In the midst of a global pandemic and more uncertainty than most of us have ever felt in our lifetime, churches across America refused to wait this thing out. Seeing the fear and isolation sweep over millions in a matter of days, coupled with the need for in-person gatherings to be canceled for a season, church leaders knew a new form of ministry must take place.
For some, this was switching to online services for the very first time. For some, this was offering pastoral care via FaceTime or Zoom. For some, this was utilizing text messages more than they ever had (shout out to all of our new members!) And for more than 70 churches in 23 different states, this was delivering hope via boxes of food, paper goods, and cleaning products. But more than meeting those practical needs, these Boxes of Hope reminded people that they are not alone. And the impact was incredibly powerful!
I had the amazing opportunity to talk with two pastors who are offering Boxes of Hope through their church: Greg Schuessler from Riverlawn Christian Church in Wichita, Kansas and Boxes of Hope Founder Chris Morante from Evangel Church in Scotch Plains, New Jersey.
Interview with Chris Morante From Evangel Church:
Can you tell me how Boxes of Hope came to be?
When COVID first started to be talked about in the United States, Evangel went through a S.W.O.T. (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. We wanted to be prepared and self-aware for if and when things got bad. The biggest column we had come up was opportunities. We felt, at that point, that God was going to use us, we just weren't sure how. We began to pray and ask God what He wants us to do in this season. We clung to the truth that God would show Evangel how He will use us. As we waited for direction, I called Convoy of Hope to get relief supplies. I wasn’t sure how we would distribute them (the supplies), but I knew I wanted to be prepared if things got bad. So, Evangel ended up with a whole truck full of supplies that we didn’t know what to do with. During this time, I felt led to the scripture about Jesus feeding the 5,000. I preached from that scripture the Sunday after we received the Convoy of Hope truck and it was that day we learned of the first positive case of COVID in our congregation. The staff at Evangel reached out to this individual and asked if we could just drop off groceries. Honestly, we felt at a loss for how to help and wanted to meet the practical needs this family was having. The family was hesitant at first, but when I checked in the next day, I could hear the utter hopelessness in this person’s voice. They were questioning how God would allow this to happen, how they would recover from this, if their whole family would get sick, all of it. Finally, the family agreed to let us collect groceries to drop off at their house. As we prepared the box, the hopelessness that had overcome this family, overnight, weighed so heavily on me. Then, something amazing happened. When the box of groceries was delivered, hope was ignited once again. This family was encouraged. They felt loved and taken care of, and they could see light in a time of utter darkness. Completely inspired, we thought, “what if we could do this for everyone? What if we could spread hope quicker than COVID?”
And I think that’s what we are doing! Evangel has over 70 church partners in 23 states who are now packing and delivering Boxes of Hope to those affected by COVID in their communities. The content of the boxes can vary based on what’s available to the local church providing them, but, for the most part, includes a variation of the following…
Something inspirational (book, devotional, etc.)
A letter from the sending church’s pastor
While churches are free to carry out the process in the best way that fits their context, the message is the same: you are not alone. There IS hope!
People who are COVID positive are treated like the lepers of our day. Jesus was and is with those people and desires for his followers to move toward that. For those who are COVID positive, they can’t “come to us.” They can’t show up at the Food Bank and get what they need. This is a time where we can go where they are and meet their physical and spiritual needs.
How many Boxes of Hope have been delivered to date? Either nationwide or just from Evangel?
To date, 12,500 boxes across all of our church partners have been delivered.
How many volunteers have signed up to help?
Just at Evangel, we have 300 volunteers available to help out with anything related to Boxes of Hope.
What system are you using for sign-up, is it keeping you connected with people?
Evangel is using Text In Church for individuals to sign up to receive a box. Because we were Text In Church users before, we had other keywords already set up. For example, people can text in “Jesus” to learn more about having a relationship with Jesus or “Give” to sign up for online giving. So, we have been able to track within Text In Church those who have reached out and texted “Hope” to get a box, and then have texted in other keywords to get connected. The most common connection we’ve seen is those whose first touch with us is texting “Hope” have also then texted “Jesus” after a bit of time to express interest in knowing more about Jesus. We are truly seeing Hope spread!
