Congregational Care: A Guide to Building a Caring and Effective Ministry

Congregational Care: A Guide to Building a Caring and Effective Ministry

Pastoral care is a core element of pastoring. 

Hence the keyword “pastoral.” 

It’s a part of who you are (identity) and what you do (calling). 

As a church leader, you’re an under-shepherd of Jesus. 

Said another way, Jesus is the head of the Church—not you.  

I don’t mean for this to sound brazen. Instead, I want to emphasize that Jesus is the leader of his Church and that he takes care of his people through you. Practically speaking, you (church leader) are to care for your church in a way that reflects Jesus’ care. 

Not only are you an under-shepherd. But God has called you to shepherd his people (1 Pet 5:2). God personally etched this responsibility directly into your job description. 

But here’s the deal: 

It’s impossible for one person to provide all of the congregational care. 

The Bible doesn’t support this belief, and it’s practically impossible for any single human being to provide care to a large group of people. 

Think about it. 

Let’s say you have 75 church members. 

To tend to your people, let’s say you decide to spend 30 minutes with everyone—every week. In this example, this means you’ll spend 37.5 hours per week keeping in touch with your church members, hearing what’s going on in their lives, and helping them to live and love like Jesus. 

Add this on top of your other duties, and you have a recipe for a 100-hour workweek. 

Sure, you might be able to maintain this for a few weeks. Or, if you’re really a go-getter, you might be able to keep up with this pace for several months without burning out. 

Or you may be thinking, “Well, that’s not necessary to spend that much time with everyone in my church.” 

If so, I understand where you’re coming from. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make. What I’d love for you to take away is that you should care for your people—but not entirely by yourself. 

As a pastor, you’ll always be in a position to provide care. But as you aim to tend to the needs of your church, you’ll need to focus on building a congregational care ministry.

Before we get into the practical details, let’s take a moment to explore this point since it informs the practical strategy. 

There are three groups of people who can provide care for your church:

  1. Church members
  2. Church leadership
  3. Small groups

First, you have to know your church members to take care of them. In other words, when you offer church membership, you provide a way for people to be a part of your church, and for you to know who’s a member of your church (Acts 20:28). 

Does this mean you can only care for your church members? 

Nope. 

That’s not the case at all. 

In writing to the Church at Galatia, Paul said: 

“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). 

Yes, you want to help as many people as you can. But you’re also called to “especially” care for the “household of faith”—your church members. 

Not only do you want to know your church members, but you also want to empower your church members to care for one another. 

This is far from a practical matter—this advice is loaded with dozens of commands from the Bible. 

In the New Testament, dozens of verses emphasize this point in what’s known as the “one another” verses. For example, we read:

  • “Be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50)
  • “Bear with and forgive one another” (Col 3:13)
  • “Love one another” (John 13:34)
  • “Serve one another” (Gal 5:13)
  • “Pray for one another” (Jas 5:16)

From a sermon series on this topic to Bible studies about taking care of one another, there are several ways you can encourage your church to serve “one another.” This is one part of cultivating a healthy church culture

In short, your church—the body of Christ—was created by God to be just that—a body, a family of brothers and sisters in Christ who encourage and support one another to live and love like Jesus. What is more, the Bible does not say that only pastors can take care of people. 

The second group of people who are called out to care for the Church are elders. 

Now, I understand there are differences between church traditions in how you define the role of elders in your church, and that’s all good. Regardless if you have a board, session, or deacons who serve in some sort of leadership capacity in your church, the essence of church leadership is about serving. 

In serving your church, your church’s leadership will exemplify serving, and they can also provide oversight for your care ministry. As we’ll see below, you’ll need to delegate responsibility to oversee the care of your church members to ensure everyone is taken care of. So, you’ll need to rely upon your church’s leadership to help you care for your church. 

The third group of people who can help you care for your church members is small groups.

A small group ministry is a great way you, your staff, or your church’s leadership can learn about the needs of your church community. 

