Strategy & Marketing

As Churches Re-Open, What if We Have COVID-19 Problems?

In our rush to get churches open across the country, we need to be aware of the public response should something go wrong. What happens if your church discovers cases of the virus among those in the building? Worse, what happens if someone dies of the virus?

The Wall Street Journal has reported that: “Thinking clearly about how to handle new infections is critical to building and maintaining public confidence in reopening efforts. If organizations bungle their responses to new infections that occur within their facilities, it will serve as an invitation for political leaders again to engage in the knee-jerk, fear-fueled policy making that led us down the road of ineffectual lockdowns in the first place.”

In other words, don’t get so fixated on social distancing and sanitized restrooms that we don’t think of how to respond should something bad happen.

So what SHOULD we be thinking about? Every church is in a different part of the country and faces different risks, but here’s my thoughts:

1. Talk to your attorney about legal options should a returning church member get infected or die from the virus. This isn’t about deflecting responsibility, it’s about mitigating risk. An extended lawsuit would financially bankrupt most churches, so check your legal options and your liability insurance.

2. Educate the congregation. Start now providing them with the information they need to make a mature decision about returning. Remember that this isn’t just a legal issue, it’s a preference issue. We should only move at the speed the congregation feels is comfortable.

3. Consider partnering with a local medical facility to provide testing for the congregation. This isn’t available everywhere, but as more testing comes online, people will start to feel more comfortable returning to a group experience.

4. Offer church employees higher quality N95 masks instead of simple cloth face coverings. This is the time to take everything related to staff safety, cleanliness, and sanitation to a new level.

5. Don’t make anyone feel guilty or shamed because they choose not to come back right now. People have different tolerance levels, so in our excitement to re-open, don’t make the mistake of criticizing or shaming anyone who’s not ready to leave home.

6. Finally, don’t ease up on your online worship experience. Keep your foot on the gas pedal when it comes to your live stream. I hope we’ve learned that our live stream worship really is ministry, and it should continue forever with the same intention and energy we’re putting into it right now.

The Journal went on to say:

“If done right, reopening can evolve in a way that balances the things that make life worthwhile—strong social connections, purposeful work and pursuit of personal growth—against the real human threats of the novel coronavirus. If done wrong, we’ll continue struggling to find our footing, creating avoidable pain and suffering along the way, until we are finally rescued by either herd immunity or a vaccine, whichever comes first.”

This is an important moment. Let’s not leave anything to chance.

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2 Comments

  1. Hey Phil, I was raising this issue a few days ago after reading this article. https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/498643-two-southern-churches-forced-to-reclose-after-leaders-and IMO, every church’s reopen plan should include a section on what they’ll do if they discover members test positive or if its discovered the virus was spread to other members during a gathering. Under what circumstances would you suspend in-person services again?

    1. Great link Paul – thanks for that. In my opinion, I think some of these churches opened too soon. In many pastor’s (understandable) desire to get people back, some may have pulled the trigger too soon. But in regards to your question – that would be a medical/legal question that I’d want outside counsel to weigh in on. A lot of it depends on the size of the congregation, the state it’s in, and the congregation’s age. It would be tough to create a nationwide standard – which is what happened with the (in my opinion) misguided lockdown.

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