Last Friday, the President announced that churches were essential and should open immediately. And many of you did. However, as some are still deciding how to approach this, Executive Presbyter Carl Stephens offers some excellent advice on commencing with your worship services.
With some measure of trepidation, we set the date to open before most churches in Orlando were doing so. However, the good news is that the president announced last Friday that churches were essential and should open immediately. One of our major local networks also came out and did an excellent interview of our opening. As far as safety measures are concerned, we set up multiple precautions:
- We had people sit in every other row. Of the rows that were open, we asked families to sit together and leave three chairs between them and the next individual or family.
- Our staff and volunteers wore masks. We did not require the congregation to wear masks, but we had them available for any who asked for one.
- We had offering buckets on tables at the exits for people to physically give on their way out of service. During the course of solely streaming our services, almost 92% of our congregation now gives using our online platform!
- We sanitized the mics used by our pastoral staff onstage between each use.
- We did not pass out bulletins, nor did we hand out information to guests. We did provide guests with a number to text if they were visiting for the first time. That number was set up to respond to them for personal information.
- As people were coming in, we had an MC encouraging them to maintain social distancing, although most people were following protocol on their own. We started service about 5 minutes later to allow the MC to give instruction on our physical campus, providing an online countdown timer for those watching through our online platforms.
- We trimmed down our worship segments, abbreviating service for our first weekend back.
- We connected first-time guests and any who responded to the altar call via text instead of distributing our “connect cards” and altar response cards. We are in the process of setting up Simpletexting.com for salvation, prayer requests, digital connection card, and first-time guests. This will allow the congregation to text our church number for all of those scenarios, using various keywords–depending on the need. If you are interested in implementing a system like this, please visit their website. This service could be set up for as little as $20/month (depending again on need). If you need any assistance with set-up, we found Simpletexting’s customer service extremely helpful, as well as the set-up instructions already on the website.
- We prepared several other areas for overflow–our atrium area and our youth auditorium. We didn’t end up needing to use either area, as there was adequate space in the main sanctuary for all who attended.
As a result of these precautions, we saw a slight increase in attendance for our Saturday night service (another reason could have been pre-existing travel plans for Memorial Day for Sunday). About a third of those usually in attendance attended our Sunday morning services. We believe that people may wait a week or so after your opening service to resume attendance, so that is one of the reasons we started when we did.
- We had a table at the entrance of each ministry where we took temperatures, had the COVID-19 symptoms listed, and sanitized the kids’ hands. Children were permitted to attend and participate in service if their temperature was 100 or lower.
- We marked the kids’ tags with a highlighter or sharpie once they had passed the check.
- Leaders wore masks and gloves when in close proximity to the kids.
- We did our best to facilitate social distancing.
- We released a social media video for the kids and parents prior to services opening that listed our protocols and the availability of online services.
The attendance for children was considerably small; most parents with children have decided to wait a week or so to attend physical services.
Additional Information to Note
- The Thursday evening before we resumed services, we held a prayer night in our main sanctuary, encouraging all who were comfortable to attend.
- In the weeks leading up to our reopening, we recorded a press release video of Alice and I, a video we made available on our website. If there were any inquiries by a media source, we referred those individuals to our website.
- A local attorney attended services the first week to make any statements on our behalf in case any media visited; no one did.
- We used an RSVP system, encouraging everyone to indicate which service they planned to attend–with an emphasis that the system would help us properly prepare for the services (this was not a requirement for attendance). For the second week, we have decided to forgo the RSVP. Some reasons for this were: (1) most people didn’t RSVP and (2) a couple in our church wondered why they had to RSVP to go to church, and (3) we felt like we were properly prepared for the second week without utilizing the RSVP system.
- It is so important to essentially over-communicate reopening and procedures associated with the process to the congregation. Although we posted and communicated much–through social media and email–we did not send out mass texts to our congregation. In hindsight, we would have utilized texting to notify attendees and members of our plans to reopen services.
- When you are at the pulpit addressing your physical congregation, don’t forget about your growing online community (if this applies to your congregation)! Be sure to use verbiage like, “…those of you joining us for this service…” This includes both those in the building and those watching from home.
Leading into the Second Weekend
- We did not call people to the altar the first weekend, but we plan to do so on Pentecost Sunday. Our leaders and prayer team will not lay hands on any who respond but will pray 2-3 feet behind them.
- We will not be requiring staff to wear masks as we did the first weekend.
- We will not have an MC the second weekend and we plan to start service on time.
- We will not be utilizing the RSVP system.
- In the first week, we had “closed” signs on the end of alternating rows of seats in the sanctuary. The second weekend, we are removing those signs and will be taping rows off to indicate they are closed.
We have an assortment of documents and templates that may help you, including artwork for social distancing and TV monitor information you can view on our website. We plan to finalize this page of resources by Friday afternoon. At that time, you can click HERE to access all of these resources.
We are available if you have any questions or concerns regarding your plans for reopening, and we trust these resources are helpful to you.
God bless you and your congregation,
Pastor Carl Stephens