Many congregations are eager to reopen their buildings and resume in-person worship services, but it’s important to resist the temptation to rush back before it’s safe. The Lewis Center staff has assembled this list of key questions to consider before a church can safely resume gathering.
With many states and jurisdictions beginning to ease COVID-19 restrictions, churches need to assess when and how their congregants can safely resume gathering. These are a few of the many critical questions that require serious deliberation.
1. Are church members ready and willing to return?
Even if your state or locality is allowing religious gatherings, it could be that many of your church members don’t feel ready to return. Church consultant Mike Bonem asked in a recent blog post, “Before you go through all the effort to reopen, wouldn’t you want to know if anyone will show up?” He suggests a quick “pulse survey” to gauge people’s readiness to resume gathering. (See “Not So Fast.”) One factor to assess is how many of your people are in high-risk categories due to age or underlying health issues. Remember, some of your at-risk individuals might feel obliged to attend worship if it being offered, even it if is inadvisable for them to attend.
2. What steps are needed to sanitize facilities?
Before reopening their doors, churches need a plan for properly cleaning and disinfecting their worship space, classroom, restrooms, etc. This can’t be just a one-time blitz to prepare for reentry. You need a plan for ongoing cleaning when facilities are in use, especially for disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. Consult the standards available from the CDC website: “Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, and Homes.”
3. How can we maintain appropriate social distancing?
The need to maintain proper social distancing calls into question many familiar Sunday rituals. How will your greeters do their job if they can’t shake hands? Is there a safe way to offer coffee or other refreshments? What about children’s classrooms? Do you need a seating plan in the sanctuary to help people maintain proper distance? Should you add additional services to reduce the size of each gathering? Or alter your overall schedule to allow more time for people to come and go with fewer interactions? These are just some of the many questions that come to mind as churches anticipate people reentering their buildings.
4. What worship practices need to be modified?
The risk of spreading the virus through surface contact calls into question other familiar rituals such as passing an offering plate, distributing printed worship bulletins, passing the peace, and celebrating Communion. This may be the time to consider alternate approaches — projection screens instead of printed handouts, for example, or a stationary collection box instead of passing an offering plate or basket. But changing familiar routines will require clear communication and frequent reminders.
5. Should there be a grand reopening?
Many of us miss being with people in our church. It is easy to imagine a grand reopening to celebrate coming back together again. However, we must be mindful of CDC guidelines as we prepare to resume in-person activities. This means continuing to maintain a strong online presence for most of the things you are currently doing. It also means more work because you will now be paying attention to those physically and virtually present. We should set aside notions of a grand reopening and should be focused on how to live into the new reality of physical and virtual community.
6. What needs to wait?
What about children’s programs, church suppers, larger Bible study groups, mission trips, weddings, funerals, and other larger events? Each of these activities raises its own set of questions and concerns. Some churches are focusing for now on getting worship up and running while putting other in-person activities on hold.
In all, no one should assume that going back to church will be simply a matter of picking up where we left off. Churches need to plan carefully to avoid putting people at risk and, considering the myriad questions and considerations, should resist the temptation to rush back before it is safe. In the words of church consultant Ken Braddy, “Don’t let the excitement of finally coming back together cloud your judgment.”
For a more comprehensive list of questions see “24 Questions Your Church Should Answer Before People Return” by Ken Braddy.
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