, 2020. In addition, income attributable to such distributions would be subject to tax over three years. If you take a distribution, the law also allows you to recontribute the funds to an eligible retirement plan within three years without regard to that year’s cap on contributions.

What is a coronavirus-related purpose?

A coronavirus-related distribution is a one made to an individual: 1) who is diagnosed with COVID-19; 2) whose spouse or dependent is diagnosed with COVID-19; or 3) who experiences adverse financial consequences as a result of being quarantined, furloughed, laid off, having work hours reduced, being unable to work due to lack of childcare due to COVID-19, closing or reducing hours of a business owned or operated by the individual due to COVID-19, or other factors that may be established by the government in the future.

Does the Stimulus package affect loans from my retirement plan?

Yes, the law provides flexibility for loans from certain retirement plans for coronavirus-related relief.

Questions and Answers concerning federal assistance available to churches and ministries.

I have heard there may be federal financial assistance available to churches and ministries. Is this true?

Yes, you may consider several options made available to your church or ministry by the COVID Phase III Stimulus Package to help your church or ministry through this difficult time.

What options are available?

The Stimulus package makes available several forms of relief potentially benefitting churches and ministries. These include payroll tax credits, tax deferrals, encouraging charitable contributions and small business loans.

What is the payroll tax credit?

The Stimulus provides a refundable payroll tax credit for 50 percent of wages paid by employers to employees during the COVID-19 crisis. The credit is available to employers whose 1) operations were fully or partially suspended due to a COVID-19-related shutdown order, or 2) gross receipts declined by more than 50 percent when compared to the same quarter in the prior year.

How is the credit calculated?

For eligible employers with 100 or fewer full-time employees, all employee wages qualify for the credit, whether the employer is open for business or subject to a shut-down order. The credit is based on qualified wages paid to the employee. For employers with greater than 100 full-time employees, qualified wages are wages paid to employees when they are not providing services due to the COVID-19-related circumstances described above. The credit is provided for the first $10,000 of compensation, including health benefits, paid to an eligible employee. The credit is provided for wages paid or incurred from March 13, 2020, through December 31, 2020.

What tax deferrals are available?

The Stimulus package allows employers and self-employed individuals (which should include pastors for this purpose) to defer payment of the employer share of the Social Security tax they otherwise are responsible for paying to the federal government with respect to their employees or the self-employed person (pastors are treated as self-employed and pay SECA [Self Employed Contributions Act] taxes). Employers generally are responsible for paying a 6.2 percent Social Security tax on employee wages. The provision requires that the deferred employment tax be paid over the following two years, with half of the amount required to be paid by December 31, 2021 and the other half by December 31, 2022. Further guidance will be needed to determine how tax deferrals may impact pastors paying SECA taxes.

How does the law encourage charitable contributions?

The Stimulus package allows charitable deductions of up to $300 to churches and charitable organizations in 2020 regardless of whether donors itemize their deductions or not. The law also increases the amount of deductions for charitable contributions by individuals who itemize as well as corporations. For individuals, the 50 percent of adjusted gross income ceiling is suspended for 2020. For corporations, the 10 percent ceiling is raised to 25 percent of taxable income. This provision also raises the ceiling on deductions for contributions of food inventory from 15 percent to 25 percent.

Why are small business loans being made available in the Stimulus package?

The purpose of these loans is to assist small businesses in keeping workers paid and employed during the pandemic. These loans are designed to give employers an incentive and provide the ability to keep their employees instead of laying them off and shutting down their businesses. Tax-exempt entities are specifically recognized as eligible to apply for these loans that are guaranteed by the federal government.

How do the small business loans work for churches and ministries?

Churches and ministry organizations that are exempt from tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Tax Code and that have fewer than 500 employees at one location and self-employed individuals, individuals operating as a sole proprietorship or individuals operating as an independent contractor, may apply for a Paycheck Protection Loan to cover payroll and related employee expenses for the period February 15 through June 30, 2020, to help them sustain their ministries.

How can the loan proceeds be used?

The loan proceeds may be used to pay payroll costs, group health insurance benefits, paid sick leave, medical and insurance premiums, mortgage interest payments, rent payments, utilities or interest on other loans outstanding at the time of the pandemic.

