Reopening: How Church Leaders Must Prepare for What's Next

Safety precautions must be taken when churches reopen their doors soon. (Photo by Anna Earl on Unsplash)

Reopening churches should not be political, but it should be safe. After the president's announcement on May 22, many churches are in the process of reopening.

Vanderbloemen's webinar with six church pastors from four states addressed the critical decisions within reopening their churches. Together, we discussed practical plans, systems, and processes that can help churches move forward after COVID-19. Three panelists represented churches that have already reopened, while three additional panelists are planning to reopen this upcoming weekend and in the coming weeks.

It's evident that some find hope and comfort in gathering again, while others may experience hesitation and fear. With churches beginning to reopen, lead pastors are facing challenging decisions with their operations and staffing. How will everyday operations look moving forward?

Panelists

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Jeffrey Carlson, senior executive pastor, Christ Church

Paul Willis, executive pastor of operations, WoodsEdge Community Church

Hayes Howell, executive pastor, Lynwood Baptist Church

Brian Hummel, campus pastor, The Fellowship, Cinco Ranch Campus

Brad Flurry, executive pastor of ministries, Kingsland Baptist Church

Scott Vander Ploeg, senior pastor, Sunlight Community Church Central Campus

Reopening Church: Here's What's Happened and What's Next

Churches are taking time to decide the best way to reopen for their location, and each leader faces challenges and is taking precautions. In efforts to remain in compliance with state guidelines, some churches are choosing to mirror what retail stores and restaurants have been instructed to do upon reopening.

Many churches that have decided to make social distancing feasible are capping worship services at 25% attendance. This allows churches that have recently reopened to inform the church community of precautions that promote safety and care while planning to gather again.

In an effort to assess how the church community feels about future gathering, a market-research style conversation was utilized to help leaders gain insight about the approximate numbers of individuals that would show up to gather for in-person worship again.

With every church having a different DNA, different systems, processes and plans are to be expected. Though some leaders shared their plans to gather in their physical buildings, others shared their ideas for outdoor church service. One church planned for an on-the-lawn worship experience by giving members the option of leaving their cars to stand or sit on the lawn or drive up and stay in their cars. The majority of churches we've spoken to are communicating the narrative that masks are not required for their church community, but they are available for those who choose to wear one.

7 Ways to Manage Pre-service Preparations, RSVPs and Attendance

1. Create a clear plan to manage the size of in-person worship experiences.

2. Employ RSVP systems to organize an effective plan for social distancing. Here are two RSVP systems mentioned for event registrations:

Brushfire.

Eventbrite.

3. Managing registrations will vary for each church. An idea mentioned in our panel was to open registration for 100 people, but leave a margin for approximately 50 people, in case visitors may show up without registering. Other methods that were mentioned:

—In order to create distance between others, leaders are opening seating for every other row.

—Removing the first two rows of seats closest to the stage is a practical idea; this provides distance from those on stage while they're not wearing masks.

—Schedule preregistration weekly for services rather than multiple weekends in advance. This will help navigate the attendance numbers for weekends people do not plan to show up.

4. Consider a backup plan for an additional location on campus to accommodate for overflow.

5. Reducing capacity and adding additional services is the most common plan of action. However, make certain that you spend time ensuring the feel and experience of each service is consistent.

6. Provide masks and hand sanitizers to members if possible. This act shows you understand their concerns and prioritize their health.

7. Implement a touchless system for each worship experience. Here are a few ways leaders are implementing this:

—Implement more drop boxes around the building for offering.

—Limit fellowship times before and after services.

—Many churches are not offering coffee, but those who are choosing to serve coffee are staffing their coffee stations with volunteers who wear masks and gloves to hand out items to members individually.

Practical Tips to Communicate With Your Church Community

—Managing the expectations of the church community is a top priority for leaders. There is a balance needed to respect those who are craving companionship and want to reopen and those who are feeling afraid and may not be ready to return just yet.

—It's important to show grace to people all along the spectrum; those who think churches should've stayed open, those concerned about coming back and those who want to come back, but also want to be wise. Acknowledging and validating these different perspectives will help to serve your church community lovingly across the board.

