Originally Published on May 9, 2020; Revised May 19, 2020
This document is not intended to be exhaustive in its content nor authoritative in its use or interpretation. It is for guidance only as our churches seek to make the safest, wisest decisions given their individual situations. This is a compilation of ideas and best practices collected from a variety of sources and the BGAV extends its gratitude to all who contributed.
The Commonwealth of Virginia entered Phase One on Friday, May 15, and the Governor of VA stated on Friday, May 8, that faith communities could meet inside at 50% capacity only if they are able to do so in a way that follows the Phase One mandatory requirements specified on their website (click here to read those). Strict social distancing limitations are still in place, for example, as are requirements regarding signage and facility/surface cleaning and disinfection. A list of best practices is also available on that same web page. Note that on May 12, the Governor’s office announced that the Northern VA region will delay Phase One (click here for the full press release).
While the majority of BGAV churches reside in the Commonwealth of Virginia, we have many outside the state. Always follow the guidelines established by your state and local authorities in your particular location.
Steps To Consider About Re-gathering
1. Develop a process.
- Develop a process that outlines the appropriate steps to regather. Committing to complete a process focuses you on re-gathering safely when you are ready as opposed to re-gathering on a specific date. What are the steps in the process?
- Identify a coordinator who is responsible for COVID 19 issues. Will that person be the pastor, deacon chair, moderator, or will it be led by a recognized group within the church such as the church council or other leadership? Make sure roles and responsibilities are clear in this process. Think about this in phases.
2. Prepare the congregation.
- Alert the congregation to the the church’s established process to prepare for re-gathering. Encourage their prayer and support while affirming their patience.
- Communicate often and through various media the role the congregation will play in safely resuming activities through their compliance with physical distancing, hand sanitizing, wearing masks as appropriate, and observing the limitations of each phase of re-gathering. Stress that human behavior is as essential as cleaning in preventing infection.
- Help the congregation envision the process for safely re-gathering at church by providing step-by-step instructions for participation in each phase of resumption. For example, instruct congregants on which areas of parking are allowed; which entrances will be available; where hand-sanitizing stations will be located; how to select a seat in the sanctuary/worship space; etc.
- Inform the congregation about which social media, streaming, or other online services and programs will be continuing as services resume. Ensure the congregation that care and connection will continue for those people unable to attend in person and also for those who aren’t comfortable returning yet even if they are able.
3. Prepare the property.
- Visit the CDC and Commonwealth of Virginia websites to print and post any alerts and guidelines.
- Survey the building and grounds for obvious hazards or maintenance needs that may have emerged during the hiatus.
- Inspect—and clean or repair as necessary—HVAC systems prior to their restart.
- Clean the building thoroughly using products endorsed by the CDC as effective against COVID-19.
- Develop policies for staff/volunteer protection and provide training to all cleaning staff.
- Acquire a sufficient supply of cleaning elements to support the increased cleaning necessary for the first phases of re-gathering.
- Acquire any new equipment required for resuming programming, such as temporal scan thermometers, portable hand-sanitizing or washing stations, or upgraded electronics for continued streaming of services.
- Contact any vendors/contractors who supply church materials or services, alerting them to your re-gathering (i.e. lawn care, paper suppliers, security, etc.).
4. Develop a site sanitation plan.
- Consider reducing the number of common touch points by eliminating hymnal usage, collecting the offering without passing plates, and propping doors open to avoid handle/knob usage.
- Install hand-sanitizing stations at each entrance and exit. When programming resumes, consider enlisting a “monitor” to promote usage of the stations and remind congregants of proper health protocols (frequent hand cleaning, covering of cough/sneeze, no handshakes/hugs, etc.).
- When planning for services, consider eliminating “passing of the peace” or other socializing as a part of worship. Consider refraining from congregational singing, as it has been linked to increased risk of spreading the coronavirus.
- Plan to clean/sanitize each area of use between services or programs.
- Remove any shared use items from program areas, such as pens/pencils, pew registers, “usher” tags, etc.
- Clearly communicate the church’s sanitation plan and enlist the support of congregants. Where appropriate, enable do-it-yourself cleaning by supplying wipes or disinfectant.
(currently, Virginia will likely begin this phase on Friday, May 15, 2020)
- Keep doing what you are doing, whether it’s drive-in church, live-streaming, or another form of online worship. Most experts are advising to not resume corporate worship during Phase One.
- Consider increasing office functions while limiting it to essential operations only. Consider wearing masks and regularly sanitize phones, doorknobs, etc.
- Consider permitting some building usage, while strictly adhering to gathering limits and distancing protocols.
(this will begin on a yet-undetermined date)
After several weeks of improving conditions, preparing the property and the congregation, you’re now ready to regather.
Continue Best Practices
- Practice strict adherence to physical/social distancing recommendations on an ongoing basis.
- Maintain your online and social media presence to remain connected to high-risk individuals and others who should remain home, as well as to those new people you’ve connected with digitally.
- Consider having more services with fewer people each in order to decrease the population density.
- Identify which points of entry/exit will be used as programming resumes.
- Plan for guiding traffic to those entrances/exits while maintaining physical distancing.
- Create and communicate a plan for restricted visiting during office hours when weekly staffing resumes.
- Restrict access to areas of the property/building outside of preparation and approved use for the phase of re-opening.
- Communicate to the congregation regarding who is appropriate to return to church during each phase of resumption and why, following the current guidelines to protect high-risk individuals. Clearly emphasize the maximum allowable gathering at each phase and plan for compliance.
Plan for Physical Distancing
- Reconfigure gathering and lobby areas to support physical distancing and prevent gathering.
- Prepare the worship space/sanctuary and any classrooms for physical distancing by visually indicating safe seating.
- Designate and sign post the direction of foot traffic in main circulation pathways.
- Discontinue use of small rooms and/or reduce capacity for rooms to ensure safe distancing.
- Communicate physical distancing plans to the congregation and ask for compliance.