Recently, we all received good news: The country is going to slowly reopen, and that includes houses of worship.
But if you think we’ll all rush back to church and pick up where we left off, don’t kid yourself — it’s not going to happen. Or at least it shouldn’t happen. We need to think and plan carefully so we don’t endanger people simply because we let our guard down and believed that the coronavirus crisis had passed.
As believers, let’s agree to live by faith and not operate in fear. But let’s also agree to be proactive and to act in wisdom toward members and guests, especially those among us who are most susceptible to becoming infected with COVID-19.
Don’t let the excitement of finally coming back together cloud your judgment or cause you to ignore the “new normal.” Let’s think through some issues once the church regathers in the building:
What adjustments will you make to the Lord’s Supper, baptisms and your choir ministry?
Do you believe you can conduct communion like you have in the past? Your church’s tradition may involve passing a plate of elements, or it may include drinking from a common cup in some denominations. Will you use self-contained juice and cracker cups? What about baptisms? It’s going to be impossible to practice physical distancing in a baptism pool. And, as one reader said, “What do I do about my church’s choir program?” He realizes people standing side by side won’t be practical.
Is a physical, “pass the plate” offering a thing of the past?
How would you feel if you were the 100th person in a worship service to touch the offering plate that 99 other people just touched? Would you be worried about COVID-19 transmission? Sure, you would. So how will you take up your weekly offering? Will you install boxes at the doors of the worship center and perhaps place some in the lobby?
Are you going to continue offering children’s church?
As a short-term alternative, can family worship be encouraged as the primary option in these COVID-19 days? Should parents take their kids to worship, practice physical distancing and keep a close eye on their little ones?
Are you going to continue hosting special events?
Will your church continue to host weddings? How about funerals? Revivals? You get the idea. There are a number of special events that our churches might host. Which ones will continue, and which ones will be put on hold? And how will you decide — and explain — which ones continue and which ones don’t?
Are you continuing to provide coffee stations?
Many churches have invested serious dollars in creating a coffee shop experience. My church has a self-serve coffee station in the center of our foyer. Is that a good idea anymore? Tables and chairs may need to be placed in storage so that people don’t congregate within a couple of feet of one another.
Will you continue offering online worship?
Some churches may think of their recent foray into Facebook Live worship experiences as a thing of the past — a stop-gap measure during some really strange days. Happy they can meet together again, churches may dissolve Facebook Live services as they return to worship experiences on campus. But is stopping online worship services altogether the right strategy? I’ve heard of church after church whose leaders tell me their worship attendance and small group attendance are up significantly because people are finding them online.
What’s your strategy to clean and sanitize your church in real time?
It’s one thing to prepare in advance of people’s return to the church building, but how will you keep the place clean and disinfected on a Sunday or Wednesday? Does this give rise to a new team of people on campus whose ministry it is to walk around wiping doorknobs and other surfaces? Depending on your church size, you may have hundreds — or maybe even thousands — of people touching things while they’re on campus.
Do door greeters do their jobs differently, or at all?
We’ve always had door greeters. But in a COVID-19 world, do you really want a door greeter holding the door open while a parishioner walks by within a foot or two of them? That’s not in line with good physical-distancing practices. The new normal may be for greeters to stand back six feet, inside the church building, and welcome people verbally. A greeter is there to say hello, but they don’t make you pass within a foot of them. Welcome to the new world COVID-19 has created.
Is this the time to suspend or end “meet and greet” times?
Because of physical distancing rules, it probably is — at least temporarily. This practice has been on the decline in recent days, and many churches have already abandoned it because of its ineffectiveness with guests, not because of COVID-19 concerns.
What are you going to do about larger Sunday school groups?
No one is going to want to sit in a crowded room for Bible study, yet many of our classes have a very large attendance. Do you feel good about letting 25 or more senior adults meet in a small room? If you have space to start new groups, now is the time; help people spread out. But if your church is out of space, what’s the next step? One option is to add another time slot for Sunday school. Another option is to place some groups online, while others remain on campus.
Do you have a plan for reducing expenses if your church’s offerings don’t rebound?
This is the time for a “budget scrub” while offerings are still decent and expenses have been lower because of reduced activities. Churches need to be thinking about the “what ifs,” as in “What if our offerings don’t hold steady because of rising unemployment among members?” Every church needs a “plan B” strategy just in case giving drops in late summer or early fall. I have friends in ministry I deeply respect who believe the church hasn’t felt the financial impact of COVID-19 like we will in the days and months ahead.
How long are you going to postpone a return to Wednesday night services, meals, and Bible studies?
This won’t be a forever thing, but in the near future, following the return of the church to its buildings, will you continue an online prayer meeting and Bible study time? Can you find volunteer workers to support a Wednesday night strategy on campus? Do you want to put people around tables for the traditional mid-week meal on Wednesday nights?
This is just the beginning. This list of questions is not exhaustive. It’s representative of many things we should be thinking about once churches gather again. Let’s help the church be prepared for the new world we find ourselves in.
— Ken Braddy is the director of Sunday school for LifeWay Christian Resources and disciples a group of adults at his church in Shelbyville, Tenn. He is the author of several books, including “Breathing Life Into Sunday School.”