What costs are considered payroll costs?

Salary or wages, payments of a cash tip, vacation, parental, family, medical, or sick leave, health benefits, retirement benefits, state and local taxes. Note, however, that salary expenses above $100,000 per employee are not eligible for consideration as payroll costs and loan proceeds may not be used to pay salaries above $100,000 per employee.

How much can a church or ministry borrow?

The amount that may be borrowed is the total average monthly payroll costs for the preceding 12 months (March 2019 through February 2020) multiplied by a factor of 2.5. For example, if the average payroll costs for the preceding twelve months were $20,000, the maximum amount of the loan would be $20,000 times 2.5 for a total of $50,000. The maximum amount available for a Payroll Protection Loan is $10,000,000.

Can a self-employed pastor apply for a Payroll Protection Loan?

The Stimulus package allows self-employed individuals to apply for these loans. Under certain circumstances, pastors are considered self-employed and should be eligible to apply for a payroll protection loan under the same terms and conditions as other loan applicants. For example, if a pastor’s average monthly salary for the preceding twelve months was $5,000 then the pastor should be able to apply for a loan in the amount of $12,500.

How soon must the church, ministry or pastor repay the loan?

Payroll Protection Loans may include a term of up to 10 years from the date of application.

What interest rate will these Payroll Protection Loans bear?

The maximum interest rate for these loans is 4 percent per year.

Is the church, ministry or pastor required to pledge collateral for the loan, or will another party have to guarantee repayment?

No. Further, the loans are non-recourse to the borrower with the exception that if loan proceeds are used for an unauthorized purpose, the then loan may be collected from the borrower.

May payments under the loan be deferred?

Yes, for a period not less than six months but not to exceed more than one year from the date of the loan.

May all or part of the Payroll Protection Loan be forgiven?

Yes, the program is designed to encourage employers to retain employees and loan forgiveness is a key feature of these loans. A ministry under a covered loan can have all or a portion of the principal of the loan forgiven in an amount equal to payroll costs, mortgage interest, rent, or utility costs during the eight-week period following the origination of the loan. The forgiven amount, however, may be reduced based on a formula that compares the ministry’s employment in prior pre-COVID periods with the number of employees and each employee’s wage or salary in the eight-week period following the origination of the loan.

Who is responsible for administering this program?

The loan program will be administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under its existing Section 7(a) business loan program. Certain requirements associated with typical SBA loans, such as guarantees, collateral, and “credit available elsewhere” underwriting, have been relaxed or eliminated.

How can a church, ministry or pastor apply for a Payroll Protection Loan?

If you choose to pursue a Payroll Protection Loan, you will need to apply through an approved SBA lender, which includes most local banks. The approved SBA lender will assist you in completing the application and providing the required documentation for the loan. The loan documentation requirements and other traditional requirements to obtain a small business loan are substantially relaxed under this loan program.

GuideStone does not provide tax, accounting or legal advice. For purposes of Circular 230 and unless expressly stated otherwise above, nothing contained in this message, either in the body of the email or attached separately, was intended or written to be used or may be relied upon or used by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended.

How I Would Do Live Streaming If I Was Still a Pastor?

I find myself saying a lot these days, “If I was still a pastor.” So, for what it’s worth and if it helps some of our pastors think through some issues, here are several things I would do with live streaming or producing a recorded version of a worship service during this COVID-19 crisis.

  • I would be a minimalist. Pastor, this is not the time to be fancy. Your congregation needs a word from God far more than a need professional broadcast. In addition, having a minimum number of people involved also helps slow the spread which is way more important right now than the quality of your production.
  • I would seek to make the remote worship gathering as normal as possible. The order of service would look the same. I would welcome guests inviting them to send a text or email to tell us that they were watching. I would have a pastoral prayer. Congregations need to be comforted by hearing their pastor pray for them. I would sing. Well, I would have someone else lead in musical worship. I would receive an offering at the usual spot in our worship. I would use that moment in worship to ask people right then to electronically send in their offering or prepare their gift for mailing. This seems much more worshipful and Biblical than the appeal that the bills won’t be paid if the people don’t give. I would preach. And, I would extend a Gospel invitation and extend an opportunity for people to email, text, phone, or mail their commitment. I would conclude with a benediction—a good word. The point is that we are far from anything that is normal right now, but I would try to be as normal as possible in leading people to worship.
  • In my sermon I would ask people to do something. In my last few years of preaching, I have fallen into a practice of concluding my sermons with the question, “So what?” The idea is to make sure that we were moving from the information to transformation, from the theological to the practical. I would certainly not deviate from that practice during this crisis. Now, more than ever, folks need something to do. I would make sure that the message calls them to do something.

