Before you get to “When”, Ask Yourself “How” Will You Re-Open Your Church?
It is important to start with the “how”. Churches will be interacting differently in group gatherings for the foreseeable future. The COVID-19 crisis has caused major disruption for churches all over. However, the church is a body and a living organism, able to adapt and flex. Ministries have been re-shaped, and people are already being helped even from afar using proper social distancing. This creativity and ability comes from the people who make up the church. Therefore, the first step in how to tackle coming back together is to begin discussing it with the appropriate people in your congregation and what will work best for your church.
Talking To The Right People
The right people should be a wide group. It should include pastors, staff, volunteers, parents and congregants. Try to include people that will provide multiple viewpoints. Pastors and staff possibly will see the processes through different lenses and may have different timelines than their congregants in how they come back to their workplace. They also may be on the front lines of sanitizing and preparing facilities.
Parents of children may also have views that are different. Their timeline for being willing to have their children participate may be very different than what pastors or staff have in mind. It would be beneficial for pastors and staff to understand the expectations of parents.
Due to the fact that COVID-19 is especially dangerous to older populations it would be beneficial to include people in the conversation who are part of this age demographic. It will be important for churches to understand how this group of people is experiencing the crisis and how that relates to how they will participate.
Consider A Survey
It is worth considering that everyone in the church may not be on the same page in regard to how or when the church begins to meet again. It would be valuable to know ahead of time what the group is thinking on these matters before time, effort and resources are used. Great insight can be obtained from a few simple questions.
Surveys can be effective in obtaining information and opinion from a wide group of people. It can be as straightforward as simple phone calls to congregants. There are several free electronic survey tools such as www.surveymonkey.com or www.typeform.com that can be implemented easily to obtain feedback from your congregation either through email or online.
Gather Outside Resources
Your church is specific. There will be local, state and federal guidelines influencing how you can re-open. And these guidelines may be fluid. It is worth the extra step to gather the appropriate information to influence how you re-open. Be sure to check your state website for their latest information. Additionally, be familiar with federal input such as from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has a page dedicated to Community and Faith-Based Organizations as shown here, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/index.html
Other resources can include information from your denominational headquarters or leadership. There are also helpful insights online from Christianity Today such as their article, “When Your Church Reopens, Here’s How To Meet Safely”, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/may-web-only/when-churches-reopen-phase-coronavirus-covid-19-guidelines.html
Breaking It Down
Eventually the information and opinions gathered will have to be organized into a framework to address the various processes and operations of re-opening. Some potential categories to help organize would be:
- How to bring employees back safely (and legally)
- How to properly clean and disinfect the facilities
- How to bring volunteers back safely
- Deciding what activities or ministries will operate first and which will be on hold
- How to address social distance requirements and Personal Protection Equipment as people enter and interact at church
- How to reduce and disinfect high touch areas
- How to respond if staff, volunteers or congregants test positive to COVID-19 after being at church
- How will you communicate your re-opening to your community
Be encouraged. The Church has survived thousands of years and has adapted. It has had various shapes and sizes and will be able to continue to encourage and serve even in the current circumstances. We will continue this series in the weeks ahead and provide further thoughts on, “How before When”.