Congregations everywhere are looking forward to reopening their doors and beginning live services at churches again. Much of the world has been brought to a near standstill to combat COVID-19 through social distancing. Some regions are starting to relax the stay-at-home orders. The anticipation of worshipping together means plans are necessary that adapt to how church services are conducted.
Disinfecting the BuildingOnce social distancing restrictions have been lifted, pastors must begin implementing steps to sanitize the entire building. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has outlined requirements for proper cleaning. Churches need to clean and disinfect pews, rostrum furniture, electronic equipment, microphones, and AV aids, in addition to restrooms and wash areas. In Sabbath School rooms, disinfect all chairs, tables, and teaching aids. If your church has athletic equipment, including playground structures, these should be disinfected as well. The CDC also recommends replacing the filters on all air conditioning units to ensure the flow of clean air into the building.
Churches should temporarily remove hymnals and Bibles from the backrest of the pews and consider using an AV display to project hymns and other information. If you have not previously done this in your church, please be sure you have the necessary licenses to avoid violating copyright law.
SanctuarySeating arrangements in the sanctuary should be temporarily changed to keep social distancing in place. This can be done by marking which areas are available for seating and which are not. Some churches already have signs or cords that are used to indicate seating during Communion. If you don’t, you may use stickers, placards, or ribbons. Ensure that worshippers enter through one door and exit through another to minimize people coming in close contact in doorways
Consider implementing two short services with an interval in between to limit the number of worshippers at one given service. During the break time, have volunteers clean the sanctuary, lobby, restrooms, and other high-use areas. Encourage members to give their offerings online and refrain from passing the offering plate. Instead, place a collection box at a designated spot and have one of the deacons monitor it throughout the day.
Using a central microphone on the rostrum is preferable to passing a handheld mic back and forth. The rostrum area and the microphones should be cleaned after each service. To regulate the flow of people out of the sanctuary, assign the deacons to dismiss worshippers by rows. It is also recommended that the pastor not stand at the door to greet everyone as they file out of the sanctuary.
Sabbath School Rooms and RestroomsSmaller rooms like Sabbath School classrooms, the mother’s room, and even the restroom make it challenging to practice social distancing. Look for ways to minimize the number of people in each Sabbath School room or find larger places to meet. You may also want to limit the number of people in the restroom at the same time. Display signs inside the restrooms about the correct procedure for washing hands and ensure that adequate cleaning supplies are provided.
Choir, Praise Team, and MusiciansMusic is a big part of most church services. Still, it is recommended to reduce the number of participants on the praise team, if possible. This allows for more room on the rostrum during song service. Consider suspending any group practice for praise teams or the church choir. The deep breathing of singers during practice may also promote the spread of viruses. Pianos and other church-owned instruments should be thoroughly cleaned after each use.
Hospitality and Social GatheringsFellowship is also an essential part of the church experience that many of us are missing while we worship remotely. It is prudent to encourage members to refrain from hugging or even shaking hands with each other after they return. The CDC has provided guidance on the importance of wearing masks to prevent the spread of the disease by asymptomatic people so encourage members to continue to wear a mask in public settings.
Prop the doors open during services or consider installing an automatic door that opens as people come in and go out. Increase the number of hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the building and post signs that promote proper hygiene tips. Also, designate a volunteer to clean elevator buttons and door handles during the service.
Even after the congregation resumes worshiping together, there may need to be a time when additional social events are put on hold. It is recommended that the kitchen and cafeteria not be used at this time, and all group meals suspended. This minimizes the need for extreme cleaning during the preparation and serving of meals. It also cuts down on times when social distancing is challenging to achieve.
CommunicationRegardless of what guidelines you choose to put in place, the pastor should send an email to all families with information about the changes they might experience on their return. These changes should be on display in the lobby or reception area and mentioned in the bulletin. Remind the congregation that anyone who is sick, especially those with a fever or suffering from a cough or cold, should not come to church. This can lead to an increased spreading of disease, especially among the elderly and at-risk members of the congregation.
ConclusionEveryone is anxious to return to corporate worship and fellowship with the church family. Still, it is important to follow state and local law, while being mindful of safety values and the counsel of public health professionals. Some medical institutions have suggested that this virus may continue to be around for an extended period or may reappear during the fall season. Having a plan in place now can minimize the risk of having a second outbreak in your community.
UPDATE: On May 22, 2020, the CDC provided specific guidance for reopening churches.
UPDATE: On May 26, 2020, Watch ARM webinar 4 Steps to Reopening Churches.
Image Credits: iStock/Mattanin