Guidelines for Reopening Churches

April 29, 2020
Guidelines for Reopening Churches

Social distancing guidelines have created great challenges for churches since March, but now we begin to look toward life and ministry after the pandemic. Just as social distancing has required us to minister and function as churches in unconventional ways, this experience also gives churches a tremendous opportunity to evaluate their ministry. Change will be needed. In some instances, change will come from the necessity to function differently in light of the pandemic. In other cases, churches looking through post-pandemic lenses will identify changes that needed to occur before the crisis. Colossians 4:5b exhorts us to “make the most of every opportunity.” Let us prayerfully consider how God can position us to emerge from this crisis making the greatest Kingdom impact!


This document, along with governmental guidelines, serves as a guide for ABSC churches as you begin planning your church’s return. In light of the fact that ABSC churches are all unique with different ministries, properties, group sizes, and leadership structures, this three-part guide provides general guidelines and poses questions to help your church identify issues to address as you anticipate gathering once again.  


Free resource: this spreadsheet will assist your church leadership in the decision to reopen your church. Download the spreadsheet by clicking here.



Part 1 – Leader’s Planning Guide

Part 2 – Planning the Initial Gathering

Part 3 – Ministry Moving Forward






As we wait for the day when churches once again gather, give strong consideration to maximizing this time to prepare for the days ahead. Your church will be faced with countless decisions. Wise, proactive leadership is needed as you prepare your congregation.


  1. Form a team (or utilize the team formed to initially address social distancing issues)
    1. Determine the proper way to form the team based on the church’s polity.
    2. Purpose: To help the pastor plan the return
    3. Team name: Restart Team (Relaunch Team or Return Team)
    4. Team members: Respected church members who are strategic and prayerful


  1. Brainstorm issues church leadership needs to address before the return (refer to Part 2: Planning the Initial Gathering and Part 3: Ministry Moving Forward).


  1. Consider surveying the congregation for insight into their concerns and perspectives.

Three Options:

    1. Conversational survey with church members through personal conversations
    2. A free Lifeway survey (click here
    3. An online survey created specifically for your church


  1. Create a strategic plan to address issues identified by church leadership
    1. Refer to Part 2: Planning the Initial Gathering and Part 3: Ministry Moving Forward
    2. Continue to stay informed of government guidelines:
      1. Federal Government Guidelines for Reopening
      2. Governor Hutchison's COVID-19 Website
      3. Arkansas Department of Health Guidance for Faith-Based Organizations


  1. Develop an effective and comprehensive communication plan.
    1. Communication is essential to ensuring that church members understand the strategic steps church leadership is taking to ensure a safe return.
    2. Lack of communication during this time may lead to misunderstanding and conflict.
    3. Consider employing email, social media, website, and direct mail in your communication strategy.


  1. Prepare for spiritual warfare.

We are praying that God will use this pandemic to bring revival to our churches and spiritual awakening to our state and nation. Simultaneously, Satan will do all he can to wreak havoc. As churches begin to gather, the environment will be ripe for conflict. Be alert to the spiritual warfare that may lie ahead.

  1. Strong opinions may exist about the decisions that need to be made as the church begins to gather (too safe vs. too soon).
  2. The pastor and staff must reacclimate to changing ministry demands, expectations, and pace when gatherings resume.
  3. Church leaders need wisdom to know how to address those attendees whose close proximity consistently makes other attendees uncomfortable. 
  4. Some volunteers may not resume service out of health concerns or a desire to continue the unhurried pace of life.         

Part 2: Planning the Initial Gathering


Creating a Safe Space


“Is it safe to return?” That is the primary concern many members will have initially. The church must take every reasonable action to protect those who attend from sickness. In addition to safety, this period of social distancing also allows the church to access their property to determine what upkeep, repairs, or updates might be needed.


  1. Disinfection
    1. How will the church be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before the initial return?
    2. How will the church regularly disinfect the property once gatherings resume?
    3. Who will perform the initial and ongoing disinfection?
    4. How frequently will disinfection occur?
    5. What resources are needed and where will they come from?
    6. Determine how best to communicate to your church the cleaning methods you are employing to keep them safe.
    7. Make plans to continue to provide hand sanitizer in all strategic points.