In many ways, a small group that regularly meets is arguably one of the best ways to place your church members in a position to love “one another.” After spending time together throughout the week, sharing meals, and discussing life and faith, it’s natural to anticipate things to come up during this time. 

Depending on the situation, your small group can care for the individual member of your church. Or, if the situation requires additional help (counseling, financial support, etc.), then your small group leader can share this with your church’s leadership. 

Build a team for congregational care

Your church is a peculiar organization. 

It’s a combination of flesh (people) and bones (organization). 

As you build a church culture that emphasizes taking care of “one another,” you’ll naturally see your church members helping out. People will serve without being asked, and others will volunteer to provide support. Even though this is the case, you’ll still need to put a structure in place to ensure that everyone in your church is cared for.  

This isn’t something you want to overlook. 

Lack of structure was a problem that plagued the early church. 

In recounting the history of the church, Luke shared:

“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word’” (Acts 6:1–4, emphasis mine). 

What we observe here is a simple trajectory:

  • The church grew
  • People in the church were overlooked
  • The church acknowledged the problem and their limitations
  • The church reorganized itself to take care of its people

In the same way, as your church grows, it’ll be easy f to overlook the needs of your people. I’m not saying you’re a terrible person or that your church will do this on purpose. As your church grows, you’ll become busier and busier, and when you have more people to shepherd, it’s hard to know who’s who and what’s going on unless you have a team and structure in place. 

Thankfully, organizing your care ministry isn’t too complicated. 

Depending upon your church’s leadership structure (elders, deacons, board) and size, the structure of your congregational care may look something like this:

  • Pastor
  • Assistant/associate pastor, volunteer leader, or team of leaders
  • Support staff or volunteers

To tend to everyone, your senior pastor (maybe you?) will need to be relieved of the administrative duties of congregational care. He or she can and should continue to provide pastoral care. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be their job to take care of all of the details. 

In this scenario, hire an additional staff member or identify a volunteer leader who can help oversee the care of your congregation. The role of this person or team is to provide oversight and leadership for congregational care. 

Finally, you’ll need additional staff or volunteers to help provide care for your church members. Again, the size and needs of your church will determine how many people you’ll need to recruit to provide support when needed. 

To help you think through the details a bit more, let’s take a look at the type of care you’ll need to prepare to provide. 

Know the care you’ll need to provide

In the life of your church, there are two types of care you’ll need to provide:

  1. Emergency
  2. Support and encouragement

I’ll be the first to admit that everything doesn’t fit that nice and neat into these two categories. But to help you practically think through empowering your church to provide care, you’ll find these two categories helpful. 

Here’s how to differentiate between these two categories:

Emergencies are entirely unplanned situations. From accidents to the sudden death of a church member, these are things you cannot plan for in advance.

Support and encouragement care is the type of thing you can plan for in your church. This includes visiting shut-ins, providing financial help, counseling, weddings, prayer, or births. 

Regardless of how you classify congregational care in your church, the biggest takeaway is to be prepared to handle both emergencies and expected caring situations. The best way to do this is to create a process, which leads us to the next point.

Congregational care process and tools

Creating processes for providing congregational care is essential. 

Processes help to ensure your church members receive care, and they make it a whole lot easier to empower volunteers to provide support too. 

Here are a couple of ways you can create a process around the different types of congregational care you’ll provide, and a few tools to help you along the way. 

Emergency care

As a church leader, you have to prepare for emergencies. This is an unfortunate reality you have to embrace to serve your church well. 

Instead of getting caught off guard, it’s best to prepare how you’ll handle emergencies when—not if—they happen. 

Here are three things you must have in place:

  1. Accessible contact information
  2. Teamwork
  3. Follow-up

Let’s explore these in detail.

#1 – Accessible contact information

Do your church members know how to get in touch with your church’s leadership when there’s an emergency? 

Can they directly contact the pastor?

