After receiving our two COVID-19 vaccination shots, my wife Tammy and I recently returned to church after more than 13 months of watching our church services via livestream. Church leaders have faced a number of unprecedented challenges during the COVID19 pandemic. Here are a few of my reflections as a leader from the past year plus:
- Livestreaming of worship services. Our church had not previously live streamed our worship services. Once our state shut down on March 21, we had to act quickly to purchase equipment and decide how we wanted to broadcast our services. Watching our church worship services online is not ideal, but I’m thankful that this has been available to us during the pandemic.
- Meet in person or just stream online. Over this period, our leadership team has had numerous meetings via Zoom to discuss whether we should have in-person worship services. During some of this time the decision was made for us via lockdown orders from our governor. Still, there was discussion about whether the governor actually had the authority to keep churches from meeting in person. There was a variety of opinions passionately shared during these meetings, as we tried to navigate the at times conflicting messages and “moving of the goal posts” by national health experts.
- Building Capacity. Once we were allowed to open, the question was what percentage of our seating capacity we would be permitted to fill. The governor issued capacity limits, but there were questions, and ultimately lawsuits, as to whether the limits applied to churches. After much discussion, we ultimately chose to use our sanctuary, a room downstairs from the sanctuary, and another building on our campus, with attendees in the latter two locations watching the service via video. Attendees needed to sign-up in advance to reserve their seat and so that the sanctuary could be set up accordingly.
- Masks or no masks. This was an issue that resulted in much passionate debate. There was good reason for this, as our national health experts offered conflicting guidance on masks, initially recommending that the public not wear masks, indicating that they could actually do us harm, and later telling us to wear two Although masks were required in public places such as grocery stores and large stores such as Walmart and Target, there was a question about whether this applied to churches. There was also the feeling from some that requiring people to wear masks was infringing on their individual rights. Like the other issues we were facing, we reached out to other churches in our area to find out what they were doing. After much conversation and feedback from some members, we ended up requiring masks in two locations and making masks optional in the third.
- Meeting outdoors. An option for churches, weather permitting, is to hold worship services outdoors. The thought process is that this option could be more palatable for some people who are uncomfortable with meeting indoors. We have met outdoors a few times already, including on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and plan to continue to do so occasionally in the future.
- Reopening strategy. Flexibility is a required attribute of good leaders, and it has definitely been needed when planning our reopening strategy. There was a time after we had begun meeting in-person with limited capacity, when we had to go back to livestream only due to a surge of cases and limited available hospital beds locally. Church leaders need to be aware of their local situation (current cases, hospital bed availability, availability of vaccines, etc.) so that they can make the most informed decisions about reopening. They also need to be able to demonstrate leadership courage and adjust plans accordingly based on changing information.
- Small group meetings. Our church small group has been meeting via Zoom for more than a year as I write this. Again, getting together via Zoom is not ideal, but I’m thankful that it has been available for us to use so that we could continue to meet.
Throughout this period, it has been clear that it is the heart of our leadership team to get everyone back to church as soon as it is safe to do so. Individuals made their decisions on when to come back based on their assessment as to their risk of getting the virus. It is our desire that later this year things will get back to “normal”, whatever that may eventually look like.
These are just a few of my reflections as a leader in our local church. Your reflections may be different. What would you add to what I shared?