While some churches returned to in-person services relatively quickly during the pandemic, there are many more who still haven’t met in the same building since March 2020.
If you haven’t navigated reopening your doors yet (or maybe even if you have), here’s a list of things you’ll need to consider before you make the transition from online-only to whatever your next phase of reentry looks like.
Be sure to check what your local restrictions and guidelines are before you implement any reopening plan—and keep in mind that they’re likely to change, so you should also plan for flexibility.
What will your online services look like?
There’s a really good chance that a) your church has offered some version of online corporate worship over the last several months, and b) a decent number of your attendees won’t be comfortable joining in person immediately (even if they’re allowed to).
Will you maintain your online services and coordinate in-person services? Will you switch from pre-recording to livestreaming (or do both)?
There are media services that offer graphics packages that are a great way to make the look and feel of your online services consistent with your in-person atmosphere.
Considering what your services were like before quarantine, what are some expectations people might have that you won’t be able to meet?
- Communal coffee’s probably not a good idea, right?
- Speaking of Communion, will it be BYO Elements?
- What will kids’ church/childcare/youth look like?
- Do people normally line up to shake your pastor’s hand after the service?
- How will the service itself look different from before?
- Will you be limiting the use of your facility to your weekend service(s), or will you be open for smaller group meetings and midweek ministries?
How will you prepare your facility?
- Do you need to rearrange/block off seating to make social distancing easier?
- How will you discourage…congregating (for lack of a better word)? Many church spaces are designed with space for fellowship in mind. Do you need to redirect the flow of foot traffic? Do you need to remove lobby furniture?
- How will you minimize the need for contact with things like doorknobs and handrails?
- Will you be closing off bathrooms?
- Do you have a sanitization process ready?
- Do you need to create any kind of signage for any of the above?
- Will you have PPE (like masks) on hand for people who forget?
Are there rules or guidelines you’ll expect people to follow?
- Will you require face masks? Are there contexts where they won’t be required?
- Will you require your staff and/or volunteers to take greater precautions than the average attendee?
- Will you require people to “register” beforehand to be able to attend? (Yes, it sounds crazy, but it’s real.)
- If not, what will you do with people who come after you’ve reached capacity?
- How will you handle attendees who don’t (or refuse to) follow the rules?
Will you need additional volunteer support?
- How many of your usual volunteers are in a high-risk pool or aren’t yet comfortable with the idea of meeting together?
- What volunteer roles will you need to fill that you might not normally? (Guides encouraging people not to congregate, door holders, bathroom attendants, etc.)
- Can you recruit people to help clean after services?
- Do you need to schedule a time to train your volunteer teams for the special circumstances?
- Will you supply your volunteer teams with PPE?
What is your communication plan?
Arguably the most important part of your reopening plan is your communication about your reopening plan. It’s important to have answers to all of the above questions—but if only your staff (or worse—just a couple people on staff) know those answers, you did a lot of planning for nothing.
If you communicate well, it will save your average attendee a lot of confusion and potentially embarrassment. No one wants to get their family up and out of the house only to arrive at church to be turned away because they didn’t understand they had to pre-register.
You may have heard it said that people need to hear a message seven times before they remember it. If you’re the one saying the message (or one of the few really paying attention to it), it’s going to feel like overkill by about the third time. But, as anybody who’s tried to promote a church event knows, no matter how many times you communicate details about something, there will be people who “had no idea” and “never heard about it.”
Here are a few things you should consider as part of your communication strategy:
- A central repository of all of the important, up-to-date points of information will be invaluable. The best place for this to exist for most churches will be on their website—ideally on its own dedicated page. Even if you feel like your church’s preparations aren’t that complicated—or yours is one of the churches that isn’t implementing changes—people will have questions, and it’ll be helpful to have a place to point them to.
- Utilize all of the communications channels your churches has—website, social media platforms, email newsletters, announcements during your online service, livestream comments sections, physical signage, your church app. And always link back to the page mentioned above.
- Emphasize a need for and request grace for flexibility. Your plans will probably have to change as the situation changes, so it’s good to let people know that the information you’re communicating at any given moment may not be the case the following week.
- It’s definitely worth the effort to have your pastor or other senior church leader hop on camera to hit the high points of your plan. It’s a good chance to lead your church in a unique time, and people are more likely to watch it and retain the info than they are text or graphic posts. Defer to the special page on your website for more detailed info.
There’s a lot of nuance to consider. Much of your plan will be determined by your individual church’s needs and your local area’s restrictions, so this list is by no means exhaustive.
This information is courtesy of Igniter Media, which creates and curates media so the local church can better engage the culture and declare biblical truth, www.ignitermedia.com.
Igniter Media created a “Welcome Home” service opener video for you to use as your church reopens. It is designed it to be customizable to fit your church. Best of all, it’s free.