Pastor, I am praying for you as you prepare to preach each Sunday and as you redesign ministry for the weeks and months ahead.

DR – Coronavirus Prayer Line

If you’re experiencing stress-related issues brought on by the outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), Louisiana Disaster Relief chaplains are available to visit and pray with you.

Simply call 800-410-3492.

Chaplains are available between 8:00 am – 8:00 pm.

Due to potential heavy volume, if the number is busy, please wait a few minutes and call again.

A Remote Ministry

On Sunday, March 22, Louisiana’s Governor John Bel Edwards gave the grim news that Louisiana has the fastest rate of confirmed cases for the COVID-19 virus than any state or nation in the world.

Along with that foreboding news, Governor Edwards implemented a “stay at home order” until at least April 13. The Governor’s Sunday proclamation makes it official that we are in this for the long haul. And, “this” seems to be changing on us daily.

So, the thought occurred to me that much of the Apostle Paul’s ministry was remote. Because of his imprisonment, much of his ministry became remote instead of in person. Paul could have said that there’s nothing that he could do, but instead, he stayed connected to the churches through a ministry of writing.

Think about the book of Philippians for example. The contents might help us to understand how we do ministry in these “remote” days.

  • Paul engaged in a ministry of prayer. (1:3-11) If our prayer life doesn’t grow in these days of our “confinement,” we must confess that we are really not all that interested in praying.
  • Paul expected a new wave of evangelism. (1:12-20) Paul, in his confinement looked for evangelistic opportunity, and to his no great surprise, it was right in front of him. I believe the same is true for us if we will open our eyes. May we, as Paul did, understand that opportunities for Gospel advance now exist that did not before the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Paul elevated that which was most assured in his life. (1:21-30) Every day we live with this truth that to live is Christ and to die is gain. Every day we live with this truth that whether we live or die, as Christians, we truly win. This crisis causes us to face this truth in a brand new way. We are going to be tested as to whether we believe the message we have been preaching.
  • Paul exhorted true Christian doctrine. Paul spoke of humility, the importance of our Christian witness (shine like stars), and the power of the Gospel over everything else.
  • Paul experienced joy and contentment. (4:1-18)
  • Paul expressed hope for the future. (4:19-20)

“And my God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

So, while we engage in this remote ministry, know that God is up to something! Just imagine where we would be without Paul’s remote ministry. For starters, we would be missing a lot of the New Testament.

Stay encouraged!

Giving When the Church Can’t Gather

There are at least five ways for people to be regular, sacrificial, and cheerful givers to your church, no matter what.

  1. Give at a Sunday Worship Gathering. Placing an offering in the plate, basket, bag, or box is the most traditional way believers have given for generations.
  2. Give Online. By connecting with a few outside partners, online giving can be done safely and easily today.
  3. Text to Give. By connecting with a few outside partners, members can text in a gift to your church.
  4. Give through a Bank’s Online Bill Pay System. Many people are paying bills online. If they have your church’s mailing address, they could include their regular giving through their banks bill pay service.
  5. Give by Mail. With a mailing address, giving can still be received through “snail mail.” You could even provide a stack of pre-addressed and already stamped envelopes to make it easy.

Notice, only one of these paths to giving requires the church to be gathered. So, when crisis or disaster strikes, limiting the gathering capacity of your church, YOU CAN be ready by offering pathways for continued generosity.

