Most states are in some stage of “re-opening,” allowing restaurants to get back to serving meals in their dining rooms, freeing gyms to welcome members inside, and permitting churches to hold in-person services once more. It all comes with a lot of continued restrictions, and as some states see new spikes in COVID-19 infections, more than a little bit of concern. What’s a church to do?
As you consider various steps back toward normalcy, it may be helpful to emphasize to your congregants that you’re not “re-opening.” The church has remained very much open throughout the pandemic. You’re “re-gathering.”
Remind people of all the work that has continued throughout the pandemic, whether you’ve conducted services online, collected food to help restock food pantries, provided meals to frontline workers, and more. Despite media reports about churches that have been “shut down” or debates as to whether churches belong on the list of “essential businesses,” the church has remained active and engaged in meeting many of the absolute most essential needs throughout our communities.
It’s important for your people to know that, and to know that in continuing to support the church financially, they are directly involved in such efforts as well.
We’re living in times of great tension, divisiveness, and weariness. The church—your church—can be a source of calm and healing simply in how you explain the motivations behind the actions you’re taking right now.
You didn’t comply with government orders to stop holding in-person services out of fear. Nor did you see those orders as a violation of your first amendment rights. You complied as an act of love, as an expression of the biblical call to love our neighbors. It was the loving thing to do to make sure our neighbors and other attendees did not get sick by coming to our church.
By the same token, decisions to re-gather, and especially how to re-gather, are best motivated by love as well.
Everyone is eager for life to return to normal. For the church, the desire to begin meeting in person again is fueled by biblical teaching to “not neglect our meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25). There is something very powerful that happens when God’s people gather. It satisfies people’s natural hunger for fellowship, encourages people through whatever afflictions they may be experiencing, reminds people of their shared purpose, and empowers people to go and boldly live out their faith.
So, yes, there is an urgency to re-gathering. And at the same time, there is a need to re-gather carefully.
Being cautious matters
Already, many churches have begun restarted in-person meetings. Small groups are gathering on people’s patios, ministry teams are meeting on church grounds, and some full-blown church services are being held in parking lots.
As you consider, and take steps, to re-gather, be mindful of the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines for houses of worship. The CDC’s guidelines include many helpful ideas. Whether they are recommendations or mandates largely depends on the rules issued by your state and local governments, so be aware of what the governing authorities in your area are saying as well.
Some consultants have recommended going beyond the basics of making sure people are practicing social distancing and wearing face masks, such as gathering information that may be needed for the purposes of contact tracing if necessary. That may include noting who was in attendance at a given service and even where they sat. Seek good counsel as you develop your guidelines.
Above all else, pray. Pray for wisdom as you make plans to re-gather. Pray that God would put a hedge of protection around your church, keeping people from becoming ill. Pray that through all the trials brought on by the pandemic, people’s faith would be strengthened. Pray that at a time of such uncertainty, God would draw many new followers, attracted by His unchanging love. And pray that as your church ministers through this historic time, God would be greatly glorified.
Matt Bell is the author of four Biblical money management books published by NavPress. He speaks at churches and conferences throughout the country and writes the MattAboutMoney blog.
This article should not be considered legal, tax, or financial advice. You may wish to consult a tax or financial advisor about your individual financial situation.