In many ways, the Church will never be the same post-COVID-19. Throughout her history, the Church has developed in response to major global events, and today is no different. Churches have experienced so many adjustments in such a short period of time. Individuals, families, communities, even entire nations, have all been impacted in real and lasting ways. Although we do not know exactly what life will be like after the dust settles from this pandemic, we do recognize that we will be living in a new state of normalcy. We desire to help your church navigate into this “new normal” in a manner that will strengthen your ministry impact.
This guide provides resources to help you prayerfully reflect on where your church is today, assess the possibilities of what tomorrow may look like, and develop thoughtful plans for living on mission as you reopen your church doors to your community.
Yes, many things have changed. However, some things remain unchanged:
- God is still God. We serve a God who is unshaken by the events that unfold around us. We join Job in declaring that God is our Redeemer, and our Redeemer lives! God is in the work of redemption, taking that which was meant for evil and redeeming it for His purposes and His glory. We believe that is exactly what He is doing with this crisis, taking the piercing pain of this pandemic and redeeming it in such a way that many will learn of the hope found in Jesus and embrace the truth of Christ.
- Our mission and calling remains the same. Regardless of the changes in ministry methods we have made during this time, our purpose still stands: making disciples as we introduce people to the life-transforming Way of Jesus. We are called to continue seeking ways to introduce others to the hope and truth of Christ.
- Wise leadership continues to be necessary. People are looking for direction, guidance and truth. Humble, discerning leaders are a necessity. Encouraging and equipping the people God has entrusted to you and your ministry is of paramount importance, especially in times of change and transition. When situations are rapidly evolving, wise leadership helps ease anxiety and uncertainty.
Initial Church Assessment
To adequately prepare for opening your church doors, it is best to understand where your church is today in relation to some of the projected realities we will soon be facing in the wake of this pandemic. We do not know exactly how the government will choose to adjust shelter-in-place orders or what gathering restrictions will be enforced, but we must begin processing through the possibilities and planning for the future. Following are some recommended topics for conversations with your ministry leaders to assist you in assessing the steps your church will want to take, along with some practical options for ministry moving forward.
- Staggered openings. From what is currently being reported it seems permission to gather publicly will roll out in different ways based on your geographical location. Many models for COVID-19 indicate that some hot spots will cool down while others might flare up. If that is the case, in some areas public gatherings will be permitted while others will have tighter restrictions. Assess the current impact COVID-19 has had in your locale. Consider how your local government has been responding, and what you might anticipate in the days ahead so you can best prepare. You will want to keep this in mind as you work through the rest of this guide.
- Size of gatherings. Government restrictions on the size of gatherings will impact how soon you can meet publicly. For example, in the US the federal government has released a phased plan for reopening the country. State governors can implement the plan on either a county-by-county or statewide basis contingent on certain criteria being satisfied. In Phase 2 of this plan, social settings of more than 50 people should be avoided, however places of worship can operate under physical distancing protocols.
You need to develop a plan for how your church will approach ministry when smaller social gatherings are permitted. Depending on the size of your church, you might choose to have two or three weekend worship times and limit the number of people to 50 in each. If your church is larger, you may decide it makes better sense to wait until larger groups can once again gather before relaunching your in-person weekend worship gatherings. Smaller affinity-based gatherings might work, however. You may be able to host some smaller gatherings at your church, like women’s bible studies, junior high ministry, volunteer team gatherings, etc.
- Your own building or rented facilities? If you have your own church building, then you will be able to make decisions based upon the lifting of restrictions and the recommendations of your local government. However, if you are a mobile/portable church that is renting facilities, you should prepare for the possibility that you may not be able to get into those facilities for a prolonged time. Schools that have closed for the year are unlikely to open over the summer for churches to use. Movie theaters and other community spaces may be more hesitant to open up for church gatherings, and some may stop renting facilities altogether.
Here are a Few Ways to Make the Most of your Re-Opening
1. Plant Seeds Prior to Opening Your Doors
Right now, while people are at home, is perhaps the most opportune time for Christians to be planting seeds for the Gospel right in their neighborhoods. Many people have real needs during this crisis, whether physical or emotional. Do not neglect this opportunity to both disciple your people and reach your town with the love of Jesus. The Church has always stepped up during times of crisis and this is an opportunity for your church to be the hands and feet of Jesus right in your community.
How is your church serving the needs of your city?
How are you equipping your people to be the hands and feet of Jesus in their neighborhoods?
Before the time comes when you are permitted to reopen the doors of your church, be sure you and your people have proactively sown the seeds in your town. Good neighbors doing good deeds leads to goodwill which opens the door for the Good News. Across the nation we are seeing a sense of “we are in this together” and your church can lean in and demonstrate that you are there for your city.
