Don’t Reopen Until You’ve Thought Through These Three Things

In a season of massive public restrictions and closed buildings, here’s why I’m telling my coaching clients to slow down and think through three things no one is talking about before reopening their church doors.

The three things are:

  1. Quality
  2. Children
  3. Singing

Though we theologically know that the church is not about buildings (or dependent upon buildings and large group gatherings), it’s what we’ve known and built our ministries around.

So our first response has been to reopen and “get back to normal” as soon as possible, even if it means social distancing, constant cleaning, and restricted crowds.

Now I’m the last person to rip on buildings. We are a multi-campus church and I love what our campuses and buildings allow us to do. They allow us to provide a higher quality service, reach more people, and they create an environment that’s conducive to come-and-see evangelism.

All of those are big-time wins in my view. But while there are lots of reasons to reopen our churches as soon as possible, there’s also a grave danger in abandoning our newly found online focus in order to reopen too soon. And it’s not just the risk of COVID-19 infections.

Here’s what nobody seemed to notice in their rush to reopen as quickly as possible.

Social distancing most often creates an awful worship experience

A scattered crowd in a partially filled building is almost always a negative experience. If you’ve ever gone to a game where the stadium is half-empty, or a comedy in a theater with scatted seating you know what I mean. As a preacher or a congregant, a socially distanced scattered crowd leaves me cold. There’s no way I’m inviting a friend next week and not much chance that I’ll look forward to coming back next myself.

Children don’t do social distancing well

Most children will come out of a strictly socially distanced classroom reluctant to come back again. And if we bring them into our worship services, we’ve just added one more negative factor to an already dreadful worship service.

On top of that, today’s parents are incredibly protective. We are raising the most helmeted, seat-belted, don’t play in the front yard or ride your bike in the street generation ever. These parents are not about to drop their kids off in a classroom with stranger’s kids until the threat of COVID-19 is ancient history.

Singing in close quarters has proven to be one of the best ways to spread the COVID-19 virus

The highest contagion rates are senior care facilities, cruise ships, bars, and choirs. Just put your hand in front of your mouth and sing a bit. You’ll realize how dangerous singing in an enclosed space is—even with social distancing.

And removing the risk by singing far apart (or with masks) only makes a quality worship service all the more out of reach. It would be just one more strike against an already cringeworthy experience.

So when should we reopen?

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t reopen the doors as soon as possible if we can provide a positive experience for those who attend. Until then it’s best to continue focusing on raising the quality bar for our online services and ministry.

What about those who are clamoring to get back in the building even if it’s a bad experience for most people? There’s always the option of providing a service or two for them without giving the impression to the majority of the congregation that everyone should come back now—or even worse, sabotaging our newly found online focus.

For more on this topic, check out my YouTube video.