Do they contact their small group leader? 

Can they find the information online? 

In some situations, there’s a good chance someone in the midst of an emergency will reach out to a friend in the church, who will then contact your church to ask for help.

Regardless of the situation, make sure your church members know how to contact you during an emergency situation, which will require this information to be easily accessible. 

So, for your church, this may involve including a number and email address online, as well as your church’s bulletin. If you go this route, you don’t have to provide your personal contact information. Instead, you can use a service like Google Voice to create a phone number you can share with the public that’ll forward to a different number to protect your identity. 

What is more, you can use a tool like this to change what number it forwards to when you have a team in place to help out with providing pastoral care. 

Why stress this point?

In an emergency, timeliness is vitally important. As a church leader, you want your church to be accessible and present for your church members in any emergency situation to provide comfort and support during times of need.

#2 – Teamwork

Let me reemphasize this point:

You’ll need a team of people to help you provide care. 

For emergency situations, it’s best to create a schedule for people to follow. By creating a schedule, you can protect one pastor, staff member, or volunteer from getting burned out. 

As you develop a process to provide emergency care, revisit the organization you developed in the previous step, and create a plan to delegate responsibility for who’s “on call” to handle emergency situations. 

#3 – Follow-up

The final component you need to create in your emergency care plan is how you’ll follow up. For this process, identify “common” emergency situations, and create a general follow-up process to follow for each. 

Here are some ideas you can include:

  • Phone calls
  • Handwritten notes
  • Flowers
  • Food
  • Prayer
  • Church announcement
  • Everyday support

Before making a public announcement, be sure whomever is in the midst of an emergency is okay with you making such an announcement to your church. 

In the end, for the follow-up process, it’s best to work through whomever is serving as the point person to identify the best way to care for the individual and his or her family during and after their emergency situation. 

Support and encouragement care

The process for providing support and encouragement care is fairly similar to emergency care. But there’s one tool you can use to make this process a whole lot easier: church-management software. 

For example, many church-management software tools allow you to create forms you can publish on your website, and after someone completes the form, it can be sent to a member of your congregational care team for processing. 

Here are common care-request forms you can create:

  • Prayer
  • Weddings
  • Premarital counseling
  • Building requests
  • Care

With church-management software, you can create whatever form you need to help you gather the necessary information to serve your church members well. 

After you gather this initial information, then a member of your congregational care team can review the request, identify the follow-up process (for example, does a pastor need to be involved?), and follow through with providing the care someone needs. 

The last form suggestion, “care,” can serve as a catchall. For example, if someone is on your website and they’re not sure what form they should submit, then they can click on this form to provide a general request for support or encouragement. 

So, for this form, it’s a good idea to gather information like:

  • Contact information
  • Relationship to your church—e.g., member, regular attendee, or visitor
  • Name of his or her small group leader
  • Reason for contact (this can be an open-ended question)

Providing meals

Providing food will be one practical and ongoing way you can support and encourage your church members. For people in emergency situations or for those experiencing illness or for those welcoming a new baby, this ministry is a tremendous blessing. 

To schedule meals for people, you may be able to use certain features within a church-management software, or you can use one of several online tools, such as:

In general, all three of these services enable you to schedule meals for someone in your church and easily invite people to lend a helping hand. 

To provide meals for someone, here are the steps you’ll need to take:

  • Nail down how long you’ll provide meals
  • Contact the individual or family to find out preferences or dietary restrictions
  • Clarify when food needs to be delivered 
  • Invite people to provide a meal

This simple process will provide practical support for your church members, and help your church members love “one another.” 

Providing congregational care for your church

This three-step process will empower your entire church to care for “one another”:

  1. Build a team for congregational care
  2. Know the care you’ll need to provide
  3. Create an easy-to-use process

As you think through how to care for your congregation, I encourage you to prayerfully consider your church’s unique situation to see how best you can support and encourage your church members.