Post-COVID Church: A Guide to Reopening
Many organizations are struggling to determine how they’ll return to normalcy in the wake of COVID-19. While some are impatiently awaiting the full reopening of the economy, others are harboring safety concerns and pushing for delays. In these uncertain times, it can be challenging for organizations to know how to prioritize themselves and their members without overstepping any boundaries. Especially in an unprecedented situation like COVID, many organizations are afraid to make a mistake that will cost them their reputation.
Whether your church is closed until further notice or beginning the reopening process now, the following tips will help you guide your church to reopening safely and responsibly.
Follow Local Guidelines
First and foremost, organizations must be aware of their state laws and the reopening phase their location is in. This includes the stage (red, yellow, green) that your area is in, along with specifications for large gatherings. Some regions will be limiting in person gatherings more severely than others, so be sure to know the exact number of how many can gather and when that option becomes available.
Poll Your Members
If there is a great deal of uncertainty or anxiety about when to reopen, a simple poll may reveal the overarching perspective of your congregation. Are members decidedly uncomfortable with the idea, eager to return to in-person church events, or somewhere in between?
For congregations that find themselves split in opinion, reopening in phases will provide options for all members. Offering small group gathering options for those who are comfortable and online ways to connect for those who are not ready is a great start. Keep virtual church as an option even after reopening. By providing these options, your members feel seen and heard regardless of what level of church participation they choose.
Clean Your Building
In light of the pandemic, cleaning is an obvious way to prepare your church for a safe reopening. But deep cleaning your building provides another important element aside from cleanliness: peace of mind for those who are especially concerned about COVID, like elderly members, parents with young children, or immune-compromised individuals. Worship spaces and spaces where large groups gather, such as children’s play rooms and coffee hour rooms should be given special attention when deep cleaning.
Equally important is to be vocal about the steps you are taking to ensure a sterile environment upon returning to the building. This communicates to members that you care about their wellbeing and you are taking action to make sure they are safe.
Create an FAQ
Undoubtedly, many members will be wondering the same things as your church moves toward reopening. It may be easiest to create an FAQ sheet with all of the most common questions you’ve received and all the questions you anticipate receiving. Some examples of questions include:
- What is the time frame for resuming in-person worship services?
- When services resume, will they be different in any way?
- What about children’s areas and outdoor seating?
- Will you need to postpone large gatherings (weddings, funerals, luncheons, etc)?
- Can you share food and drink?
- When will committee meetings resume?
Address Uncertainty & Share Insight
Should you push for an immediate return to normal? Your congregants may actually benefit from hearing the church address what is currently happening. Instead of glossing over the unsettling nature of the pandemic, church leaders have an opportunity to speak transparently. Speak calmly about how the church is handling uncertainty.
Members may be interested to learn about how church leaders are handling uncertainty in their own lives. They will also want to know future plans for the church. Simply acknowledging the upheaval and walking members through the church’s reopening process will ease their concerns. Do this not only logically – but spiritually as well. Pastors and ministry leaders can spread calm rather than panic – a simple ministry blog can be a place to share these timely insights.
Create a Phased Reopening Document
For staff and other church leaders, it will be useful to create a shareable document with 3-5 phases of reopening. This will help unify leaders and give each individual the confidence to lead those who report to them. You can make this document for internal use only. You can also share it along with the FAQ so staff and church leaders can answer general questions with certainty. Within each phase, list all activities that will resume and all action steps that must occur in that phase. Guidestone’s sample COVID Re-entry Plan for churches provides a great example of how to do this.
Undoubtedly, churches will face both short-term challenges, like fluctuating attendance, and long-term challenges, like budget cuts. But moving forward with a strategy will help both leaders and members prepare for the future. There is no way to ensure a totally smooth ride to reopening after a pandemic outbreak. Fortunately, churches can use these simple strategies facilitate an eventual return to normalcy.