—Churches are finding it helpful to communicate details and logistics through email, newsletters, social media posts, their website and deacons who call around to communicate church plans, making everyone aware of future reopening plans and safety precautions. Even with multiple communication platforms, it's still possible for some people to not receive the information. This is the time to overcommunicate with the entire church community.

—Christ Church has a section on its website that communicates important information here: Our Doors are Open.

—Share value-driven information with your community. Communicate what your church will be doing versus what you will not be doing. This will help communicate all of the worship opportunities available and the regathering plans. Remember people will respond differently to your decisions; be prepared to love everyone no matter how they perceive your choices.

Lessons Learned From Reopening

—Choose a date to reopen that gives you enough time to plan logistics like signs, maps and so on. Planning further in advance will allow you plenty of time to communicate to your church community. One pastor recommended giving yourself at least a few weeks because you'll be surprised how many details there are to sort out to make your congregation feel safe.

—Solidify an effective bathroom process. One church opted to swap out sinks and hand dryers and replace them with touch-free devices. Churches are also limiting the number of people who can use the bathroom at once by closing off every other stall. Some churches have installed kick plates to open doors hands-free, added paper towels next to bathroom doors to wipe your hands before and after you enter and installed hand sanitizing stations right by the bathroom door.

—Create a kids ministry plan. Churches are varying in their approaches to open children's ministries. One church is reopening their kids ministry for babies through fifth graders at 50% capacity. They are not requiring team members to wear masks to ensure a friendlier environment, and they're modifying programming to limit interactions. Another church is only offering child care for smaller community groups who meet on campus throughout the week. Some churches that are not offering kids ministry are noticing a decrease in their young family attendance.

—Establish a process for Communion. A few ideas shared were:

—Individually wrapped kits

—Self-serve stations

—Offering a pick-up system for those who want to take Communion but still prefer to watch online

—Encouraging members to bring their own Communion materials

—Creating a 2-cup system where a cup with juice is placed on top of a cup with a cracker to limit the number of items touched

—Consider utilizing a system for prayer and new guests. Most churches are choosing to not have the prayer team available after services. For new attendees, some churches are offering an outdoor guest tent to help people get connected. If you have an open lobby, you can also provide an indoor hub where people can get answers to questions and get instructions to download a church app or visit your website to submit prayer requests or submit a new attendee form.

—Adjust for shorter service times. Many pastors are experiencing the challenge of needing time during the service to communicate processes and systems, while also aiming for shorter services to provide enough time for sanitizing and cleaning between each service.

—Create an effective offering system. Many churches have transitioned to online and mail-in giving. Some churches have installed an offering station in the back of their space, while also increasing the number of offering boxes on campus.

Church Staff Returning to the Office

Many churches are giving staff members the option to come back into the office or to work from home. More vulnerable staff members who return can be allowed to set up their workspace anywhere in the building to maintain social distancing. A few church offices are still by appointment only, and deliveries are continuing to be dropped off outside of the office.

Upon returning to the office, some churches are implementing temperature checks for staff members, while not requiring masks to be worn. For general office meetings, churches are rearranging their meeting spaces to adhere to proper social distancing requirements. Each of these tactics serves to promote safe gathering opportunities for all staff members.

The Future of In-Person and Online Worship Experiences

It's inevitable for in-person and online service experiences to continue, and leaders are committed to using wisdom as they navigate the logistics of managing these two worship experiences. A present challenge that leaders are facing upon continuing online and in-person services, is the need for more volunteers.

Church staff members have shifted gears and taken on additional tasks to learn to manage systems while being solely online, but now that there are two service platforms, even more volunteers are needed. Each church's ability to increase staff or volunteers will vary. However, it's evident that there will be a presence of dual-hat responsibilities for many staff members with in-person and online job components.

To view the webinar, visit vanderbloemen.com.

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Sutton Turner is the chief operating officer atVanderbloemen, which serves teams with a greater purpose by aligning their people solutions for growth: hiring, compensation, succession and culture. Through its retained executive search and consulting services, Vanderbloemen serves churches, schools, nonprofits, family offices and Christian businesses in all parts of the United States and internationally.

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