Getting Started with Online Giving

To get started with online giving, you will need to set up an account with one of many online giving platforms. It’s possible that your church already has an account with one of these. If you have a Church Management System, like PlanningCenter.com, FellowshipOne.com, Shelbysystems.com, ACStechnologies.com, or others, you simply need to add the capability. There are also church partners like Tithe.ly, EasyTithe.com, and PushPay.com, that focus on helping churches with online giving. Lifeway also offers a service called Generosity – https://lifewaygenerosity.com/ – that provides opportunities for online and text to give for churches. Paypal.com also is often used by churches for online giving and other transactions. These services will have small transaction fees and possibly monthly membership charges. However, churches that utilize these, usually see a 25%-40% increase in giving, making the fee and charges worth the cost.

Communicate the Pathways to Giving 

The church that my family attends communicates the Five Ways to Give regularly. Here is a letter sent out with contribution statements each quarter. There are also flyers placed in foyer areas. Five Ways to Give can be a convenient provision for people during busy seasons, but a lifeline during crisis or disaster when the church can’t gather.

How About Some Different Headlines?

I don’t know about you, but I could you use some different headlines these days.

I want to share with you some Scriptures that sound a lot like headlines to me. Hopefully, these headlines will put in right perspective the headlines of the last couple of weeks.

  • God’s Grace is Sufficient—This headline comes from 2 Corinthians 12:9, which says, “But He said to me,“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.
  • God Reigns—This headline is affirmed in Revelation 19:6. “Then I heard something like the voice of a vast multitude, like the sound of cascading waters, and like the rumbling of loud thunder, saying: Hallelujah, because our Lord God, the Almighty, has begun to reign!”
  • Jesus Announces Peace—This headline comes from John 16:33, which says, “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

There will be many who panic, but as believers in Jesus, let the peace of God rule and reign in your heart.

How Should Churches Respond to Government Guidelines on Gathering During the COVID-19 Crisis? (03-17-20 – 4:43pm Update)

Even though I’ve been out of the local pastorate for around 10 months, I’m a pastor at heart. I try to think like a pastor in my current position. With that being said, if I was still pastoring a local church, I would follow the federal, state, and local recommendations being presented and updated on a regular basis.

Think about it, we’re not being told we cannot worship. We’re not being forced to believe something contrary to Scripture. We’re simply being asked to temporarily restructure the way we do so in order for everyone to benefit. From my perspective we can make these work.

I base this decision on what I see in God’s word.

For example, my Scripture reading yesterday was from Luke 10. Verse 27 in the Parable of the Good Samaritan says:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “your neighbor as yourself.”

Love God and love my neighbor is the command. In our present context, with all the information that I have at the moment, that means protecting my neighbor. No, I am not afraid of getting COVID-19, but, I have an obligation to my neighbor to take necessary, even unprecedented, steps to not transmit this disease to those who might not be healthy enough to fight it. I certainly have a neighborly obligation to not add to the potential crisis facing our healthcare providers.

Therefore I’m going to participate and I’m leading our state missions staff to participate as well. I urge you, my fellow Louisiana Baptists, to join us in adhering to these guidelines. As we do, let’s pray fervently that these guidelines work, allowing us to get back to assembling again sooner rather than later.

Louisiana Baptists Update (03-17-20)

Revised 03/23/20 – 2:00 pm

In keeping with the requests of our federal, state and local officials regarding efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus, we are directing our state missions staff to work remotely through April 12.

All events for the remainder of March and April have been canceled or postponed. Events in May and beyond will be re-evaluated in mid-April.

Your state missions staff will be available via email and phone during this period.

Resources to help you navigate these uncharted waters are being developed and will be available on our website.

Be faithful to pray for and encourage each other as well as our leaders.

Be faithful in giving to the Lord through your church. This can be done online if your church offers that option or you can mail your tithe to your church.

While these are unprecedented times, these are also wonderful opportunities for spiritual growth and outreach. If you’ve fallen behind in your Bible reading, now’s a good time to catch up. If you’re engaged with the “Who’s Your One?” emphasis, continue to pray for them and reach out to them during this time. More than likely people will be in front of their TV’s and on their devices more than normal so visit HereforYou.org and share your favorite Here for You commercial. Pray God will draw people’s attention to the commercials they’ll see on broadcast and cable TV as well on social media. Pray the seed of God’s truth will find good soil and water the seeds that have already been scattered. Ask God to prepare some of the hearts for harvest in the days ahead.

