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Ideas To Re-Open Your Church Safely

As states and local governments begin to implement policies to re-open and ease “shelter-in-place” restrictions, your church needs to develop a plan for how to re-open safely. We are entering a new chapter in the coronavirus pandemic. We are in a liminal space – that place where we are between where we’ve been, but not quite yet to where we are going.

It’s time to start thinking about what will happen when we reopen the church. We’re not heading back to the way things used to be. We need to base our plans on what we’ve learned from this pandemic. Here are some thoughts for ministry leaders to start considering the path forward after our first experiences with COVID-19.

First, know the risk factors for the virus. Our understanding of this virus continues to evolve as scientists study it more. This can help you make decisions on staffing, volunteers, and whether you will return sooner or later. For example, those with preexisting conditions and those over 65 years old are at a higher risk of experiencing worse symptoms than others if they contract the virus.

Also, don’t be in a rush. Your ministry is more than your building (which is one of the lessons we’ve all hopefully learned from this). Get a sense of the level of anxiety within your community of faith. For your community, it may be best to continue with the adapted worship practices you have implemented during this time. Bottom line: there is no “one size fits all” solution to this. You need to do what is right for your church.

Welcome Home Videos. "Welcome home" messages set against a blue mosaic background.

Worship resources to celebrate when your church reopens.

For Clergy

It is normal to feel a sense of fear and anxiety about your ministry right now. This has not been a normal time. Your mind might be filled with thoughts like:

  • Will people return? Have people become too comfortable watching worship in their pajamas and/or on the schedule they decide?
  • Did our members discover other churches during this period? What if people use this opportunity to try out a new church?
  • Our church finances have taken a hit. Can we afford to operate as before? Can we keep our current staffing levels?

These are normal thoughts and feelings to have. But it is important to remember that people had choices other than attending worship and people were likely listening to other sources of spiritual teaching before this pandemic. People will return to your church for the same reasons that brought them to you originally. The finance situation caused by this pandemic is real, and should not be underestimated. Clergy needs to proactively work with lay leaders to develop a plan to bring your church back to a healthier financial footing.

Creative Caution

No one is going to be able to flip the switch and suddenly have your church operate as it did before. The re-opening of your church is more likely to be a process. The timeline might need to be longer than you think. Here are some things to consider as you develop a plan to re-open your physical building:

  • Deep clean your church. You might need to rally help for a church cleaning day. We have resources to help you promote the idea of a Church Cleanup Day if you decide to do this.
  • Do an audit of your building. Conduct a walk-through, looking for surfaces and high-traffic areas that might be prone to spreading a virus. Door knobs and light switches are examples. Develop a plan to regularly clean these areas – before and after worship.
  • Take a special look at your children’s/daycare area. You may need to remove non-essential items to lower the number of surfaces and items that will need regular cleaning.
    • Think about Sunday School or other study groups. Even if you re-open for worship, you may want to delay these activities until a future date. If you do resume Sunday School, limit volunteers to those under 65 years of age and those without pre-existing medical conditions.
    • Identify a clear “drop off/pick-up” point for parents.
  • It may pain you do so, but you should consider removing items from the back of your pews – Bibles, hymnals, pens, information cards. Can items be laminated for easier cleaning?
  • Prepare signs about not shaking hands and keeping a safe social distance. Many churches are embracing the hashtag #ItsOKToSmileAndWave as a way to send the message that the way we greet each other must change.
  • How can your sanctuary be configured to promote social distancing? Stores have placed tape on the floors to help people gauge the appropriate space. Churches should take a cue from these approaches and adapt them for worship spaces. You may need to remove chairs or section off pews to help people maintain a safe distance.
  • Educate your congregation about the steps you are taking to ensure a safe worship environment. Use all of your typical modes of communication – newsletters, email, social media, etc. This will serve to lessen the anxiety people may feel. Also, enlist your congregation to help do their part to keep your worship space clean and safe.
    • Encourage people who feel sick to stay home, and also contact the right people so their needs can be attended to.

Many churches have worked hard to enable a virtual worship experience. Think carefully before you scale those efforts back. For some, this may feel like a safer option, at least for the short-term. Understand that different people will have different views about what is safe and what is risky. Give those who are not ready to worship in person the option to stay connected. Additionally, many churches have found their worship reach has expanded thanks to virtual worship. If this has been the experience of your church, think carefully about turning away from these new, virtual members of your community.

Safe Worship

If your church has not held more than one worship service, this may be a time to consider. While the demands of clergy, staff and worship participants is larger, multiple services are one way your church can help people keep a safe social distance within your worship space. If multiple worship services is not possible, then this may be another reason to continue with virtual worship. Indeed, maybe you intentionally limit in-person worship to a certain number of people. Others are invited to join online. Some churches are preparing a reservation system to manage this. For example, Facebook Events can be used to have people register their planned attendance.

Other ideas for safe worship:

  • Those who live together can sit together in worship. This is an easy way to manage a safe distance.
  • Have your main doors open. It is one less doorknob for many people to touch.
  • If your church prints a weekly worship bulletin, you should consider changing how you distribute them. Instead of having ushers hand them to people as they enter, place bulletins on chairs or pews. Ask people to take their bulletin with them as they leave.
  • Avoid any passing of microphones.
  • Do not pass any plate or bowl. The way you conduct Communion and take offerings will need to change. Encourage online giving, and establish physical stations where people can leave their gift.
  • Develop an orderly “exit strategy” that encourages people to leave when worship is completed in a way that maintains safe distances.

Other Amenities

Even if your church does re-open, you may need to postpone things like coffee or fellowship time to a future date. Stay attuned to local guidelines for when and how to reintroduce these cherished elements to your worship experience.

Restrooms are another tough subject. Right now, most states are recommending that churches do not allow bathroom use in the short-term. If your church cannot abide by this guideline, this may be a signal that it is too early for you to re-open. If you do allow bathroom use, make sure you post signs that encourage hand-washing. We’ve got clever ideas here.

Have hand sanitizer available in as many areas of your space as you can. Granted, hand sanitizer can be hard to find right now. Again, if you have a hard time keeping hand sanitizer in stock, this may be a signal that it is too soon to re-open.

Encourage people to wear masks to worship. Ask volunteers to help sew a stockpile of masks your church can have available for those who might not have one. Maybe there is a way to add your church logo to the mask? Or your mission statement?


We often talk about a “new normal.” Instead, let’s think of this as a time to create a “better normal.” If your church has developed a strategy that has served you well during this time, please share your experiences in the comments below.



Learn how one Atlanta church is working with scientists and healthcare professionals to guide their re-opening plan.

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