Churches need flexibility and patience in days ahead

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- As church leaders look to resume in-person worship services, one Kentucky Baptist offers a piece of advice for planners, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not break.” That may not be in the Bible, but Jason Lowe, associational mission strategist based in Pikeville, believes, “There’s a strong likelihood that your return plan will need to be adjusted multiple times, so be prepared to be flexible.”

Lowe is one of 67 associational mission strategists or directors of missions across Kentucky. These church leaders work with groups of Baptist churches in a specific county or region.

The vast majority of churches have taken the coronavirus pandemic seriously and have displayed a desire to be good citizens. “We are called to ‘be subject to the governing authorities’ placed over us according to Romans 13. A life that honors God understands authority, submission, and deference to the needs of others,” Todd Robertson, AMS at the Louisville Regional Baptist Association said.

“These realities mean we have to take seriously those guidelines that the state and medical experts at the CDC provide. There may be a debate on how to apply those guidelines and the difference between ‘must’ requirements and ‘should’ suggestions, but there shouldn’t be a debate about honoring and respecting what we are asked to consider,” he said.

The leaders believe a church’s plans for a worship service should begin in the parking lot. “Start your physical distancing strategy in the parking lot. Finding ways to point people to the appropriate entrances and help pace them as they enter the building. This will be essential to avoiding lines, crowded corridors, and backed up aisles,” said David Stokes, executive director of the Central Kentucky Network of Baptists.

“Communicate the measures you are taking before folks arrive. Once you have a plan, share it as often and as widely as possible before your first Sunday. In addition to proper signage posted throughout the areas which will be in use, consider enlisting young people to hold fun and creative signs with social distancing guidelines outside,” Lowe said.

CDC guidelines recommend worship service participants wear masks and consider having their temperatures checked before entering a worship service. “Churches should evaluate the unique needs of their congregation and plan to stock items accordingly. At a minimum, they should have facemasks, hand sanitizer, and gloves available. Other items should be added to the list as needed,” Stokes said.

Robertson agrees about the masks and hand sanitizer. He adds, “Those who already have masks should be encouraged to bring them. Volunteers and staff should be provided with masks.”

Pastors are accustomed to dealing with people in every stage of life, but the coronavirus pandemic has brought on new challenges. Robertson encourages pastors to be patient with people as they decide when to return to in-person worship services, “Treat them with grace and encourage others to do likewise. People should be encouraged to return as they feel comfortable doing so. There will be opinions on both ends of the spectrum regarding when and how to return.”

Lowe believes continuing to provide an online option will be beneficial during this first phase of recovery, “Continue to provide alternative means to worship until they are ready to return to in-person gatherings. Also, encourage all members to avoid a judgmental attitude toward others who approach their return to in-person services differently.”

Robertson encourages pastors to share the weight of leadership as they shepherd their congregation through this process. “Show yourself and others grace and deference. You aren’t an expert, so get the best advice you can and proceed as wisely as you are able. Seek the Lord’s guidance and trust your well-counseled discernment.”

A list of the governor’s guidelines for phase one of in-person church worship services can be found here.

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