With the state of Oklahoma permitting churches to open for in-person meetings or worship in early May, Oklahoma Baptist pastors are wading into what it means to reopen the church building.
Plans to re-gather for worship vary in pace and style. At Bethel Acres, New Hope, Pastor Will Wilson planned for “Lawn Church” for several Sunday mornings in May, before later gathering in the worship center. Much like a drive-in service, the lawn service will allow members to gather for worship in person, but at a distance.
Shawnee, Immanuel also tentatively plans to have a “lawn-chair service” May 24 and 31, where Pastor Todd Fisher said members will “gather together for an outdoor service (weather allowing) so that we can spread out. For those who feel it is best for them to continue to worship at home, the broadcast will still be available.”
Fisher said Shawnee, Immanuel plans to start a modified schedule, beginning June 7, of having worship services in the church’s worship center. He did point out there are “precautions to be evaluated and shared closer to time.”
At Heavener, First, Pastor Brock Hardin announced a plan to re-gather for worship services on May 17, with precautions put in place to ensure distancing and sanitation procedures.
An informal look at Oklahoma Baptist congregations reveals that nearly all plan to continue to offer online worship services for members who are advised not to attend in person just yet, such as those in vulnerable populations.
Beyond offering worship services, most churches are wading through what the regathering process will look like for Sunday School meetings, events, Wednesday evenings and other gatherings.
New resource gives ideas for re-opening
Oklahoma Baptists published a resource that pastors should find helpful as they ponder how to regather the church for worship. Titled, “Reopening Our Church Buildings,” the resource offered practical encouragement, tips, resources and links.
From topics like “Key considerations for first gathering” to “measures to protect congregations,” the resource was emailed to pastors across the state and published online at oklahomabaptists.org.
“A pressing question on the minds of pastors and church leaders today is related to the reopening of church buildings for worship. The question actually has two aspects that need to be answered: ‘When’ and ‘What,’” said Alan Quigley, associate executive director of Oklahoma Baptists’ church resources group. “When do we need to reopen, and what needs to be done to reopen safely?”
James Swain, associate executive director of Oklahoma Baptists’ church relations group added, “In keeping with Oklahoma Baptists’ strategic patterns of being pastor-connected and associational-partnered, the ideas contained in this new resource have been provided by pastors across our state and gathered with the help of our directors of missions.”
The following information was presented by Oklahoma Baptists:
General ministry encouragements
—Reopening should be viewed as an ongoing process rather than a one-time event.
—Although churches were permitted to open on May 1, decisions about reopening should be based on local congregation’s context.
—Decisions should be made in conjunction with key church leaders and additional members who can give valuable insight to the decision.
—Decisions should be consistent with federal, state and local government guidelines (In areas where local authorities have not made a statement, consider seeking input from your area).
Key considerations prior to the first gathering
- Consider cleaning and safety measures to protect the church family.
- Consider how the gathering space should be arranged to provide for social distancing.
- Consider continuing online services for those who are uncertain or unable to attend.
- Consider conducting worship service in an alternative venue (e.g. drive-in church, outdoor lawn church).
- Consider rotation of members in live services by alphabet using last names (last names beginning with A-I, J-Q, R-Z) based on the number of services the church provides to allow for social distancing.
- Consider the goal of the first regathering of the church family.
- What other groups will be allowed to gather and what guidelines will they need to adhere to?
Key considerations for the first gathering
When gathering, consideration should be given to:
- How to limit handouts (e.g. announcements, hymnals, orders of service, and other bulletin information).
- Maintaining social distance and sanitation requirements with the presence of young children in the worship service.
- How to clean common areas between services.
- Displaying signage that would discourage hand shaking, and/or other greetings that require physical touch.
- Identifying which doors can remain propped open in order to limit the number of people touching the handles.
When worshiping, consideration should be given to:
- The benefits and health concerns of the congregation concerning expressions of worship (For example, “Should we sing or not?” “How do we take the offering?” and “How do we conduct the invitation?”).
- How to arrange the meeting area so that the six-foot social distancing can take place (For example, possibly ushering people to appropriate seats).
When dismissing, consideration should be given to:
- Possibly staggering the dismissal, so that there is not the creation of an unintentional crowding the social distancing space of individuals.
- What gathering in large group signals to other groups in the church (For example, questions like, “Should youth group start back?” and “Should small groups begin meeting together?” will arise quickly after your first service).
A complete list of helpful links, both from government and health entities, as well as ministry and church-specific resources, was published. A full Spanish-language version was produced.
To view the new resource, or to learn more about Oklahoma Baptists’ response to COVID-19, visit oklahomabaptists.org/coronavirus.