Even the midst of uncertainty, God is faithful. May He find us faithful during this time as well.

Coronavirus (03-13-20 – 7:06pm Update)

Greetings,

Your state missions staff continues to monitor the quickly evolving Coronavirus situation and appreciate your prayers as we process all of the information coming from federal and state sources.

We posted information and suggestions yesterday regarding Sunday services. While many of these are still valid, the Governor’s proclamation today certainly tweaks and changes some of those.

As you know, every church is autonomous therefore the Executive Board does not have the prerogative to pass down directives to Louisiana Baptist churches. However, after conducting conference calls today with several pastors and Directors of Missions, here are some suggestions for you to consider over the next several weeks.

If your congregation runs under 250 in attendance, which the vast majority of our churches do, the suggestions offered yesterday are still worthy of consideration.

For those of you who run over 250, here are some ideas you may find helpful:

  • Consider foregoing Sunday School and hold multiple worship services thus assuring your congregation remains under the 250 limit.
  • For those who already have two Sunday Schools and two worship services, in addition to foregoing Sunday School, you may need to adjust your schedule to give ample time for sanitizing between services.
  • If you do not currently offer multiple services and need to conduct them in order to stay under the limit, consider assigning Sunday School classes a specific service to attend.
  • A Saturday night option may also need to be offered in some cases.
  • A few pastors indicated they are considering a house church option.
  • Others are going to use Facebook Live in lieu of gathering.

Even with these changes, we’re still calling for Sunday to be a dedicated day of prayer. Whether you gather corporately, worship through technology, or worship privately, please join Southern Baptists across the country in this consecrated time of prayer for our nation.

Let me take this opportunity to urge all Louisiana Baptists to refrain from public criticism of the Governor’s proclamation. He is in a difficult spot and needs our prayers and not our criticism.

These are unprecedented times, but at the same time we have opportunities to show the love of Christ and grow in our personal discipleship. Remember what Paul told the Roman believers “All things work together for good …

Please know we are praying for you as you decide the best way for your people to worship in the coming weeks.

Keep looking up,

Steve Horn
Executive Director
Louisiana Baptists

Day of Prayer This Sunday Regarding the COVID-19 Pandemic (03-13-20)

I have said through the years that my most memorable time of worship ever was the Sunday after 9/11. The crowd was larger. We sang louder. We had a greater sense of desperation.

That’s the way I feel today. The crowds likely won’t be as large this Sunday, March 15, because of fears of gathering in large crowds and the need for many elderly to stay home, but if you are well and can gather, I sense that this will be a special day of worship. I am joining the call of our Southern Baptist Convention leaders in asking every church in Louisiana to have a special moment of prayer in your worship this Sunday. You can view and share their call using this link. Some of you may even be led to dedicate your entire worship service just to prayer. As a pastor I did this on a number of occasions. This was always a meaningful time of worship.

Pastors, you can use these suggestions to guide your praying. Send it out to those members who might choose not to attend. Whatever you decide to do Sunday, let us pray in focused, concentrated prayer.

As we prepare to pray, I think of these Scriptures . . .

Luke 18:1-8, the Parable of the Persistent Widow—Luke introduced this parable by saying, “Now he told them a parable on the need for them to pray always and not give up.” (Luke 18:1)

James 1:5—Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God—who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly.

2 Chronicles 6:28-31—

When there is famine in the land,
when there is pestilence,
when there is blight or mildew, locust or grasshopper,
when their enemies besiege them
in the land and its cities,
when there is any plague or illness,
29 every prayer or petition
that any person or that all your people Israel may have—
they each know their own affliction and suffering—
as they spread out their hands toward this temple,
30 may you hear in heaven, your dwelling place,
and may you forgive and give to everyone
according to all their ways, since you know each heart,
for you alone know the human heart,
31 so that they may fear you
and walk in your ways
all the days they live on the land
you gave our ancestors.

Now is the time to pray! Don’t panic, pray!