Although the day you can resume in-person Sunday services may be weeks away, you’re likely already thinking about that day — and how to prepare for it.
Just in case you haven’t already thought of everything, here are some important issues to consider:
What if the size of gatherings is limited to 50 or 100 people?
Will you offer more than one service if you cannot accommodate your pre-pandemic congregation in just one Sunday service? Or will you try to estimate attendance in advance by creating an online signup form for those who plan to show up in person? (If we host your website, you already have what you need to create an online form; ask us how.)
If you have more than one Sunday service, will you need to adjust your schedule?
Controlling the flow of people in and out of your sanctuary may be necessary and may require extra time. If you had 30 minutes between in-person services before, do you need to adjust your schedule to allow more time (and sanitizing) between services?
What if you reopen your building and your Sunday service crowd is much smaller than it was, pre-pandemic?
Will you be surprised? Or will you know that, even after your mayor or governor or president says it’s safe to re-open, many people may be reluctant to return to the old normal. If older congregants and those with young children are slow to return to Sunday services, how will you serve and support them until they’re willing to come back to your building?
How will you reassure people that it’s safe to come back to church?
Even after churches reopen, it’s possible that physical distancing will be advised or even required by law.
Will you mark chairs or pews in your sanctuary so your folks can know they’re sitting six feet apart?
Will you spray seats with disinfectant, clean carpets and floors, wipe handles and doorknobs, and thoroughly clean all kitchens, bathrooms, and children’s areas, toys and books with disinfectant? Will you start cleaning well in advance or wait until the last minute, the week before you reopen?
Do you need a new volunteer team that’s responsible for continuous cleaning while people are in your building, whether for a Sunday service, a mid-week prayer service, or a class or workshop?
Will you buy and set up contact-less hand sanitizer stations?
Will you take the temperatures of greeters, ushers, Sunday school teachers and food/coffee service volunteers before allowing them to serve?
How will you let people know what measures you’re taking to help ensure their safety?
Will you provide masks, if masks are required by the government? Or will you just hope that everyone comes with his or her own face covering?
Will you continue to stream your services?
While you may think of streaming to YouTube and/or Facebook Live as temporary, have you compared your pre-pandemic, in-person attendance numbers to the numbers you’re reaching via online streaming? In many cases, “attendance” at online services is far higher than in-person attendance. One church we serve had just 25 people at its last in-person Sunday service in March. The next Sunday, that church’s service on Facebook Live reached more than 250 people. We’re seeing similar results for many other churches that have moved quickly to online-only Sunday services.
Will you continue to offer prayer services and classes online, even after your building opens?
If your classroom space does not allow for physical distancing, will you move classes to another physical space? Or will you offer online-only classes until a coronavirus vaccine is available?
Will you still ask people to shake hands or hold hands during your services?
If not, what alternatives might work? Even elbow bumps are ill-advised when physical distancing guidelines are in place.
If you have a choir, will it be able to practice or perform with physical distancing guidelines in place?
Singers usually stand shoulder-to-shoulder for a reason: so they can hear each other. How well do practices and performances work if choir members must stand six feet apart?
Will you still have greeters?
It may be difficult or impossible for greeters to keep a safe distance unless you move them outside your entrance.
If so, will it include the usual coffee, tea and snacks? Will you leave tables and chairs set up as usual in your fellowship area, or will you remove them to discourage people from connecting in ways that may be unsafe during a pandemic?
Will you offer child care and Sunday school?
It will not be possible to guarantee that symptom-free children will not pass the coronavirus to others in a nursery or Sunday School setting. What options can you give parents? Can you set aside an area for parents and children to be in your service together? Can you provide an online Sunday school for children?
Is it safe to pass a collection plate?
If not, or if congregants are concerned about touching a plate or bag that has been handled by dozens of others, can you provide an alternative, such as a dropbox for donations in your lobby?
What happens when your Sunday service concludes?
If people typically crowd together as they exit the sanctuary, do you need a plan to keep them safely apart? Will ushers control the flow of people leaving your service?
Will you have a volunteer shortage?
You may already have heard from older people, who are most at risk from the infection caused by the coronavirus, that they won’t be greeting, teaching Sunday school or making coffee because they need to limit their exposure until a vaccine is available. Likewise, parents of minors may want to pull back on volunteer commitments to help protect not only their children, but their elderly relatives and friends. How will you fill the void if your volunteer force is significantly reduced?
How will you meet the needs of members and friends suffering from physical isolation?
Some experts report that alcoholism, substance abuse, and depression are on the rise as a result of measures taken to control the spread of the coronavirus. Will you offer online counseling, in-person counseling, referrals to professionals in your city?
How will you handle requests for funerals, memorial services, weddings, and Christenings?
Will you continue to offer all special ceremonies, but with physical distancing rules in place? Will you encourage your folks to schedule only graveside services? Will you limit weddings to outdoor spaces? Will you ask parents of newborns to wait for Christening?
If your church has saved money by closing its building, will you invest the savings in digital outreach?
If you’ll continue to live-stream Sunday services, do you need more and better equipment? Do you need new staff members or volunteers to ensure that your online presence is as good as it can be?
Summer is the time many churches host an annual picnic, with barbecued burgers, chicken and hot dogs provided by the church and the rest offered by potluck. Will it be safe to have a church picnic this year? If not, is there a way to get people together safely – perhaps by asking a local restaurant to cater an outdoor meal?
Can your church continue to support a full-time minister?
In some congregations, nearly all pastors are “bi-vocational” because their churches cannot pay a fulltime leader. If your church, like most, has experienced a significant drop in donations, what tough choices confront you now, or lie just ahead? And what creative solutions can you devise?
Do you have something to add to this post?
Please contact us so we can share your insights and experiences to bless others.