What Georgia churches need to know about reopening church

Apr 22, 2020 | Articles

EDIT: Gov. Kemp has now issued additional guidance on reopening church. Here’s the sccop.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced Monday, April 21, that our state would undergo a partial reopening in the next couple of weeks.

Gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, estheticians, their respective schools, and massage therapists can reopen their doors Friday, April 24, with restrictions. Theaters, private social clubs, and restaurant dine-in services will be allowed to reopen on Monday, April 27, again with restrictions. Governor Kemp also said that he will let the current shelter-in-place order expire at the end of the day on Thursday, April 30.

For churches, the Governor’s remarks were a little more vague: “For places of worship, holding in-person services is allowed, but under Phase One guidelines, it must be done in accordance with strict social distancing protocols. I urge faith leaders to continue to help us in this effort and keep their congregations safe by heeding the advice of public health officials. Of course, online, call-in, or drive-in services remain good options for religious institutions.”

On Tuesday, April 21, the Georgia Baptist Mission Board had an informative webinar with the governor’s office. Some good advice came out of that meeting:

  • Online services and drive-in services may still be best for the next few weeks for many churches. It is probably unwise to start meeting on site right away.
  • Refer to the governor’s original list of 20 requirements for non-critical organizations. Let this inform your planning if you do decide to re-open.
  • If you do decide to open, keep in mind that people must be six feet apart in all directions (although a family that lives together can sit close to each other). This means that room occupancy will be significantly reduced, and you may need to offer multiple services and manage the crowds.
  • As you plan, keep this in mind: Do only what you can defend.
  • Keep babies with the family, not in a nursery.
  • No congregating in the lobby.
  • Restrooms should be closed, or if used consider having someone standing by to clean in between each use. Restrooms are breeding grounds for the virus.
  • Do not pass an offering plate but have a drop box in the back after the service.
  • Dismiss in an orderly fashion, by row, similar to how funerals dismiss.
  • Ask congregants to wear masks.
  • Have masks and hand sanitizer available.
  • Ask the elderly and the medically fragile to stay home.
  • Keep an online meeting option for those who can’t or are afraid to attend.
  • No bulletins or other handouts and no coffee.
  • Consider keeping doors propped open so no one has to touch them, and make plans to sanitize other heavily touched areas often.
  • Consider that you may need to recruit additional volunteer hospitality team members as you will lose senior adult volunteers and you may need more people for additional services and additional stations (such as cleaning restrooms.

For further reading

24 Questions Your Church Should Answer Before People Return

Basic Guide for Returning to Your Church Building after COVID-19