2. Prepare Your Church: Safety Priorities
There are two primary things you will need to communicate as you prepare to reopen your doors: safety priorities and open status details.
People are going to be cautious about returning to public gatherings – no matter what their ages. It is becoming increasingly important for individuals to understand how you are protecting them and their families. This is especially important for new people your church has been reaching during this crisis. You will need to communicate the measures your church is taking to keep people safe.
Start thinking about the safety items and supplies you need well in advance of your reopening because supplies on many products are currently limited. You also want to be sure you are using FDA-approved protection equipment and purchasing from a trusted supplier.
Here is a list of items to include in your safety measures:
- Touchless Hand Sanitizing Stations – These will become commonplace and expected anywhere groups of people are gathering. This is one item that is probably here to stay and part of our new normal. At a minimum, you should have a hand sanitizing station at each entrance into your facilities and also near your children’s areas. The touchless feature is important because it helps maintain cleanliness as opposed to simply a container of hand sanitizer with a manual pump. Be sure to purchase a good supply of hand sanitizer to keep the stations stocked. The most efficient stations are those that can easily be filled with any sanitizer rather than those that require a special bag insert to refill. This allows you to keep jugs of sanitizer on hand and simply top off your stations as needed.
- Face Masks – In many areas face masks will continue to be recommended. You can have face masks available for your staff and volunteers, but also consider having them available to those who attend your worship gatherings. Some churches are also purchasing face masks and using them to bless their communities by giving them to those who need them most. Be sure the face masks are FDA approved to demonstrate your commitment to care and safety.
- Touchless Forehead Thermometers – There have been some conversations that these may be required in some areas for public gatherings. Before entry, individuals would need to be quickly checked to ensure they are not running a fever.
- Safety Signage – Do not forget to have signage that clearly communicates your safety precautions. This not only helps direct people in what is expected of them, such as sanitizing their hands, but also demonstrates that your church cares for the safety of all who enter.
Place orders for sanitization and safety equipment well in advance, as many of these products are in limited supply. To get FDA certified products that do not take from the equipment reserves of our hospitals and healthcare workers, visit outreach.com/face-masks-sanitizer-stations
3. Invite Your Community
Next you will want to let people know when your doors reopen. This is a huge opportunity to invite all of those with whom your people have been connecting and serving.
Hopefully many new people have been introduced to the heart of your church as you have been serving your community, celebrating local workers, and being good neighbors. Now is the time to let them experience your church family, and it is best to act quickly to water the seeds that have been planted. You can help people take their next steps on their journey by inviting them to experience biblical community and corporate worship at your church.
Here are four proven ways to connect with your community:
- Facebook Ads – You can target specific geographic areas and connect people directly to your church website very affordably. This can be especially effective if your church has been posting engaging content and live-streaming on Facebook. Setting up and refining Facebook ads for maximum return on investment can be somewhat tricky, so you might want to connect with a service that helps churches specifically run Facebook ad campaigns, like the one offered by Outreach.
- Direct Mail – To ensure you reach every home in your area, nothing can beat direct mail postcards. Your church can qualify for non-profit postage and mail for pennies per home. This is a safe way to get your message out and invite your neighbors to church.
- Social Media – Be sure to post regularly on your social media channels such as Facebook and Instagram. You can even do Facebook Live or IGTV videos to share about your reopening details and your safety precautions. This is a great way to demonstrate what your church is doing to prepare to safely welcome your community.
- Banners and Signage – Let those who drive by your church know when you are reopening. If you have a digital sign or marquee, be sure to include your reopening details. If not, you can purchase outdoor banners and Yard Signs to help communicate that you are reopening.
There are many other things you will need to think through before reopening your church, check back next week for Part 2.
With 20 years of pastoral leadership experience, Jason Daye is passionate about helping ministry leaders discover how God is already working in their unique ministry contexts and uncover opportunities to build bridges into their neighborhoods to extend the hope of Christ. Jason’s lead pastor roles have provided him experience in several contexts including church plant re-launch, multi-site church, multi-ethnic urban church, and established suburban churches. He has also served in pioneering mission work and compassionate ministry projects in several countries.
As Vice President of Mobilization, he dedicates his time to encouraging and equipping churches, denominations and ministry organizations to develop their Kingdom effectiveness as they embrace the mission of Jesus. Jason provides oversight to key ministry initiatives at Outreach, equipping Christ-followers to share their faith and engaging churches to reach their communities. Jason also serves as the Executive Director of National Back to Church Sunday and as host of the Churchleaders podcast.
Jason lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with his beautiful wife and six children. He enjoys hiking with his family, fighting rainbow trout, summiting 14ers and swapping stories with good friends. Connect with him on Twitter or Instagram @jasondaye.