Reopening Churches: Learning & Preparing after the President's Announcement

Reopening churches should not be political, but it should be safe. After the President’s announcement on May 22nd, many churches were already in the process of Reopening. Today’s discussion with six church pastors from 4 states addressed the critical decisions within reopening their churches, with practical plans, systems and processes on that path to move forward after Covid-19. Three of the panelists had already reopened, two panelists plan to reopen this upcoming weekend and one church will open in two weeks.  

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


  • 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 what the best way to reopen is for their location, and each leader faces challenges and are 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 doing upon reopening.

Many churches decided to make social distancing feasible is to cap worship services at 25% attendance. This has allowed churches who have recently reopened to ensure the church community of the precautions in place to promote safety and care while planning to gather again.

In an effort to assess how the church community feels about gathering again, a market-research style conversation was used to help leaders gain insight about the approximate numbers 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. While some leaders shared their plans to gather in their physical buildings, others shared their ideas for outdoor church service. One church has planned for a church on-the-lawn worship experience while 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 the in-person worship experiences.

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

3. Managing registrations will vary for each church but one mentioned today was, opening registration for 100 people and leaving a margin for approximately 50 people, in case of visitors who may show up without registering. Other ways mentioned:

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

  • Also removing the first two rows of seats closest to the stage is a practical idea shared as well. This helps provide distance from those on stage while they’re not wearing masks. 

  • Scheduling service pre-registration weekly rather than for multiple weekends in advance. This will help navigate the attendance numbers for weekends people do not plan to show up.

4. Consider a back-up 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, ensure you spend time ensuring the feel of each service is consistent.

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

7. Implementing a touch-less system for each worship experience. Here are a few ways leaders are implementing this: 

  • Implementing more drop-boxes around the building for offering

  • Limiting 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 that hand out all 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 you 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 helps 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 to make everyone aware of 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 over-communicate 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 you won’t 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 how they perceive your choices.

Lessons Learned From ReOpening

  • Reopening too soon. Choose a date to reopen that gives you enough time to plan logistics like signs, maps, etc. Planning farther 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 and 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. They're 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 0-5th grade kids at 50% capacity. They are not requiring team members to wear masks to offer a more friendly environment, and they're modifying programming to limit interactions. Another church is only offering childcare 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.

  • Establishing the 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 amount of items touched

  • Considering 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 outdoors 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.

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

  • Creating 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. For more vulnerable staff members who return, they 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 are serving 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 reality 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 2 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 dual-hat responsibility present for many staff members with in-person and online job components.

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