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A s coronavirus-related restrictions on in-person gatherings loosen, churches are navigating a sea of questions and challenges. And while some churches have already resumed in-person gatherings, many churches are still in the midst of the reopening process. So we’ve curated a list of excellent reopening resources for churches to help you navigate both the practical and theological aspects of beginning to gather in person again. (You can check out Faithward’s past guidance for reopening here.)

The problem with the word “reopening”

The word “reopening” itself carries theological problems. For something to reopen, it has to have been closed. And while our buildings may have closed this spring due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the true church is not a building. The body of Christ never closed. On Zoom calls, YouTube channels, Facebook Live videos, and even congregation-wide conference calls, we have continued to worship and fellowship with one another. And we’ve found creative ways to be good neighbors from a distance, too. 

So when we talk about reopening the church, we’re not saying that the church was closed before. And we’re not discounting the ministry that’s taken place during the pandemic. We’re talking about an adjustment to the way we accomplish our ministry. We have renewed access to tools for ministry that haven’t been available for awhile, but that doesn’t diminish the ministry we did (and still do) without those tools. It also doesn’t mean that the new things we’ve started doing, such as livestreaming, should automatically disappear, or that things will just go back to the way they were before.

7 reopening resources that address the theological aspects of the process

It’s easy to get caught up in the practical aspects of reopening safely, such as sanitation, group singing, and masks. And those things do matter. But the truth is that there’s also a lot to consider theologically about the process of reopening. How do you ensure everyone can participate fully in worship when only part of your church can be together? If we gather too soon or in ways that are not safe enough, are we putting lives at too much risk? How can what we’ve learned from this pandemic help us grow spiritually and enhance our ministry in the future? Who might need particular pastoral care during the reopening process? 

The reopening resources here seek to address both the theological and the practical elements of reopening, grounding this process in the gospel. Even as we deliberate over sanitation policies and health screenings, we cannot afford to lose sight of the reason we’re putting these policies in place. 

1. Helping Churches Discern Next Steps in COVID-19 Ministry

This resource from our friends at the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) offers an excellent list of Reformed theological values to ground your discernment process and general guiding principles for church leaders to consider during the reopening process. 

2. COVID-19 Reopening: Questions, Considerations, and Strategies

This highly comprehensive document outlines biblical values that might guide your reopening process, suggests several different frameworks for creating a reopening strategy, explains the government criteria for reopening, recommends best practices for specific areas of ministry (e.g., worship, children, etc.), and explores various questions related to the reopening process. It was put together by the Harbor Churches (RCA) in West Michigan, so some of the government criteria section is regional. 

3. Resuming Care-filled Worship and Sacramental Life 

This 36-page guide, compiled by an ecumenical group of church leaders, offers detailed guidance on every aspect of the reopening process. It begins with a theological framework and integrates spiritual considerations with practical health and safety advice at every step. This guide can inform your overall approach to reopening and help you answer more specific questions about shepherding your church well during your reopening. 

4. Returning to Public Worship: Theological and Practical Considerations

Our friends at the Presbyterian Church (USA) created this guide to help churches consider the theological and practical aspects of reopening. It includes a pastoral statement on reentry to public life and worship, advice for evaluating risk, a provisional timeline for resuming in-person worship, general considerations for worship in person, and other guidelines and resource recommendations. Some of the advice in this guide is specifically geared toward churches in the PC(USA) but most is broadly applicable.

5. Plan for Reopening Gatherings and Starting Churches during COVID-19

What makes this resource unique is that it includes spiritual exercises, discussion questions, and other material that you can print and fill out to guide your planning process. It also offers ideas for ministry and mission your church might find helpful this summer. Stadia, the organization that put it together, has a church planting focus. But this resource is valuable to churches of all kinds.  

6. Four Pastoral Principles to Guide Your Reopening Discussion

The National Association of Evangelicals recommends four pastoral principles for reopening and provides Scriptural support for each one. 

7. Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory

There’s no seminary training course for ministry in a global pandemic. And if you’re a pastor, you probably realize global pandemics are not the only ministry challenge that nobody trains you to navigate. This book, by Tod Bolsinger, explains how you can use the tools of adaptive leadership to lead your church or ministry through uncharted territory. 

About the author

Grace Ruiter is digital content coordinator for the Reformed Church in America.