Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
At the beginning of shelter at home orders, most of us were thinking about what living through this might mean, what it might entail. After living this way for the past many weeks, and with some changes on the curve, many are now beginning to think about what life and church gatherings might look like on the other side, once the shelter at home orders are lessened.
This will not be like flipping a switch such that once we are no longer quarantined everything will go back to the way it was before the pandemic. It will certainly not, though we are praying expectantly, trusting the Lord, that it will be better. We do know changes will be incremental.
On April 16, Guidelines for Opening Up America Again were distributed to governors during a meeting with the White House. This now serves as a guide for the days ahead. It is also critical to follow the orders of the state governor and the city mayor, reflecting care and concern for the well-being of the community. This is a way we express our love to others.
As there are lessening of restrictions incrementally, what will that mean for churches when we can eventually meet? What is the plan and counsel?
As you have this discussion as a church, begin by asking what will remain and what will go away with how we have gathered and functioned as a church virtually? How do we use this unique experience and opportunity given by God to form new life groups, to add more ministries, to expand our ministry online? What do we learn from this experience?
It would be pastorally wise for pastors/elders to communicate with the church family some of this information, and what some of the forthcoming plans may be. It may be nothing more than that we are thinking about the day when we can gather again as a church family, even though likely with limited numbers. For example, based on the Guidelines released to governors, we can surmise that the resumption will first move to allowing <50 people to gather, under strict criteria. We can also assume that “opening up” will happen incrementally. This means that some will be able to gather corporately, with proper social distancing, while others will have to continue to participate via livestream or recording. Or it might mean you add multiple services to accommodate the guidelines for limited numbers to gather.
This communication would help the church family to be reassured you are thinking about such matters, and you care for them and are looking out for their well-being. Here are a few examples of issues to consider and questions to ask immediately and longer term, specifically and more generally. (This list was originally compiled by Alejandro Mandes, executive director of all people initiative, to which I have adapted, edited, and added.)
Here is another helpful list of questions to consider: 24 Questions Your Church Should Answer Before People Return
Vanderbloemen held a conversation with several pastors of large churches: ReOpening Church: Leading After COVID-19 They are planning to follow this with a dialogue with pastors from smaller churches.
Many more of these lists will be forthcoming, similar to the plethora of writings guiding us how to think about and process being the church virtually at the front-end of our shelter at home orders. The key is not that you read every one of them, but rather that you discern the most important questions for you as a church to ask and answer, based on your geographical location and church size. And through it all, prayerfully seek wisdom that comes from above (Jms. 1:5; 3:17), heed the federal, state and city directives, seek the best input and counsel available from public health officials and epidemiologists, and trust the Lord (Ps. 20:7; Prov. 3:5-6).
Might this be a day of spiritual renewal and revival? Might it be, Lord, might it be!