What happens when the stay at home orders or lockdowns in your country or area end? What restrictions will be in required for churches to return to in-person worship services, small groups, and other meetings?
This post outlines an illustrative set of restrictions in line with guidelines published by or being discussed by the US and other governments. In addition, I have incorporated hypothetical timeframes and phases for when restrictions may be lifted over time. Finally, I have included potential measures that churches may need to consider when planning to restart meeting again in-person.
Note all church leaders should review local guidelines and recommendations as you develop specific plans for your congregations.
The US Government announced a set of guidelines, Opening Up America Again, for states to begin reopening their economies on April 17. Given this set of guidelines, it is an appropriate time for church leaders to assess their local situations and begin planning how they would restart in-person meetings. The US government plan seeks to balance safety with the needs to get the economy moving forward.
In the US guidelines, churches are included in the “Large Venues” category of employers. This group contains “sit-down dining, movie theaters, sporting venues, places of worship“. According to the suggested guidelines these venues cannot open unless they “operate under strict physical distancing protocols“. The guidelines published by the US are similar in many aspects to those being discussed by other countries and can help us estimate what potential restrictions may look like not only in the US but around the world for the next 18+ months.
Potential Restrictions to Consider
The first table provides an overview of potential restrictions by various stages of “opening” a locality, state, region, or country. These stages would be similar to the Phases identified in the US Government plan. As discussed in my previous post, Moving Towards the New Normal, it is extremely unlikely that any country returns to a pre-virus state soon, although some more isolated or lesser impacted regions could be an exception to this rule. Individual country requirements will vary, so church leaders will need to stay closely in touch with local requirements as you begin restarting in-person services.
|Level||Illustrative Restrictions and Required Capabilities|
|Stage 4 - None:|
|Stage 3 - Limited|
|Stage 2 - Moderate|
|Stage 1 - Substantial|
Application of Restrictions to Church Ministry Activities
This second table presents potential restrictions on various types of ministry activities from worship services to small groups. Again, each of these restrictions are hypothetical and provided to help churches envision what they may need to consider when restarting in-person worship services and ministry activities.
|What||Stage 1 - Near-Term||Stage 2 - Intermediate-Term||Stage 3 - Longer-Term|
|Children’s programs / ministry|
|Greeting Before, During, or After Services|
|Prayer Groups / Small Groups|
|Weekly Programs / Ministries / School Programs|
|Non-Church Facility Use|
|Member / Visitor / Attendee Becomes Infected|
I think the only guarantee that I can give is the restrictions listed above are probably wrong…… However, they are probably close in many respects to what will be in place at various stages of “reopening” a given geography. The virus along with treatment options that are developed, will dictate the actual timelines for reopening.
Please provide me with your thoughts as well as what you are seeing on the ground in your given location. This information will be helpful as we help churches around the world to restart in-person services and continue ministry to their members and communities.