As government restrictions on public gatherings begin to lessen, we need to plan for what our corporate worship services will look like. The suggestions below will help you strategize within those guidelines what will work best for your congregation.
This article assumes that public gatherings will have restrictions on them at first, such as social distancing guidelines and a limit to the number of those in attendance (perhaps based on the size of your space).
Organize multiple worship services by Sunday School/small groups to keep communities together and limit attendance to the allowed numbers. Use online registration to limit numbers in the services. Depending on the size of your congregation and the size of your facilities, this may mean offering many services. Consider the feasibility for your leadership. Be open to offering worship options through the week and not just on Sunday.
Rotating Sunday Worship. A different group (perhaps assigned by Sunday School/small groups) worships in person a different week of the month while the rest of the congregation tunes in online. Online registration would still be needed to limit numbers.
Encourage small groups to gather in-person in remote locations, continuing live stream worship. In this scenario, the major change over shelter-at-home would be to have small groups gather in various places to worship together with the online service.
Meet in SS classes and stream service to those rooms. This would provide additional isolation if the rooms are large enough to allow for social distancing of the group.
Simultaneous services in two areas of your buildings may work if attendance is restricted per gathering rather than per facility. In this scenario, the worship team and pastor could trade places midway–i.e. one service would have preaching first and the other music first.
Keep an online worship option for those afraid or unable to attend your service in person.
If your church is pre-recording the Sunday service for streaming, consider allowing people to attend that service in person. Online registration to contain numbers may still be needed.
Consider offering a worship service for just the elderly and more vulnerable population. Not requiring these people to mix with younger people that may be more socially engaged and more likely to be carriers of the virus may give the more vulnerable population some peace of mind and provide a safer environment.
Worship Service Considerations
- Social Distancing: Arrange seating to maintain social distancing. Either remove chairs from the usual setup or block off pews. While families can sit closer together, there should be appropriate spacing on either side of each family unit.
- Offering: Have offering boxes in various entrances to receive offerings instead of passing the offering plates. Encourage online giving, as well.
- Lord’s Supper: Consider using prepackaged communion sets. The individual sets can be picked up from tables as people enter the service and used at the appropriate time in the service.
- Baptism: It may be best at this time to limit baptisms to one person per filling of the baptismal pool in the sanctuary. Consider the use of a chlorinated swimming pool for larger services.
- Older Members: Older members and those with vulnerable health conditions may be fearful of returning at once, and it may be advised for them not to attend. Continue offering online worship and discipleship for this population of your church.
- Cleaning Between Multiple Services: For those who have multiple services, have a plan in place to sterilize as much as possible between services. Actions such as wiping down pews and placing hand sanitizer generously around the church and encouraging its use.
- Choir Program: With social distancing in effect, traditional plans are probably not feasible. Consider holding a rehearsal in a large room that allows people to sit with appropriate distances to begin getting the groups back together.
- Bulletins: Bulletins can be germ carriers. Consider not distributing bulletins unless they are provided electronically.
- Masks: If wearing masks is suggested by health officials, consider providing masks for those who don’t have them.
- Volunteers: Many volunteers may step down for a period of time due to their personal concerns. Roles may need to change. There will be a need for a sanitation team to keep things clean. The greeting ministry will look different while maintaining social distancing.
- Health Monitoring: Consider temperature checks for all staff and volunteers.
- Coffee Stations: Eliminate coffee stations until you receive an “all-clear.”
- Meet and Greet Time: These times may need to be eliminated altogether, or have people just wave from a distance.
- Hymnals and Pew Bibles: It may be best to eliminate the use of these items until after the threat is over.
- Dismiss in an orderly manner to aid in social distancing.
Provide a Video to Help People WIth the Transition
Consider making a video to share with your church telling them what to expect their first Sunday back in the building. The video should outline traffic flow, seating guidelines, children and preschool expectations, etc. Emphasize safety! Think in terms of over-communicating the precautions you are taking as a church.
Let the Congregation Weigh-In
Having congregational feedback can help leaders avoid causing undue stress on their people or making radical changes that most find unnecessary.
LifeWay Research is intentionally releasing a survey as a Word document to help with this and to allow church leaders to customize it to their congregational needs and terminology.
THANK YOU! Several ideas in this post provided by the staff of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina with contributions from Steve Scoggins, pastor of First Baptist Church of Hendersonville (N.C.), worship consultants from various state conventions, LifeWay and articles by the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, and the Florida Baptist Convention.
What additional ideas would you add to this conversation?