April 27, 2020
We have been so blessed and encouraged by the creative and meaningful ways that pastors and congregations have responded to the challenges of ministry through this time of pandemic and quarantine. About 85 percent of ABC Ohio congregations have shared weekly electronic worship services that have included good preaching, prayer, and music. A number of churches have developed prayer and communication groups online, by phone or by email to be sure that their church families are cared for personally and spiritually. Pastors and others have made thousands of telephone calls to check on, reassure, pray with, and stay connected to their congregations. Since Easter, many of our congregations have begun to ask the question, “What comes next?”
Our Governor has announced in the past week that he would like to see the state begin to open up SLOWLY. We believe SLOWLY is an important word as the church prepares for what comes next. As much as we want to be together, the rush to make a hasty return to our previous ways could be disastrous for our congregations. Ken Braddy, Jr., a Sunday School specialist, has developed a series of questions church leaders should answer before they begin to set a date for the church to gather again in person. We recommend that your church consider some similar questions…
1) What are the recommendations of the Governor and Health Officials for social distancing, size limitations for congregating groups, and staying at home? While public officials do not have the right to require churches to comply, their good recommendations are designed to protect the health and safety of Ohioans.
2) How will your church accommodate the size of your congregation within the confines of your sanctuary? In other words, if people must be six feet apart in every direction, how will you fit them into your worship space? Will you need to have more than one service? If so, what will your schedule of services be like?
3) What adjustments will you make to the Lord’s Supper, Baptisms, choir ministries, and other aspects of worship? The passing of the elements from person to person for communion would cause a great risk. It is impossible to practice social distancing for baptisms. Choir members will not be able to stand side by side to sing. Will you eliminate the meet and greet time? How will offerings be received without passing the plate? How will visitors be welcomed?
4) What are you doing now to sanitize and sterilize your building, and what is your plan for keeping it sanitized before and between services when people return? It will be important to wipe down all the classrooms, clean toys in children’s areas, spray pews and chairs with disinfectants, have the carpets cleaned and disinfected. This will need to be done before people come back to the building and maintained when the building is in use again. How will this be done, how much will it cost, and who will do it?
5) What will children’s ministries look like? Will you offer Sunday School, Children’s Worship, VBS and summer camps? How will social distancing and sanitation be achieved with young children? How will parents be assured that their children are in a safe environment?
6) Will you continue to host special events and ministries? How will you carry out weddings and funerals? How will you manage special ministries like food distributions, diaper ministries, etc.?
7) Are you continuing to include activities that involve food? What will you do about church dinners, community meals, and coffee hours or stations?
8) Will you continue to offer virtual online worship? While some congregations have seen virtual worship as a stop-gap, others are realizing that it is a means to reach people who will not be with them when they return to the building. What equipment and additional resources will you need to continue this ministry?
9) What is your plan when volunteers stop volunteering? Many church volunteers are senior adults or others in the at-risk category who may not be prepared to do some of the jobs they have done in the past. What plan is needed to cover those responsibilities? What jobs might be eliminated?
10) How will you manage the flow of traffic? Where are the bottlenecks and tight spaces in your building? How will you get people safely through the doors, up and down elevators, through congested lobbies, avoid crowds in the restrooms, etc.? How will people be dismissed so that everyone doesn’t end up in a compact line at the doors? How will you prevent parking lot meetings?
11) How will you manage Sunday School classes? How will you achieve safe social distancing when you resume Sunday School classes or other small groups?
12) Will you reopen the doors of your church with a worship-only strategy? If you do, what will the plan look like for resuming other church activities and events?
13) What is your plan for reducing expenses if your church’s offerings don’t rebound? Every church needs a Plan B for how they will manage deficits.
The two of us are available and willing to help your congregations as you consider the answers to these and other important questions. Please let us know how we might help. You remain in our prayers during this challenging time.
Rev. Jane Gibbons, Executive Minister for Program and Ministry Development
Rev. Mark Click, Executive Minister for Administration and Denominational Relations
American Baptist Churches of Ohio