  1. Social Distance at Church
    1. How will the church encourage maintaining a safe distance between attendees?
      • In worship?
      • In classes and groups?
      • In meetings?
      • In ministry settings?
      • In restrooms?
    2. How will the church address the challenge of having children maintain social distance?
    3. To what extent will the church enforce social distancing guidelines and practices?
    4. Take extra time to train individuals such as your return team, greeters, deacons, teachers, etc. how to graciously handle these conversations and moments with church members.


  1. Upkeep and Repairs
    1. Did any part of the church property fall into disrepair during the shutdown?
    2. Did any part of the church property need upkeep or repair before the shutdown?
    3. When will those repairs take place? Can they occur prior to the return?


  1. Updates
    1. Are any parts of the church property in need of significant updating?
    2. Does the church have the financial resources to proceed with the needed updates?
    3. Who in the church has the authority to make decisions about property updates?




The Return


We anticipate being able to gather once again as social distancing guidelines are relaxed. Group size will increase as Arkansas transitions from one phase to the next. At this point, we are left to speculate about specific social distancing guidelines at each phase.


  1. Beginning the Return
    1. When should we begin gathering for worship if our average worship attendance is less than the maximum group size?
    2. When should our Sunday School classes/small groups start meeting on the church property if they do not exceed the maximum group size?
    3. Can multiple classes/groups, each less than the maximum group size, meet on church property at the same time in different spaces? Should we stagger the meeting times?
    4. How and what do we communicate to those who should initially delay returning based on age or health? Will online worship continue for them?


  1. Celebrating the Return
    1. When do we celebrate our return?
      • The first Sunday back?
      • A future Sunday when we can all worship together?
      • Both?
    2. How should we celebrate our return? What should the first service back include?



Preparing for Guests


Your church’s recent online presence may have resulted in increased participation based on the number of “views.” That means some people are watching the services who are not a part of the church. Some of those watching may live in your community, and they are probably more interested in attending than ever before. Make sure you are ready for them.


  1. How have you gathered guest information through online worship?


  1. How have you followed up on that information?


  1. Have you intentionally invited online viewers to attend worship in person once it begins?


  1. How will guests be welcomed in the midst of social distancing?
    1. What will your greeter ministry look like?
    2. Will you open the door for attendees?
    3. How will you instruct members to welcome guests?


  1. How will you intentionally follow up with guests?


  1. How and when will you follow up with online guests who never visit in person?



Worship Service


Your worship services will look different as we begin gathering in the midst of social distancing. Practices we used to give no thought to are now a potential threat to public health.


  1. Bulletins: How will church information be shared weekly in the absence of bulletins?


  1. Seating: What will be the seating arrangement in the worship service to ensure adherence to social distancing guidelines? Will multiple services be required?


  1. The Offering: How will you collect the offering without passing the plate?


  1. Microphones: Will you provide a microphone for everyone to use onstage? Will you disinfect shared microphones?


  1. Choir: How long will the choir be suspended based on social distancing?


  1. The Invitation: How will you invite people to respond at the end of the message without compromising social distance?


  1. The Lord’s Supper: How will you participate in the Lord’s Supper without passing the elements?




PART 3: Ministry Moving Forward



Sunday School & Small Groups


This time apart accentuates the need for Sunday School classes and small groups. Some classes and groups have continued to meet online during the shutdown. Some have not. We need to help them prepare for the return.


  1. When will classes and groups begin meeting in person?


  1. Will classes/groups need to relocate to other rooms to follow social distancing guidelines?


  1. What changes need to be communicated to teachers and group leaders (such as no coffee pot)?


  1. Have we communicated with our teachers and group leaders to determine class/group content upon return?  


  1. Do materials/curricula need to be ordered?


  1. How will guests intentionally be connected to Sunday School classes and small groups?


  1. Should we consider starting new classes or groups for guests?


  1. Do we need to consider multiple hours of Sunday school in order to enhance social distancing practices? Was there already a need to move to multiple Sunday School hours and this period has created an opportunity to do that more smoothly?



Financial Issues


The economy has taken a big hit. People have lost jobs. Churches who only collect the offering by passing offering plates have scrambled to embrace online giving. What affect has it had on your church?


