Going back to church: questions and issues

We are now officially in Phase Two of the BC government’s Restart BC plan.

As Dr. Bonnie Henry said May 13:

Starting next week, religious services can be held, with safe physical distancing, so that is a maximum of 50 people still – and that is provided that many people can fit into your facility. That may be way too many for many places of worship. . . .

This is next week. Fortuitously, Rick Burdett of Outreach Canada, based in Delta, recently posted a helpful checklist, raising many pertinent questions and issues for church leaders and others as we all ponder returning to church.

The church where I attend, like churches everywhere, has responded to the COVID 19 pandemic by creatively moving to an online presence.

  • We offer streaming services, online services and Bible studies.
  • Zoom meetings for community groups, youth, children are now a regular part of our church culture.
  • We have adapted to be a virtual, online community.

But, we are starving for physical community. We miss our friends. Church is family and our family has become somewhat estranged.

We are now being told that the freedom to assemble will soon be restored.

Maybe in groups of 25 or 50 to begin with, but we have hope of reuniting in our churches. Along with this comes the concern that this may lead to a second wave of pandemic. We certainly do not want this to happen.

As the church responded to the COVID-19 outbreak, the church will respond to the challenges of assembling once again.

Is your church ready to reassemble?

With this concern in mind, we at Outreach Canada, understanding the uniqueness of every church, are providing a list of questions and issues each church needs to address as they reopen their church campus.

Many of our churches share common practices that will be affected as we reopen our doors. We hope these questions will address many of our common assembly practices.

We want to obey the laws of our provinces.

We want to practice wise, safe social distancing and sanitation practices.

This list is by no means exhaustive. As we open back up, we will discover questions or issues we never dreamed of asking. We encourage you to use these questions to start a dialogue with your staff/elder/pastor teams about how rigidly your church needs to plan as you bring your precious people back to church.

We believe planning and preparation is critically important to your church’s future. We at OC are praying for you as you reengage the body of Christ back into your facilities.

Three things to keep in mind

  1. Each province will establish guidelines for re-opening buildings for assembly. We strongly urge you to adhere to all government standards.
  2. We strongly recommend communicating your plans and procedures well in advance of any assembly. We encourage you to find as many ways as possible to remove surprises from what your church attendees considered normal as you establish new standards. No one should be surprised when they come back to your campus by the new standards you have established. Perhaps calling every person in the church to explain the changes may help.
  3. Remember, people are becoming familiar with change.

Five questions to consider

Here are five questions we believe you need to consider as you plan to reopen your church campus:

1. How will you handle cleaning and sanitation?

  • Will you have adequate supplies and hand sanitizer stations available? You will require many!
  • Do you know what supplies are required to protect against COVID-19?
  • Will your facilities be wiped down after each use? By whom?
  • Is there a plan for cleaning high touch areas?
  • As you think of areas/rooms being used, consider all areas of ingress and egress for cleaning.
  • How will you know (and show) that rooms have been cleaned and are ready for use?
  • Do we need an electrostatic sprayer for cloth surfaces?

2. How will you make sure to comply to occupancy standards?

a. Social distancing standards

  • Are there physical spacing signs in the facility.
  • How are you limiting seating? two-metre distancing.
  • How will you handle gatherings of 50 or less?
  • Will you use combinations of live audience plus live streaming?
  • How will you manage social distancing in lobbies?
  • What role will ushers and greeters have?
  • How can we reduce touching anything in the facility? How to open doors?
  • Are there extra tables, furniture that should be removed from lobbies, rooms?

b. Screening attendees

  • How will you handle greeting people? Social distancing?
  • Will you do temperature scanning?
  • Will masks be required?
  • Will you ask questions? If so, where will you do this?
    • Have you been in contact with anyone with COVID-19?
    • Are you a first responder?
    • Are you experiencing any symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath?
    • How long ago was your exposure? What kind of exposure?
    • *If yes to any of these questions who makes the decision to let in?
  • Will you add security staff to enforce your rules?

3. How will you approach staffing and volunteers?

  • Will you require temperature screening?
  • Will staff & volunteers be required to wear masks and gloves? Will you require PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)?
  • Will you ask questions of staff and volunteers?
    • Have you been in contact with anyone with COVID-19?
    • Are you a first responder?
    • Are you experiencing any symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath?
    • How long ago was your exposure? What kind of exposure?
    • If yes to any of these questions, who makes the decision to allow to serve?
  • How will you deal with offering and money handling?
    • Masks and gloves?
    • How will collections be made? Drop off boxes? No collection plates.
    • Will you accept cash?
    • Will you wipe down the card reader machine after each use? Who will do this?
  • How will you train your volunteers and staff? Training, Training, Training is one of the most important considerations!

4. How will you handle food and drinks?

  • Will you serve beverages? (Experts recommend to not serve anything.)
    • If so, will servers be trained in food safety?
    • How will you accomplish two-metre distancing?
    • No self-serving. Sugar/cream/condiments must be added by servers.
  • How will you serve communion? Pre-made packaging?
    • How will you dispose of cups and trash?
  • Will you serve meals or snacks?
  • How will you handle food pantry items and distribution?
    • Will all food handlers receive food safe training? Who will monitor?

5. How will you safely handle children’s ministry?

  • Will you screen children?
  • Will you require temperature scanning? Will you require masks?
  • Will you ask questions?
    • Have you been in contact with anyone with COVID-19?
    • Are you experiencing any symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath?
    • How long ago was your exposure? What kind of exposure?
    • If yes to any of these questions, who makes the decision to let in?
    • Will you add security staff to enforce your rules?
  • How will you supply craft projects?
  • How many children will be allowed in any one space?
  • How will you manage play and touching?
  • How many extra staff/volunteers are required to serve in children’s areas?
  • How will you interface with parents who want to be in the area? What rules will apply?
  • Do you know what the government regulations related to children are? Do your staff and volunteers know these?
  • What extra cleaning practices related to children will you need to implement?

What did we miss?

These are five areas we believe churches need to explore as they consider re-opening their church campuses. Are there other questions you think should be on the list?

Rick Burdett and his wife Chris.

Prior to working at Outreach Canada as COO, Rick Burdett served 25 years as the associate/executive pastor in two large Baptist churches. His role as an executive pastor meant oversight and involvement in all the ministries and activities on the church campus.

Joining the OC team in 2019, Rick brings experience in mediation, conflict resolution and counseling along with administration abilities to his role as chief operating officer. He is passionate about leadership development in the local church.

This article is re-posted by permission.

Editor’s note (from Flyn Ritchie): To the best of my knowledge, the situation has not changed too much since I posted When do we go back to church? last week. There are some good links there, including some thoughts about how we might want to rethink habits and practices as we begin to gather again.

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