By Ken Braddy
Each congregation will have to arrive at a decision about how they will reopen.
Most want to follow the guidelines from our local, state and national leaders. That means that congregations will not arrive at the same conclusions about how to reopen.
Many things we do in our churches may be similar or exactly the same as we reopen.
Depending upon our denominations, our ministry contexts, and what our local authorities allow, other decisions will be more unique.
Please be understanding if churches in your area come to different conclusions about what they believe is right in this situation. We’re all making the best decisions we can with the information at hand.
That said, here are a few considerations for reopening that could be easily overlooked:
1. What will you do if your church rents or shares its facilities with outside groups or another church?
A question you’ll have to answer is, “Will we go forward with the shared space arrangement?
If yes, who will be responsible for the deep cleaning after each use? Who will bear the expense and responsibility for this?”
2. What is our responsibility to churches that meet in schools, theaters, or other rented facilities?
Those groups may not be able to return to their rented facilities for a variety of reasons.
Should your church consider seeking out one of those “mobile” churches and offering to house them in your facility until they get back on their feet? It would make for good Kingdom partnerships.
3. How will you handle decision counseling and the altar call/invitation at the end of your worship service?
Your church may not have this tradition, so it could be a non-issue.
In many churches, though, it is possible that individuals and/or families walk to the front of the worship center, talk with the pastor, and announce a decision to follow Christ or ask to officially join the church family.
I’ve preached a sermon and led an invitation in which people left their pews to come to the front and make spiritual decisions.
I’ve placed my hand on people’s shoulders, leaned in close to hear them talk, and this won’t fit in the new six-foot distancing standards today.
4. Should you have new plans to meet the financial needs of members, guests, and the community at large?
COVID-19 is going to provide churches with new ways to meet needs in practical ways.
Will you need to recruit new people to benevolence ministries? Start a backpack drive for kids going back to school in August? Is it time to begin a food pantry?
What about financial counseling to families who are facing financial hardships because of furloughs and layoffs?
5. Who will enforce physical distancing policies and cleaning practices?
In the back of my mind I can see Barney Fife running around the church blowing a whistle.
But if you have new rules, someone is going to have to remind congregants about keeping others safe. Will this be a person or a team of people? Or will you have this at all?
6. How will you minister to senior members who are concerned about returning?
Many of them do not have internet access. They don’t have computers, Apple watches, iPads, or smartphones.
If they are slow to return, how can we help them re-engage with their fellow senior members? Would you see any benefit in beginning a special worship service just for them?
Local businesses have instituted “senior hours” and open early to these people before the general public is allowed in.
Perhaps a new kind of worship service just for them would help seniors be safe, feel safe, and reconnect (at a safe distance!) to their friends whom they may not have seen for months.
7. Will Bible study groups be encouraged to stay online?
I hope the answer to this is a resounding “yes.” Bible study groups can broadcast live via Zoom or Facebook live directly from inside their classrooms.
This can reach absent group members, people who are intentionally going to delay returning, and people who are online and looking for a virtual group.
8. What are you going to do if physical distancing fails and we see a flare-up of COVID-19?
It may be a good idea to have a “plan B” should our governors or mayors have to ask us to shelter in place again because of a return of COVID-19.
People may let their guard down, feeling like the threat has passed. How quickly will you be able to go from on-campus to off-campus groups, and from worship on campus to worship online again?
9. When the church returns to the building, will people be asked to wear facemasks? Will the church provide them (or can the church provide them)?
States and local municipalities are going to vary in what they require for larger gatherings to take place. One state is asking that people wear masks as they return to church; others may follow their example.
Will you turn away people who don’t wear one? Will your church be able to find masks to provide them for worshipers?
10. Does your church need to review its insurance policy to make sure your limits of liability can handle potential lawsuits?
Pastors are asking this question in meetings I’ve attended online.
There is a slight concern that a litigious member or guest who contracts COVID-19 might sue the church for allowing people to gather without taking adequate safety precautions.
KEN BRADDY (@kenbraddy) is the director of Sunday School at LifeWay and disciples a group of adults at his church in Shelbyville, Tennessee. He is the author of several books, including Breathing Life Into Sunday School. He blogs regularly about Sunday school and groups at kenbraddy.com, and is host of The Sunday School Guy podcast.