  1. How has giving during the shutdown compared to giving during regular times?


  1. How have expenses during the shutdown compared to expenses during regular times?


  1. How have expenses compared to undesignated receipts during the shutdown?


  1. If giving has decreased, what adjustments will the church make to the remainder of the 2020 budget to compensate?


  1. How will the church attempt to help meet the needs of those church members who are struggling financially?


  1. How will you handle non-member benevolence requests?


  1. How are you clearly communicating the financial situation to the church during this disconnected time?


  1. Based on your church’s polity requirements, what approvals do you need on an ongoing basis to provide proper authority for the church to continue its operations?



Children & Students


Healthy children’s and student ministries are vital to churches under normal circumstances. Moving forward, churches must take even greater care to ensure safe, healthy, and effective ministry to children and students.


  1. Children’s Ministry


    1. Weekly ministry
      • When will the church resume offering a nursery?
      • If your church had Children’s Church, will it resume? If so, when?
      • Would you add the specific idea of a children’s sermon to promote interaction during the worship service? Even if you do not bring them forward due to social distancing, there is an opportunity to be creative and engage the children.
      • Can we create resources for children to interact with during the worship service?
      • When will children’s Sunday School and other Sunday activities restart?
      • When will children’s mid-week programming resume?
      • If applicable, when will van/bus ministry resume?
      • Which children’s ministry volunteers might be most at risk?


    1. Special events
      • Will the church have VBS this summer? If not, what children’s outreach event(s) will be offered in its place? Day camps? Backyard Bible Clubs?
      • Will the children attend camp this summer? If not, what event(s) will be offered in its place?


  1. Student Ministry


    1. Weekly ministry
      • When will students’ Sunday School/small groups restart?
      • When will students’ mid-week programming resume?
      • Which student ministry volunteers might be most at risk?


    1. Special events
      • Will the students attend camp this summer? If not, what event(s) will be offered in its place?
      • When and how will high school and college graduates be recognized?
      • When will students’ outings and activities resume?



Ongoing Online Presence


Many churches have learned more about having an online presence since the middle of March than they have in their entire history. Now that we have crossed that threshold, what will our online presence consist of in the future?


  1. Will your church continue to offer online worship in the short-term for those who are not comfortable with returning? Will your church continue to offer online worship long-term?


  1. Will your church continue to conduct meetings via online meeting platforms such as Zoom after restrictions are lifted?


  1. Will your church offer any Sunday School classes or small groups online via online meeting platforms such as Zoom after restrictions are lifted?



Mid-Week Activities


Mid-week activities play a key role in many churches’ ministry strategies. For some churches, large children’s and student ministries make Wednesday evenings the largest gathering of the week. We must consider what those times will look like.


    1. When will you resume gathering on mid-week on any level?


    1. What will mid-week gatherings look like when they resume?


    1. If you normally serve a meal, will that resume? If so, when?


    1. At what point will you resume a full schedule of mid-week activities?





Churches cannot fulfill their God-given ministry without volunteers. Most of your volunteers have had a significant break during the shutdown. What will volunteer ministry look like as you slowly return?


  1. Have you communicated with your volunteers during the shutdown?


  1. Have any volunteers resigned from their positions?


  1. What existing volunteer positions need to be filled as the church begins to gather?


  1. Are any existing volunteer positions obsolete in light of the changes taking place? If so, how will you transition those volunteers to other ministries?


  1. What new volunteer positions need to be identified and filled as the church begins to gather?


  1. Engage directly with committee and ministry team leaders to re-engage their ministry volunteers to prepare for the return and the requirements that brings.








Many churches plan mission activity over the summer. Some trips have been canceled, and others will be canceled as restrictions remain in place. Our mission does not change. How can we adjust?


  1. What local outreach/mission/ministry opportunities exist within your community that your church can embrace?


  1. Depending on summer social distancing guidelines, is an in-state mission trip an option? Could you help another ABSC church that is struggling to impact their community?


  1. The need and the opportunity to support missionaries is great in this time. Consider developing a plan to pray for, connect with, and/or contact missionaries with whom your church partners. They are impacted greatly during this time and need our direct support. If you do not have direct partnerships, this could be a great time to begin with a prayer ministry and build a relationship directly with IMB missionaries or NAMB church planters, especially in areas hard hit by the pandemic.


Use this time to remind your church that their gifts through the Cooperative Program support IMB missionaries and NAMB church planters. Our missionaries are depending on us more than ever. Please consider including this video from the SBC Executive Committee that reminds us of the importance of supporting missions. Here is the link: