This guest post is by Anthony Hilder, who works as a church leadership consultant focusing. Anthony helps leaders build healthy churches across the world. You can find out more about what he does at anthonyhilder.com
Coronavirus has affected the church. No one can deny that. Public gatherings and interactions have been restricted and whilst we hope that over time, these limitations will change and ease off so that we can begin reopening churches, this is understandably going to be a process. A slow process.
Yet some things have never changed, in spite of Corona. The church still stands. God is still on the throne. The Great Commission is still the church's mission and derived from that, your church still has its specific and unique apostolic mission. No matter the scenario, we still need to make disciples. Maybe the 'how' looks different right now. It's important that we don't live in denial of the impact and severity of Coronavirus. Normal looks different, and will for some time to come.
The church - and churches - have to adapt, or it will become increasingly irrelevant. Recent media coverage suggests that people are accessing online church services more readily than they would physical services. Churches are reinventing themselves and learning new ways of doing things. Some of these changes have been forced for many. Yet, no matter how long the Corona season lasts, the impact will last longer. Whilst public gatherings are currently strongly discouraged, there will come a time when church doors can open, so to speak. What things should we be considering in the meantime between 'now' and 'then'? What questions should we ask ourselves, and what do we need to think through to make the transition - whenever it takes place - wise?
Reopening your church will be more challenging than moving it online. So when developing a roadmap for reopening, it is wise to remember the following principles:
God is with us - we don't need to fear
Loving our neighbours is of utmost importance - this isn't the time for selfishness or recklessness
Science isn't the enemy - it is the way we discover how God's creation works
I want to suggest some questions that will help church leaders think through their approach to reopening during the Coronavirus season. I have gathered them into two groups - the strategic, bigger-picture questions, and the tactical, detailed practicalities. Both sets of questions are intended as a guide, so ensure you are considering your convictions, government guidelines, and specific local Corona situation. I hope it doesn't need saying, but it isn't a good representation of the gospel if churches are rushing to open prematurely at the expense of putting people at risk.
With that in mind, here are some issues that I can see that need consideration by any church navigating the path to reopening during the Coronavirus pandemic. I'd recommend discussing the strategic questions first, before moving on to the tactical - the strategic will shape your tactical outworking.
Strategic Questions For Reopening
When you think through your current approach as a church, where you do think you are on a scale with 1 being overly fearful of Coronavirus impact and 5 representing rushing into things too quickly?
What are your 'triggers' for reopening? A low rate of Coronavirus cases? Stay home/social distancing guidelines relaxed? Businesses or schools reopening? Is testing widely available? A vaccine being developed? Choose your milestones - your people will have chosen their own!
How are you keeping informed of local and national government guidelines?
Are any of your current online innovations here to stay? Remember, digital is the way most people do things these days.
How will you pastor those who aren't ready to or cannot attend any physical gatherings?
With people feeling vulnerable, or who have suffered a bereavement, or unemployment, or financial turmoil, or other trauma, how ready is your pastoral system, structure and heart?
Do you have the current staff skills, capacity, aptitude or willingness to adapt and learn digital skills?
What are your current financial trends, and how do you need to respond?
How will you communicate your plan to the church? Remember, don't commit to dates or timelines - be flexible because anything can change!
Tactical Questions For Reopening
Are you offering online services?
Are these live or pre-recorded?
Are you offering post-service video calls to allow for prayer ministry or group calls for fellowship and connection afterwards?
Will you continue these in some capacity going forwards?
Do you offer online or mobile giving?
How are you identifying, connecting, engaging and following up with online viewers?
When small public gatherings can occur, what attendance number restrictions do you need to consider?
If you have a congregation larger than the prescribed maximum, how will you determine who attends and who does not?
If you have a congregation larger than the prescribed maximum, could you host multiple services or use multiple venues to allow everyone the opportunity to gather? If you have parking facilities, could you offer a 'drive-in' or open-air style service?
When will these gatherings increase and how will you communicate and manage this influx?
How will you address social distancing, physical interaction (hugs and handshakes) and face masks?
What will your seating plan be, in lieu of social distancing? Do you limit people per seat row? Space out chairs? Increase distance between rows? Use 'seat groups' for family units?
How will you ensure hygiene and sanitation standards, before, during and after your gathering?
How will you protect people considered in the 'at risk' groups?
How will you address situations when individuals who unwillingly fail to honour your restrictions - for example, young children?
How will you address situations when individuals wilfully choose to ignore your restrictions?
What about people unable or unwilling to attend your services but still part of your congregation - how will you serve them?
How will you handle giving? Online/text giving only? A collection box people walk to deposit offerings?
How will you address communion?
How will you address post-gathering hospitality after the service? Some people will want the connection time. Do you provide beverages? Food? If you do, what standards of sanitation do you need to observe?
Will you have groups such as nursery, children or youth? How big can they be? What about those outside that number? As the above questions, what are the standards for those groups for both the participants and the volunteers?
What will your policy be if someone attending your gatherings develops Covid-19 symptoms?
Do you need to change your building layout? How do you need to manage areas that people congregate around, e.g. toilets, entrances and exits, drinks stations etc?
Should you have a 'soft opening' with a small number to trial and test your decisions, reviewing your findings afterwards?
Are you offering online small groups?
What are you doing to ensure everyone in your congregation has the option to connect to a group?
What about those who have historically not been part of a group - what are you doing about them?
What is your plan for people who do not have access or skill with technology such as Zoom?
When small groups are able to meet again, what is the maximum number of attendees that could attend a group?
When will this change?
What are the demographic dynamics that need to be considered, for example, the presence of 'at risk' groups such as older people or those with certain medical conditions?
What will your approach be to face masks?
What about social distancing?
What about hygiene/sanitation standards?
How will you pastor those who are unable or unwilling to attend small groups in your congregation?
Considering the earlier questions, how will you practically run those ministries?
What ministries should be paused?
What ministries should be stopped permanently?
Are there new ministry opportunities available that weren't currently there before, for example, ways to serve the community?
What ministries can be adapted and shifted to an online method?
If you want to succeed in your church reopening, you have to look different. Coronavirus has impacted the church, but also society across every level. Things are different already. So to respond effectively, it means planning diligently and employing forethought. Reopening a church means reopening in a different form. So, ask yourself: what will your church look like when it reopens?
This season of reflection bought about by Coronavirus is the perfect time to spend assessing your church health and developing a strategic plan for the future. I offer online options for both of these services. To find out more about these, visit here. You can also take a FREE church health assessment here.