Is it open to your entire community or just your church family? If to those outside of your church, are you following up with them?
Right now only congregants are volunteers, but we are open to anyone willing to help. Recipients of the Boxes can be anyone, in our church family or the community at large. And yes, we are following up with them to check in on their immediate needs as well as just to maintain contact in case they are looking for a church home.
Will you continue with an effort like this even as the number of positive cases of COVID begins to slow?
Although the initial idea behind Boxes of Hope is that it is meant to be a blessing in a moment of crisis, we are currently praying and exploring options as to what a second or third touch point might look like.
Likewise, we are prayerfully considering what Boxes of Hope will look like when this season comes and goes. No one can know for sure what the future looks like, so we are constantly seeking God's direction and provision on how to serve and love our neighbor across the street and around the world.
Interview with Greg Schuessler from Riverlawn Christian Church
Riverlawn Christian Church is in Wichita, KS and sees an average of 1,600 people on a Sunday morning when they are meeting in person. They are, like so many of you, currently only offering online services and have recently partnered with Boxes of Hope, a ministry out of Evangel Church in New Jersey to meet tangible needs and “spread hope faster than COVID.”
We feel so fortunate to play a small part in how Greg and his community at Riverlawn Church are loving and supporting their neighbors in this time of crisis.
Were you using Text In Church before this? If so, how?
I started at Riverlawn Chrstian Church back in August 2019. I immediately started researching guest follow-up tools and systems and found Text In Church. We have been using it since then for guest follow-up and have been expanding it for other areas of ministry.
How did COVID change your perspective on Text In Church, if at all?
We had been using Text In Church for guests to text in and share their contact information so we can follow-up. We had also started using it for giving. However, when our services had to go exclusively online, we began offering the keyword “PRAYER” for anyone who wanted someone to pray with them, and we could then get them connected with someone online or over the phone almost immediately. We have also added the keyword “FOLLOW” for those making first time decisions to follow Jesus and want to celebrate with and receive discipling from us during social distancing. And, our latest venture, text “serve” to sign up to help with Boxes of Hope.
How did you decide to pair Text In Church with Boxes of Hope?
Evangel Church in New Jersey created this program and they mentioned that they use Text In Church for box requests. Since we were already using the system and comfortable with how it works, we decided to do it the same way! You can text “Serve” to our Text In Church number to volunteer or you can text “hope” to our Text In Church number to request a box. It felt like a really natural fit.
Do you have any results yet you can share?
Within 24 hours of launching at our church, we had 50 people sign up to serve and 4 requests for boxes. Nationally, there are church partners in 18 states. Evangel Church, where Boxes of Hope began, said in an interview with Fox News that they have now delivered over 600 boxes! We are doing a Press release as well as publicising on Facebook and our website, with the hopes that this will spread across our entire community.
Have you ever used TIC for an outreach/service initiative like this before:
Yes, we typically do an annual service project called "Great Day of Service." We use Text In Church to sign up volunteers. Typically we have 500-600 people signed up; it’s a wonderful day of serving our community!
What encouragement do you have for other churches looking to be the hands and feet of Jesus and feeling stuck?
If you’re feeling stuck and unsure on what you can do, look and see what other churches are doing. In times of fear and isolation, who else besides the church has the answers? We are not meant to live in fear but to live courageously. We know we have eternal hope and so we need to be out there sharing it with those who are really isolated and hopeless. We provide boxes of food, and, even more so, eternal hope. We have an answer the world doesn't have. People are looking for answers and the church needs to be out front. Additionally, we see this as being a solution to meeting the ongoing needs that will continue to come as we rebuild from this pandemic. There will be ripple effects, physically, emotionally, financially, on so many, and we want to be prepared to come alongside our community in a very tangible way.
We are so thankful for the way that Greg and his team at Riverlawn Christian Church And Chris and his team at Evangel Church are using Text In Church to practically and purposefully meet the physical and spiritual needs of their community. Remember that Text In Church is FREE for any church for 60 days right now to help you transition to digital ministry and stay connected with as many people as possible. Hope is available for all, and as pastor Chris at Evangel said, maybe we can spread it faster than COVID.