If you haven’t thought about it already, now is the time to consider responding to a pandemic at your church. Our thoughts often jump to things like ebola, the Zika virus, or, most recently, Coronavirus. The reality is that influenza could be a pandemic in your community. When you have a response plan in place, you can effectively communicate and serve your church during a pandemic. Doing so shows preparedness, not panic.
Any plan you develop must be contextualized to your church. You should take into consideration the specifics of your facility and your local community resources. While finding suggestions online can be helpful, you should never simply copy and paste a plan without considering your church’s specifics.
Form a Task Force
To get started, form a task force. This team should consist of church staff and key ministry leaders like kids ministry, guest services, and church hospitality. Any ministry that interacts with multiple people on a given Sunday should have specific response tasks as part of your plan. The team should also include licensed safety and medical personnel, like police officers, first responders, and nurses. Once you have established this team, begin to work on your plan.
This task force will also be responsible for monitoring local conditions should a pandemic impact your community. The team should utilize resources from local and state health departments, the CDC, and FEMA to determine the severity in your area. Do not rely solely on media coverage.
If your attendance suddenly drops by 25% and local resources determine there is a possible pandemic in your community, you implement phase 1. This is the time to pull out your plan and start communicating with your staff, ministry leaders, church members, and non-church groups that use your facility. You may also increase regular cleanings of your facility, add hand sanitizing stations especially in high traffic areas, use pre-filled cups for the Lord’s Supper, and remind parents of your sick child policy. Get everyone aware and prepared to implement phases 2 and 3, should they become necessary. Again, by communicating in advance, you show you are prepared and not panicked.
If absenteeism moves to 40%, you implement phase 2. This is when you change normal Sunday morning operations and should consider things like propping open doors to avoid unnecessary human contact, skipping greeting times during services, and restricting building access for weeknight activities and to non-church groups who use your facility. Again, having a plan and communicating in advance helps your church and these groups to not be caught off guard should you need to implement it.
If absenteeism reaches 60%, you must face the reality that your normal Sunday operations have been disrupted. In phase 3, you implement the portions of your plan that may include canceling services and livestreaming a sermon instead.
Each phase may be a week, a month, or longer, depending on the severity of the pandemic in your area. Once attendance trends upward, you can start resuming normal operations. To some churches, canceling services may sound extreme, but the reality is that if 50% or more of your people are out, normal Sunday morning operations aren’t normal or sometimes even possible. Yes, your weekly giving may take a hit, but this is why investing in online and app giving options beforehand are crucial in the digital age.
Once attendance starts trending upward, you can back down each phase and return to normal operations. This may take a few weeks or months depending on how severe the pandemic is in your area. The most important thing is to establish your plan and communicate it in advance so your staff, volunteers, and church members know what to expect. Promote preparedness, not panic.
Free Training for Your Church
Our team wants to help you and your church take the appropriate measures to protect your church and have a plan in place to continue to make disciples in the midst of a pandemic. You may access our free training videos, sample response plan, and several ministry hygiene and cleaning checklists here.
Please note this training is not intended to be legal counsel or to provide holistic training for how to respond to a pandemic but is an accessible tutorial on considerations for creating a response plan that is contextualized for your local church and community.