𝐒𝐡𝐨𝐫𝐭 𝐚𝐧𝐬𝐰𝐞𝐫: Before I give my thoughts, I want to link to the best resource I have seen on church re-opening: https://www.reopeningthechurch.com/ The website has webinars on when to re-open according to metrics in your area (positivity rates, cases per population, etc), legal aspects, logistics of re-opening (HVAC recommendations, thoughts on spacing out people in the sanctuary or sunday school, etc), thoughts on children and nursery, best practices for communion, and helping at-risk communities in your area. This is such a great resource with TONS of info for churches. If you scroll to the end of the page, you’ll also find denomination-specifics guidelines.
𝐋𝐨𝐧𝐠 𝐚𝐧𝐬𝐰𝐞𝐫: Church to my family is so important. That is where our community and friends are. For many of us, it has been a long time since we have been physically to church. Thank goodness that “church” is not constrained to a building – but, I totally understand some churches are now opening up a bit more and I’ve worked with several churches on re-opening plans. The good news is we know how to protect ourselves, our congregants, and our surrounding communities if we decide to meet in-person for church. The bad news is going to church is one of the top-ten riskiest places for COVID-19 (See the CDC report in sources).
Let me give some thoughts: 𝐈𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐩𝐨𝐢𝐧𝐭 𝐢𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐩𝐚𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐦𝐢𝐜, 𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞’𝐬 𝐰𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐰𝐞 𝐤𝐧𝐨𝐰:
1. Risk of COVID-19 infection is increased by being indoors, not wearing a mask, and being in close proximity.
2. Certain age groups (over 60), certain groups with underlying conditions ((overweight, diabetes, hypertension, lung conditions, pregnancy), and certain racial groups are at very high-risk of complications or death (over 60 years of age).
3. Masks and distancing work really, really well is protecting you and others.
4. Exemptions for churches to not adhere to guidelines due to religious freedom is really risky (because this allows the above precautions of meeting indoors without masks and distancing). See my “Faith over Fear” posts for more on that.
5. Continuing to meet online is still our best option to reduce risks, especially if you are in a red-zone like I am in Texas regarding positivity rates. However, I do understand the want to meet together again and do think there are ways to re-open that honor God and protect people.
𝐒𝐨, 𝐰𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐝𝐨 𝐰𝐞 𝐝𝐨? 𝐋𝐞𝐭 𝐦𝐞 𝐠𝐢𝐯𝐞 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝟓 𝐬𝐜𝐞𝐧𝐚𝐫𝐢𝐨𝐬 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐜𝐡𝐮𝐫𝐜𝐡𝐞𝐬 𝐈𝐍 𝐋𝐈𝐆𝐇𝐓 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐠𝐡𝐭𝐬 𝐚𝐛𝐨𝐯𝐞. 𝐈’𝐯𝐞 𝐧𝐮𝐦𝐛𝐞𝐫𝐞𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐬𝐞 𝐢𝐧 𝐨𝐫𝐝𝐞𝐫 𝐨𝐟 𝐠𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐬𝐭 𝐫𝐢𝐬𝐤 𝐭𝐨 𝐥𝐞𝐚𝐬𝐭 𝐫𝐢𝐬𝐤:
Scenario 1. Meeting indoors with no masks or distancing – One of the pictures in this post is a infographic showing the spread of COVID-19 from a 56 year old man in a church service. At least 91 others were infected in 5 counties and included transmission to hospice care patients and co-workers. This is one example but there are many, many more that you probably have already seen in headlines. All of these outbreaks in churches are from congregations that have not worn masks inside the buildings.
Scenario 2. Meeting indoors with distancing but masks part of the time – Again, this is risky because of being indoors and no masks. We know COVID-19 can be airborne and travel pretty far through the air (up to 27 feet) through singing, exposing congregants even if distancing is in place. **A note for this scenario: I have seen some churches asking people to wear masks going in and out of the building but allowed to take them off when they are seated in the sanctuary. The sanctuary is probably the riskiest place to be in a church because of singing and congregating indoors. So, be careful about this scenario.
Scenario 3. Meeting indoors with distancing and masks – Best case scenario if you are meeting indoors. Some nuances to this scenario: ** The worship team and preacher(s) wearing masks while singing and preaching. There are several churches in my area doing that and the sound quality is really good. *** The worship team and pastor(s) taking their masks off while talking/singing but everyone else keeping their mask on during the service. This comes with a bit of a risk if the team/pastor is asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic. But, the risk is reduced because everyone else is wearing a mask. *** Air-flow in the building by opening up windows and/or increasing the HVAC system can help reduce risks. The website I posted at the top of this post has some great recommendations on how to do that.
Scenario 4. Meeting outdoors without masks and distancing- Meeting outdoors greatly reduces people’s chance of infection because of the airflow. But, the risk is still there if congregants are not wearing a masks or distancing – even if you are outside.
Scenario 5. Meeting outside with masks and distancing – Best case scenario for churches. I understand this might not be feasible as the weather gets cooler around the country. But for some of us in hotter climates, this might be an option for a bit longer.
This has been a long road and we have a long winter ahead of us. We have seen churches be innovative with drive-in church, backyard church, and other fun ways to still meet but stay safe. As we enter the fall/winter months and more churches meet inside, let’s remember this innovation to protect our congregants and surrounding communities. Feel free to post in the comments what your church has done to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Some other thoughts:
1. “Faith over fear” https://tinyurl.com/yxsaatcf
2. What if Christians led the way out of this? Redefining our freedom according to the Cross-https://tinyurl.com/y2qoow7t
3. Who is the neighbor? – https://tinyurl.com/y9ykykve
4. The best sermon I’ve heard on COVID-19 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXDIwU9cgf0
𝐋𝐢𝐯𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐆𝐚𝐥𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐚𝐧𝐬 𝟓 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐏𝐫𝐚𝐲𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐏𝐬𝐚𝐥𝐦 𝟗𝟏. -Friendly neighbor epidemiologist
Re-opening church guidelines: https://www.reopeningthechurch.com/
Synopsis of church outbreaks: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/one-man-coronavirus-attending-ohio-church-service-led-infection-91-n1236030
Church top-ten risk – CDC report: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6936a5.htm?s_cid=mm6936a5_w
Funny physical-distancing pew signs: Father Nathan Monk/ Facebook