The country is slowly beginning to open up after the pandemic and churches are quick to jump at the opportunity to reengage their community with live in-person services on the church campus. Whether you are able to hold live services this weekend, or like my church, may not be allowed to for at least another month, I’m sure you’re planning for what that looks like. Last week, I posted a phased approach to what ministries can open under which circumstances.
But what are some ideas churches can implement to make their gatherings safe and comfortable?
Here’s a long list of ideas:
- Consider polling your congregation before-hand via email, text, or social media. You may be surprised who doesn’t want to come back to live services right away. If you have volunteers that have small kids or are elderly, they may not want to show up to serve for a while. Use this poll to help gauge when to open and how many people to expect.
- Determine whether you’ll need the same number of services as you had pre-pandemic. If half your people are not planning to show up right away, you can cut your services from 2 to 1. The inverse is the same…you may need to plan for more services in order to accommodate social distancing guidelines.
- Before you start live services, over-communicate what changes you’ve made beforehand. Use videos, emails, and social media to communicate what to expect.
- Communicate what guidelines you’re using for this basis. If you can bring to your team a doctor who is in your church, it adds more local and well-known authority that people can trust.
- Encourage those who are vulnerable to the virus to still stay home for a while and worship via online services.
- See if your state or county has recommended guidelines specific to churches. If they do and if you can follow them, do that over the ideas below.
- Provide increased signage and encourage waving and smiling instead of handshakes and hugs.
- If you are able, provide masks for people to use.
- Remove Hymnals, Bibles, flyers, envelopes and pens from the backs of the chairs. For Bibles, encourage people to use their own smartphone for the time being and be sure to put verses on your video screens during the message.
- Do not pass an offering plate or bag. Encourage online giving or dropping check/cash into offering box in the lobby that people do not have to touch.
- If you do a “meet and greet” during the service, just cancel it. Stop it. Don’t do it.
- If you have chairs (not pews), consider spacing the rows farther apart. Nobody wants to feel the breath of the person behind them during singing.
- Again, if you have chairs, consider spacing them farther apart rather than connecting. Many states, like California, require chairs in assembly rooms to be connected. However, due to the pandemic, they may be easing up on these restrictions temporarily allowing chairs to not be connected…thereby allowing for social distancing between families.
- Most churches I know of are not offering children’s services at all. Most are having children stay with parents since children do not social distance well. This means a majority of families with young children will simply not attend for a while.
- Communicate to parents that if they want to bring their children, they should also bring something to keep their kids occupied, such as crayons or quiet toys.
- Do not offer nursery care for babies and toddlers. Just don’t. Of all the moms I’ve spoken with, they simply don’t want to take the chance in any way for quite a while.
- Have a volunteer at each entrance door open the doors for every person who enters. They should be wearing gloves and stationed there for as long as people are at your church.
- Do the same for restroom doors so people don’t have to touch them. If the building layout allows for it, consider just propping the restroom doors open so nobody has to ever touch them. Make sure privacy is still a priority here though. Put up portable partitions to create a barrier if you’re able.
- If you need a line for something, put 6’ markers on the floor to remind people to stand back while waiting.
- If you regularly have a choir, consider postponing they tend to stand way too close together for social distancing.
- Encourage your members to bring their own coffee and pastries.
- If you feel like you must serve coffee, have a single person with gloves and a mask handing out pre-poured coffee.
- If you must serve donuts or other pastries, have a single person with gloves and a mask put the pastries on a plate for each person. To ensure safety and prevent kids from being unsafe, put the food behind a table so that each person must get the food that is handled by the volunteer. No self-serve!
- Install hand sanitizer stations everywhere. One at each main entrance, each room, and even outside if you can afford them.
- You may have been wondering for years how to stop printing the Sunday bulletin. And now you haven’t for nearly 2 months! Consider not printing one for the foreseeable future. You don’t want to hand them out anyway since too many people touch them during printing, sorting, handing out, and passing them. If you feel you must print something, consider changing up the layout to make it smaller and cheaper for the future.
- Continue to push your members to use the church website and social media. Keep it updated like you have during the pandemic. Keep people trained to use this method for communication and information. In the long run, it’s cheaper, faster and far more effective than anything on paper.
- If you have a small lobby, encourage your members to meet outside with more space and to keep social distancing rules.
- Have a discussion with all staff members as to whether you will require them to wear masks or not. If you require masks, ensure that it’s enforced equally. If you do not require masks, ensure that those who want to wear them are not criticized for doing so.
- Depending on how whether you have enough microphones, assign only one per person in your worship team. If you need to share, provide a sanitizing wipe backstage for people to use and wipe down the microphone.
- Have only one technician operate the sound console per Sunday. Another person for lighting, and another for video. Try not to have multiple people doing multiple tech jobs where touching equipment is required.
- Wipe down all video cameras, console, microphones, and other tech equipment after each service with sanitation wipes.
- Wipe counters, door handles, and other “high-touch” areas like the wooden tops of pews regularly.
- If you have the technology and space, consider broadcasting your main service to other buildings on your campus to create more worship environments. This will help with the more space needed for social distancing.
- If you have an employee who doesn’t feel like it’s safe to return to work, or if you’re unsure of whether you can require staff to attend services when reopening, I recommend consulting with this company. (No monetary links for me…they are just worth me recommending.)
- Regularly communicate with staff as to why you have chosen to take certain paths. Few things are worse than church staff who are not on the same page or do not understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.
- Do all of the above for mid-week services and ministries.
Every church is different, and every church will need to think through how this list applies to them and what might need to be modified. But what would you add to this list?