Fellowship Church leaders did everything they could to communicate well about the safety precautions they were asking people to take, as well as to keep their communication contact-free. First-time guests (and they did have first-time guests show up!) could text the church if they wanted to get more information. Leaders encouraged online giving, although they did have offering areas set up by each exit. Even when it came to training volunteers, church leaders filmed and sent videos of instructions, such as where to park, where to get masks, and where to wash hands.
Fellowship also added a reservation system to their website ahead of the services in order to get an idea beforehand of how many people would be coming. While some volunteers directed people where to park, others stood in the parking lot holding signs with screening precautions listing reasons why people should not attend the service in person (e.g., if they have a fever or a sore throat). It was because of these signs that one woman told volunteers she was a nurse who worked with coronavirus patients. When the volunteers heard this, they told the nurse that because of the CDC guidelines, they had to ask her to worship from home instead of attending the service in person. They also thanked her for coming and thanked her for her service. This scenario illustrates why it is important that churches still have an online alternative, even after they start meeting again in person.
Moone said it was hard on the woman to be asked to leave because at that point she wasn’t a nurse, but a person in need. The team did follow up with her afterward, however, and Moone said she plans to come back.
When it came to communication during the actual service, Fellowship had volunteers emceeing from the stage, encouraging people, playing funny videos, and making announcements. The church leaders noted that it was an emotional experience for people to come back to church and setting a light tone helped.
One aspect of this part of the service that could have gone better is that the announcements went too long and brought the mood down again. Lisa suggested that when churches do announcements, they focus on paring down their content and consider using props where possible to keep people engaged.
Brad Stovall, Fellowship’s Director of Facilities Management, described in detail everything the church did to sanitize the sanctuary, restrooms, and any other area people would be using. He stressed that staff tested their sanitization measures repeatedly before actually holding services. They sanitized every seat in the sanctuary—which didn’t end up being as daunting as it sounds—and sanitized the chairs between each service, as well as after any volunteer sat on it. They also sanitized restrooms after a service started and once the service ended.
Stovall noted it is important to know the exact nature of your cleaning product. How long does it have to sit on a surface to kill the virus? Do you need to wipe down the surface after you spray the product on it? How long will it be before the surface dries? For example, you might need a minimum of 10 minutes between the time you disinfect seats and the time you allow people to enter the sanctuary. You also need to know if you can get a steady supply of your product. Said Stovall, “We don’t want to start a process that we can’t maintain.”
It’s Worth It
Coming back to church while coming out of the coronavirus crisis takes a lot of work, said Ed and Lisa, but if churches have the option to come back while taking safety precautions, it is worth it.
“It’s a personal faith step,” said Ed, “and it’s a statement to your community.” Said Lisa, “I would just encourage you: Be creative. Take a stand of faith. Let Jesus be the Way Maker. And go back to church.”