A Guide to Opening Church Doors Safely

Since the COVID-19 curve is flattening in many of our communities, we are cautiously optimistic that our current forced hibernation will come to an end. We will emerge from our urban caves and nests, experts now in barbering and baking bread without yeast, to a new normal.

By now, we understand that we should not all herd to public places and venues without care. Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned that this is not the time to ease physical distancing measures. Our situation is likened to “making our way down the mountain in the darkness." 

As restrictions are being lifted and we are implementing a phased approach to reopening up our communities, what could this look like for churches? How can churches slowly begin to open their doors and meet in person? Besides the usual cleaning procedures and avoiding handshakes, what are other measures churches can use to return to “normal” in-person gatherings again?

  1. Attendance at Services

    To allow for continual physical distancing, consider holding multiple services for the allowable limit of people to worship together at any given time. If not possible, then perhaps request the congregation to worship in person on alternate weeks.

    To help you manage attendance, Sunergo is currently developing a new tool. It will allow churchgoers to register in advance for a limited number of spots for any given service. Upon arrival, there will be a contactless way to check in. This registration and check-in process will help you keep track of who has attended which service in case there is need for future contact tracing.

    Until this tool rolls out (likely midsummer), Sunergo has other tools you can use in the interim. To determine which members should attend which service or which week of service, use Contacts Report to generate an alphabetical listing of heads of household names and simply divide the numbered list into groups. Alternately, create a Postal Code Report to list families by their location and decide which postal codes can attend which services. Select the “Regular Attender” filter to create a more up-to-date list. Congregants can be notified via mass email and an update on your website.

    Another Sunergo tool available now that can help manage attendance is Event Registration. Have members sign up online for Sunday service. Once the quota of allowable numbers is reached, then registration for that particular service will close.

    Alternately, Advanced Forms can be used. Register each attendee one by one to utilize the “Maximum Number of Responses” option. Again, these are temporary measures until our new registration tool is available.

  2. Singing in Worship

    According to a report from the CDC, “presymptomatic transmission might occur through generation of respiratory droplets or possibly through indirect transmission. Speech and other vocal activities such as singing have been shown to generate air particles, with the rate of emission corresponding to voice loudness.” This finding seems to be supported by the experience of a choir who decided to meet for practice at Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church back in March. About 45 of the 60 singers became ill with COVID-19 with two fatalities.

    If churches decide to continue worshiping in song, provide masks for those who do not have their own to wear to service. Alternately, only have the worship team sing as congregants spend this time in contemplation and meditation.

  3. Giving

    Many people are wary of handling cash that have been circulating among the public. Even cheques can be problematic. The WHO has recommended the use of contactless payment as much as possible. Mastercard and Visa have raised the tap limit on all credit cards to $250 from $100.

    To keep volunteers who count offerings safe, encourage the congregation to give online or via Text to Give. Another option is to set up a tablet or laptop with kiosk mode in a central location of your building to receive cashless payment on site. Provide disinfectant and alcohol wipes to clean the screen between uses.

    All three cashless options are available through Sunergo. Please contact us for more information and free demos.

  4. Holy Communion

    Consider purchasing or making your own prefilled (prepackaged) communion cups. They hold both the juice and communion wafer in a single container. Peel back the first seal to remove the wafer and then the second seal for the juice. They are safe and convenient to administer.

    Instead of passing them among the congregation, space them apart on a few tables around the worship area. Ushers can help people form safe lines to pick up the elements themselves. Provide multiple garbage cans for people to dispose of their empty cups.

  5. Children's Ministry

    Anyone who has worked with children knows that it is difficult for them to be vigilant about maintaining a safe physical distance during group gatherings. For the present moment, it may be best for some kids to sit with their family during Sunday service.

    Kids who can handle more restrictions in a classroom setting may be allowed to attend Sunday school again. In these cases, ask kids to sanitize their hands upon entry into class. Space out chairs and limit the number of children who can use each room. Because there should be no sharing of materials, ask kids to bring their own writing supplies or provide Ziplock bags with supplies for each child.

    If you plan on leading kids in some fun group activities that don’t allow for physical distancing, help them get prepared to do it safely. First, have them sanitize their hands. Then, have them put on some face protection. Increase cooperation by allowing them to make a choice. They can either wear a mask or a full-face shield. Many masks come in bright colours with fun designs. Many face shields for kids are attached to hats that are easy to wear. Remember not to force kids to wear protection; rather, take the time to encourage kids to make this choice. Skillful leaders will explain the reasons why it is important to do difficult things in order to take care of their community. Make it fun by pretending to be superheroes who wear “safety costumes” before playing together. Allow kids to personalize and decorate their own face protection.

    With the weather warming up, consider having class outside. Use aerosol spray chalk to draw colourful circles on the ground for each child. This visual reminder is a fun way to help kids stay safely apart. Tie knots on a rope every six feet and have children hold onto a knot as they go for a walk around the neighbourhood. Some ambitious leaders might want to try and make a life-size foosball game. Kids can maintain distance by holding onto their spot on a pole while playing “soccer”.

These transitional measures will help churches make their way “down the mountain in the darkness” safely. They will ensure that all the hard work done to flatten the curve won’t be wasted. As always, please adapt these suggestions to make sure they adhere to your local provincial and national health guidelines.

If you have thoughts or suggestions on this topic, please let us know via email or on social media. Together, we can share ways to help each other open church doors again safely.



This material has been prepared for informational purposes only and reflects the opinion of the author. It is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on as professional advice. You should consult appropriate professionals for your specific situation.

Categories: Planning