Health and Growth

Returning to Church After COVID 19: 7 Principles from Scripture

Use these principles to reopen your church wisely and effectively after the pandemic is over or it's safe enough to meet.

Returning to Church After COVID 19: 7 Principles from Scripture
by

Paul Maxwell

Many church leaders are making decisions they’ve never had to make before.

For the first time, many churches were forced to close their doors for the safety of their people. Others were forced to use online giving for the first time in order to remain solvent. Still others had to shut their doors for good because they did not have the money to remain open.

And yet, as states begin to reopen, pastors will have to make many similar decisions for the first time as we all think through returning to church after COVID 19:

  • When do we reopen?
  • How should we reopen?
  • What if people are upset with us (one way or another)?
  • Should we continue to live stream online?
  • How can we serve those who want to reopen and those who must remain home at the same time?

Today, we are going to answer all of those questions. 

Just as God guided you safely through the narrow caverns of COVID’s threat, he will guide you out into the safe harbor of a new normal.

Let’s dig into seven actions church leaders can take to reopen effectively, safely, and smoothly.

1. Obey federal and state authorities.

Liaison with your local police, fire, and volunteer groups to ensure that your reopening strategies and plans on returning to church after COVID 19 are in compliance with local, state, and federal law. The Apostle Paul commends this to churches as well:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Rom. 13:1-2)

While the church is not an institution of the state, churches should follow the guidelines of their local authorities, not only because it gains them a favorable reputation in the community as a church that cares about the wellbeing of its municipality’s general public, but also because this is the biblical thing to do.

2. Educate your church on local reopening information.

Become the authority on your local orders, not only for your church, but also for your entire local community. People are confused right now about where to get the best information about their local communities. Make that process easy for them. 

Designate several hours per week to a staff member to research the latest policies and conversations about returning to church after COVID 19 in your area. Paul tells the Ephesians:

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28)

Part of paying careful attention to yourselves and your flock is by helping them understand what it means to be in compliance with local authorities.

More than that, this is actually an evangelistic opportunity. 

People in your area may subscribe to your church’s mailing list or visit your website for the most up-to-date information about your local municipality’s policies. By establishing yourself as an authority in this area, word of mouth can easily turn into an idea to stream church one Sunday, or even to visit when things reopen.

More than that, by establishing a reputation as a church that cares about local orders, people will be more inclined to visit your church after it reopens, because they know that you care deeply about these issues.

Think about this as one additional church outreach idea you can notch in your belt.

3. Protect and serve the vulnerable.

James writes:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27)

If your church isn’t caring for those most vulnerable to COVID infection, it’s not fulfilling what the Bible calls “religion that is pure.” 

Paul commends the same thing:

“Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God.” (1 Tim. 5:3-4)

Work with families in your church to enable them to serve the vulnerable among them—whether that is a child with asthma, an elderly person who is isolated in a nursing home, or another family member with a pre-existing condition. 

This should be one of the primary priorities of your church during this time.

4. Double down on digital church while planning your return to church after COVID 19.

It’s tempting to think of the digital tools churches have used to survive the COVID pandemic as a relic of a quarantined time. This would be a mistake for several reasons. 

First, not everyone will be returning to church immediately. 

Some will be suspicious about reopening. Others will simply be unable because of a preexisting condition. For their sakes, you should continue to stream your church service online for as long as possible.

Second, your team should be leaning heavily into digital tools for church anyway for several reasons. You don’t know when another pandemic may occur, in which case having scrapped your digital infrastructure will require you to reinvent the wheel again. But more than that, you should enable your church to connect with your community virtually no matter what season you’re in. Having a robust digital infrastructure that enables people to participate in your church service easily, and from anywhere, is part of what it means to love those who are geographically or physically impaired from visiting. As the Apostle Paul states:

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:4)

5. Keep gatherings small.

This might mean encouraging more of a house church model for the time being.

As you're planning your return to church after COVID 19, recruit leaders in your church to host small gatherings or "house parties" during Sunday Service for which people can sign up and share in church community together. 

There is precedent for this in the early church:

“And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (Acts 5:31)

I’m sure there were some temple “purists” who insisted that those worshipping “from house to house” were not really church. But that’s not how Luke tells the story. They were preaching Jesus as the Christ, and they were gathered together in worship. That was enough then, and it is certainly enough now.

6. Continue to practice heightened sanitation practices.

The Apostle Paul asks us to be mindful of others, because we are part of the same body:

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Rom. 12:4-5)

Continue to practice above-normal sanitation protocol in your church for the sake of those who (1) physically require a clean space due to COVID susceptibility and (2) have a softer conscience about how to care for those who desire to physically attend church.

Yes, it would be easy to say: “If they’re susceptible to COVID, they shouldn’t physically attend church yet!”

However, this would fall beneath the bar of Paul’s command. We ought to use our gifts to serve others, not lord their disabilities or softer consciences over them.

Make it as easy as possible for the largest number of people to choose to physically attend church. That’s what it means to serve those in the body.

7. Continue to fundraise.

During a time of economic crisis, it’s tempting to stop fundraising out of guilt. However, this instinct is rooted in a twisted view of church giving.

Here’s the truth:

Giving is an opportunity to worship God, to bless others, and to receive blessing from God by offering up a pleasing sacrifice to him. The author of Hebrews writes:

“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Heb. 13:16)

“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have.”

By continuing to ask church attendees to give even as you are thinking through returning to church after COVID 19, you continue to offer up sacrifices that are “pleasing to God.” Don’t rob them of that opportunity.

Over to you

In these uncertain times, many church leaders are overwhelmed with anxiety.

But remember: 

There are good guidelines to follow, and you do not have to lead your church perfectly to lead your church well.

Follow the wisdom principles outlined above, because they are biblical principles that will guide your church through this difficult time when you are unable to see the shore beyond the horizon of suffering.

God has not abandoned your church, and he has placed you in the position to believe, communicate, and exemplify that to your people.

What feels like failure on every side will turn into a battle-worn tale of tragedy and glory—of how your church stepped up and served your community with light and hope during a time of chaos and confusion.

May God give your church all of the grace and mercy that it deserves during this difficult season.

Coronavirus Toolkit for Pastors and Church Leaders:

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Returning to Church After COVID 19: 7 Principles from Scripture