Churches across the Commonwealth are beginning to open back up to allow for congregations to once again meet indoors. Some of our local houses of worship are making their own plans to do just that, while others will be giving it just a little more time before announcing the return of in-person services.
Paul Sims, Minister of Music and Worship at First Baptist Church of Corbin, recently said, “After announcing the date, the Governor said, ‘Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.’ That statement, to me, means that church leaders should carefully consider, and prepare for, all of the protocols that need to be in place before reopening churches for in-person worship or Bible study.”
“At First Baptist, we are carefully considering information garnered from various sources,” Sims continued. “Including ‘Guidelines for Opening Up American Again,’ from The White House and Centers for Disease Control, TeamKentucky Covid-19 Response from the Office of the Governor, and from our denomination, The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. With this information at hand, our church council will determine what protocols will need to be in place before an opening date can be announced. Protocols will include things like reduced capacity, physical distancing, and cleaning and sanitizing strategies. The church council will also determine a timeline for reopening our various activities.”
“We have been livestreaming our worship services for several years now on YouTube and on Facebook Live,” Sims said. “And before that, we were live on local access cable for more than 40 years. In the past few weeks we have worked to enhance our online presence, including streamlining our Sunday morning worship experience. We have also added weekday Bible studies from our three interim preachers – Jefferson Calico, Phil Majors and Alice Tremaine. These opportunities for worship and Bible study will continue after in-person services resume. In July, we plan to offer an online Vacation Bible School experience for the children of our congregation and community.”
“Like others I have talked to, I assumed that our first Sunday back to church would be something like Easter, with a church full of people glad to be there. Reality, I’m afraid, will be something altogether different. Rather than one grand re-opening, church activities will resume gradually, over a period of months. During the time of shut-down, and during the period of re-opening, we will learn new ways to be the church, to continue the work of Jesus in our lives and in our community.”
Bobby Joe Eaton, Pastor at Poplar Grove Baptist Church, reports that his drive-in church services have been so successful lately that there are currently no plans to change the format for Sunday morning services.
“Our drive-in church services have been very successful,” Eaton said. “We have plenty of room for everyone with the parking lot and the field next to the church. If we try to bring people back into the building right now we will have to take everyone’s temperature, provide masks and make sure everyone sits six feet apart.”
“We’re just going to keep on doing what we’ve been doing, because it has really, really worked out well for us. We’ve actually had a lot of visitors, so we will just keep it up indefinitely.”
As for how his drive-in services work, Eaton explained, “Once churchgoers arrive they tune the proper frequency into their radios. Cones are set out to make sure everyone parks six feet apart, and they enjoy some music until the service begins.”
Eaton preaches from inside church, and at conclusion of the service he comes out to wave at folks as they leave. As they pull out, they can drop offerings out their windows into a contribution box.
“We’ve had a lot of visitors,” Eaton said. “People who wouldn’t normally go to church. We are reaching some that we never have before, maybe never would have.”
“It has worked out so much better than I thought it would. I was apprehensive about it at first, but now we are going to keep it going, continuing to offer it as an option even when in-person services resume.”
Regardless of which approach churches are taking right now, the process of getting people back into the pews is going to be gradual. Same as with restaurants and retail stores, full churches is what we want to see, but it must be done in a safe and responsible manner.