Please Follow and Share My Blog

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.

LevelIllustrative Restrictions and Required Capabilities
Stage 4 - None:
  • None
Stage 3 - Limited
  • No Size Limit for Gatherings / Functions, Events, People Simultaneously Inside a Building
  • All Businesses and Venues Open
  • Population Takes Minimum Precautions, e.g., Face Masks Required for Gatherings over specified number of People (Specific limits determined by local authorities)
  • Expedited Contact Tracing on New Cases and Identifying Individuals that may have been Exposed
  • Wide-spread Testing Available as and When Needed
  • Limited Isolation for Exposed / Potentially Exposed Individuals, e.g., Self-Quarantining
Stage 2 - Moderate
  • Functions / Gatherings / Meetings Limited in Size, e.g., no groups exceeding a specific number of people (specific limits determined by local authorities)
  • Specific Maximum Number of People Allowed Inside a Business or to Attend an Event
  • Population Takes Minimum Precautions, e.g., Face Masks Required Publicly
  • No Admittance to a Public Event or Business Without a Mask
  • Social Distancing Remains in Place
  • All Meetings / Gatherings / Businesses Require Masks and Gloves for Employees / Staff
  • Attendance Tracking for All Events for Contact Tracing on New Cases and Identifying Individuals that May Have Been Exposed
  • Wide-spread Testing Available as and When Needed
  • Ongoing Testing Based Upon Statistical Sampling to Help Ensure the Virus Remains Under Control
  • Limited Isolation for Exposed / Potentially Exposed Individuals, e.g., Self-Quarantining
  • Some Form of Mass Exposure Tracking
  • Restrict Travel to or From Other Infected Countries / Areas
Stage 1 - Substantial
  • Limited Movement; large Public Gatherings Prohibited, e.g., No Groups Exceeding 10  People (maximum number of people is estimated, the specific limit will be determined by local authorities)
  • Very Limited Number of Non-Essential Businesses are Open
  • All Gatherings Require Masks and Gloves
  • Everyone’s Temperature Must be Taken Before Entering a Building, Market, Workplace or Other Venue
  • Attendance Tracking for All Events
  • All Employees / Staff Wear Masks and Gloves
  • Shields in Place to Protect / Retail / Other Transactions Requiring Close Interaction Between People
  • Virus Passports / Travel Documentation Required for Work and Entry into Places of Business or Operations or Leaving Your Home
  • Utilize Individuals that have Recovered from the Disease to Jump-Start / Maintain the Economy
  • Expedited Contact Tracing on New Cases and Identifying Individuals that may have been Exposed
  • Wide-Spread Testing Mandated and Ongoing
  • Strictly Quarantine and Monitor Newly Infected Individuals
  • Travel Prohibited to or From Infected Countries / Areas

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.

