Are We Asking the Right Questions Before We Reopen?

Before we reopen, let’s make sure we’re understanding our people’s needs.

Getting back to some sense of feeling “normal” is what a lot of people are longing for right now, and I can’t say I blame them. We don’t like change. We don’t like being told what to do. We find comfort in our routines. Right now around the world, areas are beginning to lift restrictions and churches are deciding when to open. I know we desperately all want to get back to feeling normal again, and even as some churches are working hard to determine the best way to start regathering in person, I’m wondering if we may be focusing on the wrong things.

As leaders of the church with a capital “C,” we’re called to care for and minister to our people. But how are we leaning in to that with this unique opportunity we find ourselves in?

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” —Matthew 11:28

Where the pandemic closed doors of places of worship, God opened an explosion of churches in homes around the world. But in waiting for all of this to be over, they’re tired. Scared. Anxious. Restless.

They’re still trying to educate their children while working from home and dealing with spouses they’re not used to seeing 24/7. And with unemployment in the U.S. currently at over 33 million in the past seven weeks, they’re also facing increased levels of uncertainty, loneliness and domestic conflict. They’re thinking about how to manage the “now” and provide for their families—not necessarily when they’re going to start making the trip back to your church building.

As churches make plans for reopening, I’m seeing a lot of surveys going out asking about social distancing comfort levels, when people might feel comfortable volunteering again, whether or not kids should be in kid ministries, and placement of hand sanitizer stations. And while these things are important, maybe we should shift our focus to where people are actually at right now and what we can do to help.

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In what ways can we help grow and shepherd people to meet very real challenges they’re facing? Maybe the surveys shift to ask about needs for resources related to marriage, financial help and recovery from addiction. Or dive deeper into what kinds of support groups and educational resources for those homeschooling might need, or networking groups and resume-polishing services for those searching for employment.

Thinking about when and how to open is important. But I wonder in the attempt to get back to normal, if we’re missing a unique and important calling right now to truly be the church in creative ways that compel people to want to learn more about the One we serve? When you do feel like the time is right for your church to reopen, many churches are taking a gradual approach, such as:

• Encouraging small groups to have watch parties initially before shifting on-campus

• Limiting capacity on-campus by directing people to register through a service like Eventbrite (or something similar) to “save” a seat, and setting up overflow areas in different parts of the building for extras that may arrive

• Roping off alternate rows of seating and posting signage to leave open seats between family groups

• Not offering childcare but “family-style” services

• Moving both printed handouts and offering collections to digital versions

• Propping doors open to limit touch

• And yes, having hand sanitizer stations available in abundance

It’s critical to communicate early and often to your congregation about what to expect, and what the “new normal” will be for now.

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One final thought—I keep hearing churches say once this is all over they’re going to put less effort into streaming their services online. Friends, this is a mistake and a missed opportunity.

Online and social media isn’t a substitute, but a supplement to meeting in person. Don’t cut back or stop streaming services online once you’re together again. Online is a great way to extend your reach beyond driving distances, and allows those who aren’t comfortable gathering in person yet a chance to continue connecting with your church—not to mention it’s a great way for new people to check you out before coming.

Stay safe and sane out there.

This article originally appeared on PhilCooke.com and is reposted here by permission.