As stay-at-home orders continue lifting across the United States, many churches are reopening. One of the ways church leaders can mitigate the fear some may have about returning to a public gathering like a church service is to communicate all the things your church is doing to provide the safest (and healthiest) experience possible. Not only should churches communicate their reopening strategy to their members, but they also need to communicate to the community at large.
One church in Colorado serves as a case-study in communicating their plans with the community. New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado is the largest church in the city and has multiple locations. This weekend, the church will open the doors of its main building again for the first time in several weeks.
New Life’s Reopening Strategy
New Life invited a local news station to take a tour of its facility and show the community all the measures they have taken to get ready for visitors. The church’s main building, on the north side of the city, is quite large, and out of all its locations, has the greatest seating capacity. For this reason, it will be the first location to open as it has the best capacity for social distancing protocols.
Brady Boyd, the church’s senior pastor, says church leaders met with the mayor of the city and local health officials to determine the best course of action for their church. Despite the county guidelines stipulating churches may operate at 25 percent of their seating capacity, New Life decided to be extra-cautious and only allow for 10 percent of their sanctuary’s seating capacity. In addition to sanitizing the building, they also moved chairs out of the sanctuary and arranged the remaining chairs in clusters spaced six feet apart. Some clusters of chairs have up to six seats, allowing for members of the same household to sit together.
Additionally, visitors are encouraged to wear face masks and all the staff will be wearing masks, except those who happen to be on the stage at the time. All visitors must reserve a spot online and present their “ticket” on their mobile phone when entering the church. As Boyd communicated in an email sent to members of the church, this practice serves two purposes: to ensure the church is only filled to 10 percent capacity and also to allow for contact tracing if, heaven forbid, a case of COVID-19 occurs among visitors.
All of these preparations, the cleaning, the rearranging of furniture, setting up the reservation system, the planning involved would all be pointless if no one actually felt safe enough to show up. The church could also find itself in a PR nightmare if the community wasn’t aware of all the precautions they are taking and consequently accused the leaders of negligence. Which is why New Life made sure to communicate. Some would call it over-communicate.
How New Life Church Communicated to the Community
While inviting the local news was a big part of their communication strategy and likely did a lot to communicate to the broader community, New Life took several other steps to show what they were doing to prepare for visitors.
Church leaders posted a video to their social media accounts in which volunteers and staff are shown cleaning chairs while wearing masks and gloves. The video also shows the new layout in the sanctuary with the clusters of chairs and volunteers measuring six feet between clusters.
In this video, church leaders also expressed what they will NOT be doing during this time:
No separate children’s ministry (all services will be family services)
No passing of offering plates
No hugs, handshakes, or high fives
No shame (if you don’t feel comfortable coming or are in the high risk category—no shame! Continue to watch online)
The church made compelling graphics to post on their Facebook and Instagram pages explaining all the new procedures and have been sharing these as Sunday approaches.
In our fast-paced world of social media, these graphics likely do a lot more to communicate than anything else! They are easy to read and compelling.
Of course email is really important, too, for those who prefer reading instructions or who aren’t on social media. As mentioned earlier, Boyd sent an email to members outlining their strategy. After a brief introductory paragraph, Boyd included bullet points of the most pertinent information and put in bold the text he wanted people to pay attention to most.
Last but not least, the church is also having its Sunday services broadcast on the local news station, which is a great idea for many reasons. As the purpose of this article is about communicating to the community, though, the reason I’d like to highlight here is, again, for public relations. If people can see for themselves how the service is being conducted and see the care the leadership has taken to provide for people’s safety, they are going to be much less likely to criticize. And, more importantly, they might even be inclined to check out your church (or Christianity in general) if they understand that care to be an act of love.