Kentucky Baptists were glad to hear Gov. Andy Beshear’s recent announcement that guidelines will soon be in place for churches to begin in-person services on May 20.
For the pastor who has been preaching to the congregations via Facebook live, this came as welcomed news.
While the announcement did not include explicit details, we expect those to come by the end of next week. We do know that in-person services will not look the same as they have in the past. We anticipate returning to the building in smaller numbers, possibly a percentage of the fire marshal seating capacity, but we do not know what those numbers will be.
We also know that churches are going to be expected to have a plan in place for how they will care for the most vulnerable members of their congregation. Even though our buildings will begin to re-open there may be some church members who will be best served by continuing to view the services online for a while longer. Church leaders will want to think through how they can best serve this segment of the population in an ongoing battle against the coronavirus.
Here are some things we feel reasonably certain will be different when we return to in-person services:
Church attenders will likely wear masks: I have a mask. It does not look good on me. I hate to wear it. But if wearing a mask may keep another person from becoming sick, then neighbor love will make me wear it with pride.
We will be seated further from each other: In some instances, a certain number of chairs will be removed from the worship center and in others some portions of the pews will be available for guests while other parts of the pew will be blocked off.
Many of our traditional practices will be suspended: There will probably not be any choirs, the passing of offering plates, Sunday School, or child-care in these early re-entry services. We also know that the traditional meet and greet, handshakes and hugs, will be on hold indefinitely.
We may need to ask our most vulnerable church members to stay home: While every pastor I know wants as many people as possible in the building we may be at a time where we have to encourage those in weakened physical conditions to remain home for a little while longer and view the services online.
We may need to establish communication with local elected officials: While Baptists understand that the right to assemble for worship does not come from our elected officials, in fact the role of our elected official is to protect our right to assemble, we will want to cooperate the best we can and be good neighbors to our mayors, council members, judge-executives, and others. This may be a good time, as churches develop their re-entry plan, to give a heads up that the church will resume meeting on May 20 while practicing safe social distancing.
We will see more hand sanitizer and cleaner buildings than we have ever seen: Each church will want to have a plan in place for how they will sanitize the building before reentry and also, in the case of multiple services, between services.
We will need to communicate our plans clearly: It is impossible to overcommunicate and even more so when we are in a transition time. Each pastor and church leadership team will want to overcommunicate to their congregation their plan on how things will be different when we return to in-person services.
We will likely need more help from greeters and ushers: Services such as holding doors, pointing people to the seating plan, even possibly asking church attenders to abide with agreed upon safe social distancing could be functions that greeters and ushers will help with for the early weeks of in-person services.
We may need an overflow room: If we decide on a percentage of seating capacity and more than that number arrives for worship we may need an overflow space that provides streaming of the services as well as seating that honors social distancing.
These are all issues that no pastor imagined he would find himself needing to address three months ago but that every pastor will need to think through in the coming weeks. Please be assured that your Kentucky Baptist Convention is using every available means to advocate on your behalf with our elected officials and will continue to do so in the future. While the above information will become more detailed in coming days we feel reasonably sure that all these things will need to be addressed as we prepare the building for re-entry on Wednesday, May 20, and then on Sunday, May 24.
While these are challenging times, as everyone has said, they are also great times. God is doing things in us and through us. The church was never closed. We have just been meeting in different ways than normal and soon we will be meeting together again. May the Lord’s blessings abide on the 2,360 churches that make up the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Todd Gray is executive director-treasurer of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.