With the president of the United States chomping at the bit to the get the economy going again, I expect to see many states beginning to open back up in May. There is a lot of talk about what “opening up” looks like for businesses, so I thought I’d take a stab at some suggestions/predictions for churches.
Don’t guarantee the safety of anyone’s health.
We never could in the first place. When your family is getting hit hard with the stomach flu you begin to think back to that kid in Sunday School that had a distinctly green palor to his skin tone and wonder in your mind if that’s where this stupid bug came from. Looking at the testing and data available today, I don’t see any way that a church (or business for that matter) will be able to say with certainty that no one in the building is a carrier of Covid-19.
But if this is the first time that your church members are hearing about sickness and death then I doubt you have been preaching from the Bible. God does not guarantee a life free from poverty, sickness, or pain in this life (John 16:33). The church does not traffic in such guarantees. We all live in a world of acceptable risks, from the possibility of car accidents to the possibility of catching a virus.
Some believers will need to absent themselves from the gathering longer than others.
This group falls into 2 categories: those who are susceptible to Covid-19 and those who may have been exposed to it. Pastoral wisdom would warn those “at risk” to continue being cautious until more effective treatments are available. Ultimately this is a matter of personal conscience and choice. It also seems reasonable to ask those who have been exposed to Covid-19 or are showing symptoms to keep their germs to themselves as an act of love. That’s right…be selfish with your germs.
Social distancing will still apply
Huggers…there will be no “all clear” signal. Reasonable precautions will have to be taken. I am skeptical of the effectiveness of masks, but I’m not opposed to them. And from a psychological standpoint I think that everyone wants a decent sized personal bubble when they get back to congregational worship. I expect churches will publish some kindly worded announcements to attendees about washing hands and keeping appropriate distances from each other. And pot-lucks will have to wait for a while.
Multiple services may need to be suspended
Our church only has one Sunday morning service, but we also have Sunday School and Sunday evening services. My inclination at this point would be to start back with Sunday School and Sunday morning worship and then allow time for cleaning before picking back up on Wednesday. Churches that have multiple service times have to take into account that they are moving a large group of people into the space that was just occupied by another large group without any opportunity to clean. We will all be so glad to get back to church that keeping it simple to start with shouldn’t feel like a sacrifice.
Children’s Ministry may be slower to come online
If you can keep kids from licking, sticking things in their mouths, and generally being germ sponges, please come over and teach my children. Some parents will err on the side of caution before chucking their kids into the melee of germs that is children’s ministry. A starting point would be small group sizes where teachers can more frequently and easily encourage hand washing, physical separation, etc…
Summer activities will be difficult
This one hurts, but my suspicion is that many of these are going to be canceled or, at best, modified. We cannot recover the planning time we have lost, and it’s possible some states will still be in quarantine as the summer begins. How can anyone plan until we know what is even possible? This is going to make it really tough on facilities catering to these types of events as they rely on summer income to sustain them for the year. But we are early enough in the game to not give up prematurely. We still have VBS penciled in on the calendar!
Freedom of Conscience will be key
There needs to be a broad range of acceptable behavior for the near future. Pastorally, we want to encourage people to not make choices based on fear, but on faith. In the New Testament that principle boils down to the individual’s belief that God is pleased with both the attitude and action of the choice, which is informed by sound Scriptural principles. I expect that some people in the “at risk” category will jump back into social activity faster and more aggressively than some who are not at risk. Neither should judge, because there is no “right” answer, except the answer that is given by a heart full of truth and faith.
These really are unprecedented times we are living in, so it will be interesting to see how the summer plays out.