When extreme temperatures reach your area, caring for those in need takes priority. Our calling is to be aware of needs around us and anticipate those needs. Winter is one of the harshest times for the elderly, the sick, and those who are bound at home for whatever reason. Of course, members of the immediate church should be first and foremost in our minds and hearts. But there are many in need of which we may not know.

With some planning, conversations with fellow leaders, and asking your flock for help in various ways, your church can make a tremendous impact to those in need all while showing God’s love.

Here are some ideas you can ponder and fit into your daily congregational life as winter weather becomes relentless. Allow these to inspire you to create your own ideas and ways of reaching out to help where needs are real.

One common but very useful activity your congregation can perform is to hold a coat drive early in the winter. It doesn’t have to be only in your church (although this should be one spot). People around your community are often very willing to give to those in need. Consider finding a location or two where those outside your church can also donate coats. Don’t just leave it at coats. Boots, gloves, and scarves are also important in the winter for those in need. Most importantly (this is the case in almost every idea listed) be sure you know those within your congregation who can use these items. Parents who struggle to keep their kids in quality warm coats, boots, gloves, and scarves would certainly be on the list. Once your internal needs are met, ask for names and addresses of others who might be open to your donations.

Another common activity, but equally important, is to gather non-perishable foods. Having a food bank open in your congregation for those in need is an important mission. Ask for volunteers to deliver boxes of non-perishables around Thanksgiving and Christmas to those who can no longer attend services.

In this same vein of thought, the holiday season (Thanksgiving through the new year) is the season with the highest instances of depression. It stems mostly from having to stay shut-in for months, but also loneliness and lack of joy around this time of year cause people to hit severe mood lows. How can you address this? Having children and parents sing carols in retirement homes, neighborhoods, and in the church parking lot is a highly effective means of lifting spirits. Don’t ask for anything in return for this event. Give it with joy.

When the temperatures become dangerously cold, or snow shuts people in for a day or more, create a call list to check in on those who are alone, sick, or elderly. Have a group maintain this list and assemble volunteers to make a series of calls on days where the weather is brutal. Ask by phone if there are needs that can be met, have them tell cheerful stories if it feels appropriate, and basically reach out with the Lord’s love and laughter. It’s also a means of making sure everyone is healthy and safe.

When the snow piles up, have a list within the congregation of those willing to push snow from driveways and parking spaces near homes. Of course, you probably already have plows and shovels for your church parking area and sidewalks. To save time and effort in around the church so that the energy can be spent in the community, consider an alternate option. You can raise money for heated snow melting mats that will allow your congregation to walk from the parking lot into the church on safe melted areas. If your church has any kind of seasonal raffle to raise money, these snow melting mats are also a great and safe give-away to your congregation.

One of the worst aspects of severe winter is when issues arise for which we aren’t prepared. If within your congregation you have women or men of trades that can be ‘on call’ during severe weather, create a list. When pipes freeze, cars won’t start, doors ice over, or a hundred other unexpected issues arise, consider having a list of members who are willing to help as best they can. Even if they are only available for a phone call to give advice, it’s a ministry often overlooked.

Can you keep your doors open during severe weather? If your church has a generator or a means of keeping people warm in severe weather, are there members of your flock willing to keep the doors open for those in need? Your food bank would come in handy here as well.

When severe winter weather is predicted, especially involving snow or ice, have your congregation bring in bags of salt. Yes, it’s a bit unconventional, but having stacks of salt bags for those in need to take home can save injury. If the salt is applied before a storm or right after shoveling, it can help melt away some of what causes the most danger and injuries.

When Christmas and New Years pass, this is when depression tends to set in quite hard. Have a weekly uplifting activity where you perhaps go out into the community. Again, to retirement homes, to the elderly, and to those who need a lift. Offer inspirational music or inspiring classes. Unconventional? Yes. A ministry that’s often overlooked? Definitely. Sharing God’s love and joy in the bleakest days could change lives.

Have a dessert (keeping diabetics in mind) giveaway in late Jan or Feb. Collect all the desserts your congregation can make in late January or early February and pass them throughout the community. People who love to bake, by late January, miss the baking of November and December. Give them something to do at an unexpected time.

One final idea is to stock up on the water in case of long-term power outages. This could be done throughout the year assigning certain Sunday School classes or evening groups each month to bring in one large container of water per person. When the power goes out, or a snowstorm approaches, disperse the water to those in need and make it plentiful.

Keep in mind that not all of these are appropriate for your church, without a doubt. Or maybe they are. More than anything it is hoped that these guide you to ideas where you can reach out not only to your flock but to those who have needs your congregation can help meet. May the Spirit lead you in directions even greater than those listed here to help keep yours and those around you safe, warm, and joyful each winter season.