As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, most states and communities are taking steps to reopen from stay-at-home or safer-at-home orders that have slowed our economy and society to a near halt the past few weeks.
Businesses, parks, libraries, restaurants, etc., are opening their doors again and welcoming citizens and customers. And in many cases, churches are welcoming back their congregations.
But should churches be so eager to reopen their buildings and begin hosting in-person services again? What factors should be considered in those decisions? Should Christians have a strong position on the economy reopening in general?
A few thoughts:
- Demographics matter: All of the evidence we have for COVID-19 shows that certain groups of people are more at risk of serious complications and death than others. This includes older adults, as well as people with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and asthma. Church leaders should consider the makeup of their congregation when discussing holding in-person services again. If it’s primarily an older congregation or has a large high-risk population, there may need to be extra precautions taken or more time given until better treatments become available. Precautions could include separate service times, requiring masks or having folks spread out within the worship space (if possible). It’s important to remember that older adults in particular may feel more lonely and isolated during this time, and they may be the most eager to return to in-person services even at great risk to themselves. It’s up to church leaders to take their wellbeing and protection in to account.
- Be flexible with schedules: For many churches, there might not be enough space within their sanctuary or other worship space to adequately allow people to spread out and promote social distancing. If that’s the case, it could be necessary to consider offering more service times than before the pandemic. This gives the congregation more options and spreads out attendance, allowing each service to accommodate appropriate social distancing.
- Hold the coffee and donuts: A common (and in some cases critical) pre-service routine for many people is collecting their coffee and donuts from the lobby on the way to service or Sunday school. Having a communal table of goodies or a coffee dispenser, however, would be an easy way to spread germs. So either look at doing away with these for now, or at least find a volunteer with gloves and a mask to man the table/dispenser and hand out items to people.
- What about communion?: On the topic of communal goodies, communion itself will be tricky. The same approach to coffee and donuts should apply. Have trained elders distribute the elements wearing gloves and, frankly, masks since they will be close to the elements and to the church members to whom they are distributing.
- On desiring in-person services in general: Church leaders and lay Christians should absolutely want to find a way to meet face-to-face again. Technology has given us many new ways to stay connected virtually, but it’s not the same as being in the same room glorifying God together. It’s not irresponsible to be pushing to return to in-person services. It is irresponsible to bring people back together just as things were before, because the virus is still out there, it’s still very dangerous for many folks and it spreads easily, particularly indoors. We should be a people of hope who stand strongly against fear, while also being prudent in health and safety precautions that are practical during a pandemic that has killed tens of thousands.
- What about opening the economy?: This topic could be an entirely separate post, but in general, Christians should be in favor of a responsible opening of the economy. There are so many adverse effects on people related to the lockdowns, from mental health to financial distress to missing out on care for other health needs. We can advocate for businesses to open and jobs to come back, while being willing to follow health and safety guidelines from the government or businesses themselves. We also should continue to meet the physical needs of our communities as much as possible, such as food drives, financial assistance, childcare, etc. The church should be a light for those suffering in the darkness we currently face.