Coming Home:
Guidelines for Planning to Reopen the Church 

Dear people of the Texas Annual Conference,

As your Bishop, I am so grateful for the innovative work that the United Methodist Churches across the Texas Annual Conference have been engaging in during these days of COVID-19. You are connecting with new people in your area and proclaiming the hope of Jesus Christ in fresh and new ways like never before.

Our state is moving carefully toward re-opening, and I have asked a team of people to prepare these guidelines for you to consider. For any church with attendance larger than 50, we should take several more weeks before beginning in-person worship. One principle is that your re-opened worship (with masks, no congregational singing and socially distanced seating) should be just as good an experience as your online services. I know that some rural areas and smaller churches will be reopening sooner than others, and these guidelines should help you do so with no harm to participants.

I continue to pray for you as you pastor in new ways throughout the re-opening process.

With deep appreciation for all that you are doing for Christ,

                                                                                                   Bishop Scott J. Jones

                                                                                                

 

Communicate with Your Church About Reopening

Members are going to be looking to you and your leadership about what needs to happen on the first day of worship.Below are best practices for communications.

Consider sending a sample survey to your members and regular attendees first. 

Sample Survey - Google Form: Sent to members to help gauge how they feel about timing of reopening and procedures that are being considered. (Credit: Nate Lehman: Friendship UMC)

Communicate with your members and attendees the strategies you have in place for reopening and what they can expect when they arrive on the first day of church after COVID-19. Feel free to use this reopening guide as your document, always over communicating safety, sanitation, disinfected areas and care for those most vulnerable to the virus.

Remind members to stay at home if they have any symptoms of COVID-19 and to join on-line.

Remind members, employees and volunteers to wear masks and to wash hands.

Post signs about non-contact greeting such as handshakes and hugs.Place readily visible signage to remind everyone of best hygiene practices.

If you have an outbreak of COVID-19 in your church, contact the following:

1. Your county or municipal health authority (identify that entity prior to holding any in-person event);

2. Your insurance company; and

3. Your district superintendent.

Communicate with all attendees and comply with CDC regulations for privacy of the individual with the virus.

The CDC has issued guidance for faith-based organizations to assist in notifying local authorities about exposure and steps to take to address exposure risk:

Interim Guidance for Administrators and Leaders of Community- and Faith-Based Organizations to Plan, Prepare, and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

FAQs for Administrators and Leaders at Community- and Faith-Based Organizations

 

Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News

Sanitation and Cleaning

Cleaning your church includes sanitizing pews, bathrooms, doorknobs, microphones and any high touch areas where your members or staff are going to be gathering. Consider shampooing and disinfecting carpet as well. During worship, it is recommended that the church has volunteers stationed at every door for welcoming and for the door to be propped open. (This includes restrooms too.) This prevents members from touching doorknobs, doors and other high touch areas, while also providing social distancing between the greeters at the door and members walking inside the church. Rope off water fountains and/or include a sign that says, “Do not use the water fountain.”

The entire sanctuary will need to be re-cleaned between services. CDC resources for sanitation: 

Disinfecting Building Facilities

Community and Faith-Based Organizations

Make hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, soap and water, or similar disinfectant readily available throughout the church.

 

Worship Service

Set up worship for the first day according to CDC recommendations. The CDC recommends six feet of social distancing between individuals or family units. This could mean that every other pew is available for seating, with appropriate pews roped off for social distancing. Decide ahead of time how you will inform people about worship seating requirements. If possible, direct people in one door and out another. Consider using painters’ tape to designate sections of seating that are 6 feet apart. Or, when possible, place the chairs in group(s) that are at least six feet apart.

Discourage hugging and handshakes. Greeters should greet members with a wave and a smile (a masked smile of course.)

Pay attention to members entering and exiting the worship service, making certain members are adhering to social distancing as individuals or family units. When entering and Exiting; consider having one door for entering and one for exiting. Allow 10 seconds between families to enter and exit the building. Exit each row at a time starting at the row closes to the exit. 

Comply with government regulations around capacity limits. Will members and new attendees be able to reserve a seat ahead of time? If your church fills to capacity, consider having an overflow room or adding another service. For larger churches, consider offering more, smaller worship services.

Encourage members in high risk categories to worship with your church online. “At-Risk Population” is defined by the CDC as, “… those who are 65 or older, especially those with chronic lung disease; moderate to severe asthma; chronic heart disease; severe obesity; diabetes; chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis; liver disease; or weakened immune system.”

Congregational singing is discouraged as droplets of the virus are spread even more widely.  Soloists, worship leadersand choirs need to sing from the back of the chancel area (or some other location) putting the greatest distance between them and the congregation. Churches with a choir need to space members 12 feet apart and sanitize hymnals and folders after each use.

 

Photo by Kats Barry, UM News

Remove Items in High Touch Areas

Remove hymnals, Bibles and pens in the pews, or sanitize each item between services. Instead of paper bulletins, consider emailing your members the bulletin or putting the information on a large screen at the front of the church. Encourage attendees to register their attendance electronically, by email or other means you already have in place.

Refrain from passing collection plates and instead provide a central collection box in the building or encourage online giving.

Consider suspending food and beverage services, including coffee, or follow the CDC guidelines for churches for this service.

 

Sacraments

Consider how the Lord’s Supper can be administered without attendees having to touch the same surfaces and objects. Hand sanitizer should be provided for servers and the pastor(s) and do not drink from a common cup.

Baptisms:  Encourage families to wait for baptisms so that the entire family can all be present.

If a family insists, then consider only the parents and siblings be in the baptism and video tape the baptism for other members.

 

 

Childcare/Nursery Area

All church weekday child care programs are encouraged to follow the latest guidance the Texas Department Health and Human Services Covid-19 Guidance to Child Care Providers

Sanitize and disinfect your nursery.

Keep toys picked up, putting out a few at a time, and not allowing children to share toys if possible.  Use duplicates for second child.

Sanitize all surfaces

Wipe runny noses; then clean child/worker hands with hand sanitizer.  Avoid snacks when possible.

Have cleaning supplies handy for adults, out of reach of children.

Use hand sanitizer after changing diapers.

Other Resources

Re-opening your church District Zoom: join your District Superintendent next week to connect with others about re-opening the church.

CDC Guidelines for Community & Faith Based Organizations 

Consider printing applicable guidance posters available from the CDC and posting in the church in appropriate locations. Posters are available to print. 

Texas Governor Abbott’s plan to reopen Texas  

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, and Homes

Centers  for Disease Control and Prevention – Cleaning and Disinfection for Community Facilities  

Helpful blog post: 24 Questions Your Church Should Answer Before People Return

"Rolling Restart" Sample spreadsheet (Credit: INJOY Stewardship Solutions)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Guidance for When to Reopen Workplaces

CDC Interim Guidance for Employers

CDC Cleaning and Disinfection Instructions

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19

State of Texas and Texas Workforce Commission Resources for Employers

Texas Department of State Health Services Checklists for Office-based Employers and Staff members

Greater Houston Partnership Principles to Guide Reopening

Houston Methodist Hospital Information and Recommendations

Workplace Decision Tree