Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, churches all over the world have been streaming their church services for the last few weeks. In the United States, the federal government, and the various states are trying to determine how to “open up for business” without exacerbating the virus’s spread.

It is a fine line for mayors, governors, business owners, and the executive branch to walk.

It is also a fine line for pastors. Since the beginning of Sheltering-at-Home or Safer-at-Home or whatever a leader called it, pastors face shifting scenarios. Lifeway Kids says, "After several weeks of isolation and distance ministry, the question has shifted suddenly from when we will get back together, to how we will get back together." All God’s people want to be together with God’s people again, but what might that look like? What kind of decisions and preparations should be considered? Here are a few ideas to help you think through the process.

Check with your state and local regulations and recommendations.

Even if you live in an area where church gatherings have been allowed, your local or state government will have valuable insights into what constitutes a safe way to gather. Also, stay abreast of CDC, NIH, or Johns Hopkins recommendations.

Make sure your volunteers and staff understand fully any changes you ask them to implement.

If your nursery workers need to wear masks, they need to know that before they show up the first week back. If your choir will not be singing to reduce the prevalence of aerosol mist, they need to know before they arrive early to rehearse. A little intentional preparation will go a long way toward helping people know what to expect.

Consider the potential differences each group might require to re-gather.

Lifeway Kids says, "Think through the group sizes, meeting spaces, and social distancing practices that will be necessary during each of the reopening phases outlined in your local governing guidelines. For example, we may first be able to gather in smaller groups of 10, then 50, before we are able to meet without restriction. This will have a direct impact on how we relaunch our in-person kids programs."

Do you need to livestream inside your building?

The last few weeks have turned church auditoriums into television studios with preachers of all ages and levels of experience preaching to a camera. When you re-gather, will you need to continue social distancing? If so, consider spreading people out into a large classroom or the fellowship hall, then livestream the service into those rooms.

Extend grace to those who are uncertain about returning.

These are confusing times. The last few weeks have seen an avalanche of information, warnings, and contradictory advice. "Some people will still be fearful of large crowds, so churches may have reduced attendance for a while,” writes Trevin Wax. "And some may think it’s time to gather all together again like before. Show grace to church members who may think your policies unwise, on whichever side, and remind them that you’re trying to make the best decisions for everyone.

All God’s people want to be together with God’s people again, but what might that look like? What kind of decisions and preparations should be considered? Here are a few ideas to help you think through the process.

What to Consider Before Resuming Church Services

Consider the impact COVID-19 has had on those attending your church.

Graduation ceremonies have been canceled, weddings postponed, jobs lost, and people have died—perhaps someone in your church. An article from William Vanderbloemen reminds us, "Consider where your community stands emotionally to guide them in the most appropriate way. If you know a large population of your church suffered emotionally or financially due to the pandemic, offer messages tailored to their current needs.”

Communicate your plans well.

Whatever your decisions, communicate it early and often. Use all your social media channels, your church email, phone calls, Zoom meetings, and whatever else you need. Do all you can to make sure as many as possible know precisely the steps you are taking and why you have made the decisions you have made:

  • Are you changing the way you receive the offering from passing the plate to an offering box? Communicate it in advance.

  • Are you changing the way you share the Lord’s Supper? Explain in detail what the changes will be.

  • Are you encouraging people not to shake hands? Let everyone know.

  • Will your greeters wear masks for a while? Will your ushers? Make this known.

In a period of miscommunication and misinformation, be as clear as you possibly can.

Consider whether it will be best to resume small groups or worship services first followed by the other at a later date.

On-campus small groups make it nearly impossible to maintain social distancing. In most cases, the rooms are too small. So, it might be better to meet for worship first (especially if you can spread into several large rooms) while continuing small groups via Zoom, FaceTime, or conference calling.

Regardless of your specific strategy, be wise. Be patient. Have faith. Show love. This has been an unprecedented time and flocks might need more care, and a different kind of care, than normal. There is no universal right-and-wrong on how to resume your services, and more important than resuming fast is resuming well.

Marty Duren is the Director of Communications for Great Commission Collective, and a bi-vocational Groups Pastor in Mt Juliet, TN. He’s happily married to Sonya, with whom he has four grown children and two grandsons. He enjoys family, reading, social media, and public theology.