As states begin to reopen from coronavirus shutdowns, churches need to come up with a plan to safely resume services. How will church look in a post-coronavirus world? Here are some things you should consider when deciding how to reopen your church.
How Many People Can Safely Be Inside Our Church?
Many states have COVID-19 guidelines about how many people can be in a building at the same time. There are other guidelines that may also limit occupancy, such as keeping six feet between people. Given these safety measures, most churches will find that they cannot operate to full capacity.
The first step to safely reopen is to determine how many people can be in the church at the same time. Then, come up with a plan about how you will adapt services for this. Will you start offering more services each week? Hold services outside? Or will a set number of people be randomly picked each week to attend services?
What Will We Do About Shared Objects?
Take inventory of everything in your church that multiple people touch or share. This may include:
- Holy water fonts
- Offering plates
- Lecterns or pulpits
Decide if you will eliminate these items from the service or come up with some sort of sanitation protocol in between uses. For example, you might disinfect the lectern in between services but decide that holy water fonts will remain empty.
How Should We Modify the Service Itself?
Most services will need to be modified to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines. You might use individual servings for communion, and passing the peace will probably be a wave instead of a handshake or hug. Some churches will remove shared hymnals and instead project lyrics onto a screen at the front of the church. The goal is to limit physical contact and shared objects.
Are Sanitation Procedures Adequate?
You may have occasionally sanitized your church while it was closed to the public. Now that people are going to be regularly attending again, you need to sanitize after every service. Do you have enough volunteers or staff for this? How will you find additional volunteers if needed? Also make sure you are using cleaners that have been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency to kill coronavirus. You can find a list of approved cleaners here.
Related: How to Disinfect Your Church
How Will Social Gatherings Be Handled?
Churches traditionally set aside time before or after services for socialization. People used to gather in the lobby or narthex to talk. Now, they may be afraid to gather too close to others. Will you instruct people to go outside, or ask them not to talk between services at all?
Another thing to consider is whether Bible studies, Sunday school, and other small group events will continue. These often meet in smaller spaces so attendees may not be able to practice social distancing. Also, how will you handle weddings, funerals, and bigger events where visitors may be coming from out of state? You might limit attendance, postpone events, or hold these events outside to limit close contact.
How Will Messaging Change in Response to COVID-19?
The same messaging you’ve used in the past will feel out of place in this post-coronavirus environment. You need to acknowledge the impact of the virus in sermons and the signage around your church. For example, you might take a softer approach to asking for money since a lot of people are facing unemployment and financial hardship right now. And you might put up signage that encourages social distancing and reminds your congregation that the lack of contact is for their protection.
Will We Still Continue Digital Services?
Churches should continue streaming digital services for populations at increased risk of COVID-19. How long these services continue is up to each church to decide, but in some cases, churches may want to keep up with streaming permanently. It makes a lot of sense if you have a large at-risk population. It’s also great for expanding your church’s reach in the community.
What Will We Do if Someone Tests Positive for COVID-19?
Perhaps the biggest question is what you will do if someone who attended your service tests positive for COVID-19. How will you inform your congregation of the potential exposure? Will you shut down services temporarily until you can determine who had contact with that person?
Be mindful of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations. Under this law, you won’t be able to know the identity of the person who tested positive unless they sign a release form allowing someone from the church to be notified. Even then, you won’t be able to disclose the person’s identity to the rest of the congregation. You may need to work with your local health department to identify everyone who potentially had contact with the infected person.
Coronavirus has changed the way we do just about everything, and that includes church. Although we need to be cautious about how we reopen our churches, it can be done safely and smartly. Carefully plan out your services so that your congregation feels safe and welcome when they come back.