WhatStage 1 - Near-TermStage 2 - Intermediate-TermStage 3 - Longer-Term
Worship services
  • Masks required for all attendees, staff and leaders at all Services
  • Maintain 6’ Social Distance
  • Members / attenders over 60 required to stay home (specific age to be determined by local authorities)
  • Prominently Display Social Distancing Criteria
  • All Worship Team Members wear masks, except when leading. Must maintain social distancing.
  • Temperature taken for all attending services before entry into meeting area / sanctuary
  • No admittance without a mask
  • Extra masks available for those that do not have them
  • Attendance tracking for all services / meetings (based upon local requirements)
  • Members over 60 requested to stay home and not to attend services in-person (specific age to be determined by local authorities)
  • Social Distancing remains in place
  • Prominently Display Social Distancing Criteria
  • Masks suggested for all members, attendees, and visitors at all services and/or programs
  • Extra masks available for those that do not have them and want them
  • Attendance tracking for all services / meetings (based upon local requirements)
  • Social distancing requirements no longer in place
  • Members over 60 invited to attend services again in-person
  • Masks optional
  • Attendance tracking for all services / meetings (based upon local requirements)
Children’s programs / ministry
  • Only Children’s Ministry workers allowed in rooms
  • Sign-in and sign-out required for all children under 12 years old
  • Workers must wear masks and gloves
  • Children must wear masks
  • Only Children’s Ministry workers allowed in rooms
  • Sign-in and sign-out required for all children under 12 years old
  • Workers must wear masks and gloves
  • Children may wear masks
  • Only Children’s Ministry workers allowed in rooms
  • Sign-in and sign-out required for all children under 12 years old
  • Workers and children may wear masks
Greeting Before, During, or After Services
  • Official Greeters wear masks and gloves
  • Official Greeters take temperatures of all people seeking to attend services / meetings before allowing entry 
  • Greeters remind people attending services of social distancing requirements as needed
  • Greet without physically touching or shaking hands
  • Maintain social distance when greeting
  • Greet without physically touching or shaking hands
  • Greeters remind people attending services of social distancing requirements as needed
  • Maintain social distancing when greeting before, during or after services
  • Greet with or without physically touching or shaking hands – make those not wanting to shake hands feel welcome
Offering
  • Do not pass offering plate or basket
  • Online giving and/or offering box or container provided for individuals to deposit checks or cash before or after a service
  • Do not pass offering plate or basket
  • Online giving and/or offering box or container provided for individuals to deposit checks or cash before or after a service
  • Pass offering plate or basket
  • Ushers wear gloves and masks
  • Online giving and/or offering box or container provided for individuals to deposit checks or cash before or after a service
Facility Sanitation
  • Sanitary wipes, soap or hand-cleaners are available throughout the facility
  • Facilities and rooms must be emptied and cleaned between all services after each meeting / service
  • Signs posted reminding people to wash their hands frequently
  • Signs posted reminding people of the specific social distancing requirements that are in place
  • Sanitary wipes, soap or hand-cleaners are available throughout the facility
  • Facilities and rooms must be emptied and cleaned between all services after each meeting / service
  • Signs posted reminding people to wash their hands frequently
  • Signs posted reminding people of the specific social distancing requirements that are in place
  • Sanitary wipes, soap or hand-cleaners are available throughout the facility
  • Clean facilities after each day’s services or meetings
Prayer Groups / Small Groups
  • Prayer Group / Small Group meetings on or off premise must abide by local social distancing guidelines
  • Encourage prayer meetings / small groups via technology links vs in person meetings
  • Prayer groups and meetings have online / streaming / app option for those that cannot / should not attend in person
  • Prayer Group / Small Group meetings on or off premise must abide by local social distancing guidelines
  • Prayer groups and meetings have online / streaming / app option for those that cannot / should not attend in person
  • Prayer groups and meetings have online / streaming / app option for those that do not want to attend in person
Weekly Programs / Ministries / School Programs
  • All leaders, staff, attendees, schoolteachers, and students must wear masks
  • Number of people allowed to gather in a single room limited by local social distancing requirements
  • Maintain social distancing requirements inside rooms
  • Track people attending in person
  • All leaders, staff and attendees must wear masks
  • Number of people allowed to gather in a single room limited by local social distancing requirements
  • Maintain social distancing requirements inside rooms
  • Track people attending in person
  • Masks optional 
Baptisms
  • Baptisms only in extreme circumstances; no public service; only pastor and person to be baptized and someone to assist as needed
  • Masks and gloves are required for the pastor and any assistants
  • Mask required for person being baptized
  • Baptism potentially streamed online, via app or recorded based upon local conditions
  • No public service; only pastor and person persons to be baptized and someone to assist as needed
  • Masks and gloves are required for the pastor and any assistants
  • Mask required for person being baptized
  • Baptism potentially streamed online, via app or recorded based upon local conditions
  • Masks and gloves are optional for the pastor and any assistants depending upon local circumstances
Non-Church Facility Use
  • All people must wear masks while on any church premises
  • All facilities must be cleaned and sanitized after each use and before the next use
  • Social distancing criteria in place
  • Prominent display of social distancing requirements
  • Prominent display reminding everyone to wash hands regularly
  • Tracking required for everyone using the church’s facility or attending a non-church function on premise
  • All people must wear masks while on any church premises
  • All facilities must be cleaned and sanitized after each use and before the next use
  • Social distancing criteria in place
  • Prominent display of social distancing requirements
  • Prominent display reminding everyone to wash hands regularly
  • Tracking required for everyone using the church’s facility or attending a non-church function on premise
  • Masks optional
  • All facilities must be cleaned and sanitized after each use and before the next use
  • Tracking required for everyone using the church’s facility or attending a non-church function on premise
Refreshments
  • No Refreshments
  • Refreshments served by designated individuals, no self-service
  • Designated servers wear masks and gloves
  • Maintain social distancing
  • Refreshments served by designated individuals, no self-services
  • Designated servers wear masks and gloves
Member / Visitor / Attendee Becomes Infected
  • Provide list of all people that were on premise the same day as the person infected for contact tracing
  • Provide list of all people that were on premise the same day as the person infected for contact tracing
  • Provide list of all people that were on premise the same day as the person infected for contact tracing

In Summary

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.