With the ongoing pandemic, many are concerned about returning to their churches and local communities and are looking for guidance from their church to know what’s safe.
In this article, we cover some of the important steps you can take to protect your community, re-assure them of their safety, and bring members back into the building.
Review Reopening Guidelines
The CDC has provided a checklist of guidelines for re-opening faith communities during the pandemic. These steps include reviewing state and local orders, preparing your staff and congregants ahead of time, promoting healthy practices, and ongoing monitoring to ensure your members stay healthy.
Below is a checklist and flowchart provided by the CDC to help you decide when and how to re-open safely:
For further information, see the CDC website here.
Create Your Reopening Team
Your staff and volunteer leaders should be involved in making plans for reopening and reassuring your members. When building this team, consider including leaders from your worship ministry, youth ministry, outreach or welcoming committees, and music ministry. Connect regularly virtually to create your plan for reopening.
Creating Your Reopening Plan
As mentioned, the first step in any reopening plan should be to review state and local guidelines from agencies and departments in your area (such as your local health department) and nationally (like the CDC). Opening your organization in violation of these guidelines may expose your organization to unwanted liability.
An important part of any reopening plan is to get feedback from your volunteers, members, and community. If your plan is built without their feedback and input, you may find them unwilling to attend services.
Reassuring your members that attendance will be safe by taking their concerns into account in your plan will be critically important to getting members back in the building. Your plan should mitigate or nullify their concerns in every way possible. Consider taking a survey of congregation members to obtain valuable input on activities they may feel comfortable or uncomfortable with, and what methods and steps would improve their comfort level.
Creating a Safe and Reassuring Worship Environment
Once you’ve obtained this feedback from your community, discuss what activities you will begin to offer in person, and which will be temporarily paused.
Your institution may want to provide both in-person and online opportunities for worship and community activities for the foreseeable future. Particularly for more vulnerable individuals such as the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, these options can still provide meaningful community connection while mitigating risks.
Remind attendees of in-person activities that they should not attend in person if they are feeling ill or have any symptoms of COVID-19, or if they have been exposed to someone who has.
Consider how your church will handle children's programs, summer camps, weddings, funerals, or other special events. These events may be challenging to maintain social distancing, and a well-thought-out plan will be essential in reducing risk from community spread and reassuring your community members.
Preparing Your Facilities
Keeping your members safe will take some prep work to ensure in-person gatherings are safe for all attendees.
Before beginning services, consider some of the following steps:
Inspect the property to assure no damage has occurred in your absence.
Make sure utilities and restrooms are functioning and clean, and all building systems are ready.
Prepare and test any virtual streaming services you may want to provide ahead of time to ensure a smooth virtual experience.
Arrange your worship space to allow for social distancing requirements (including moving or removing seats, limiting capacity, or widening aisles).
Consider and acquire protective equipment such as masks and gloves for staff, volunteers, and members.
Create screening plans for staff and volunteers who may be spending a significant amount of time with your members.
Create contactless options for communication, such as sending memos, bulletins, or hymns via email, and collecting offerings online.
Disinfect facility surfaces between each gathering.
Create a communication plan to inform your members of the steps you’re taking to keep them safe.
These safety measures will help ensure your members are safe and feel comfortable attending in-person services.
The CDC has provided a toolkit to aid religious organizations in re-opening; https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/communication/toolkits/community-faith-based.html
This includes downloads and printable materials that you can use in your institution, hand out to attendees, and use as posters for helpful reminders for your members.
Ongoing Responsibilities and Management
These steps are time-intensive and require new efforts from your staff and volunteer team. Be sure to assign responsibility to the appropriate people to ensure they continue to be performed.
As always, Oxford Millin is here to help. If you have any questions about your institution's insurance policies, coverage, or next steps, reach out to us online at https://www.oxfordins.com/contact or by phone at (631) 434-6666.