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A s pandemic-related restrictions are loosening, churches across the U.S. and Canada and around the world are navigating a difficult decision: when do they reopen, and what does it look like when they do? Here’s how Christ’s Community Church in Fishers, Indiana, will be reopening over time, in stages.

When Indiana governor Eric Holcomb began lifting social distancing restrictions in the state, he announced a five-step plan for reopening. The plan allowed churches to resume in-person worship the following week, within some parameters such as observing social distancing guidelines, though the governor encouraged churches to continue meeting digitally, if possible. 

“We’ve got a team of people at CCC who have been thinking about what it would be like for us to reopen the building for Sunday worship,” says Nate Pyle, pastor of Christ’s Community Church (CCC) in Fishers, Indiana. “We looked at these guidelines and what we would have to do in order to make sure that the people who come into the building are as safe as possible. At the end of the day, we determined this: it wouldn’t feel like church. 

“Those things that we love about church and those things that we miss about church would not be able to be provided on a Sunday morning. We wouldn’t be able to gather in fellowship in close proximity to each other, we wouldn’t have children’s ministry, we’d have to make sure our kids aren’t running around the building, we wouldn’t have refreshments, we wouldn’t even enjoy the same sound of singing together because there would be so few people in the building for the worship service.”

The team decided not to open that Sunday. “In fact, we aren’t even putting a date on the calendar for when we will open,” Pyle says. “What we are doing is developing a five-stage plan that will move us towards reopening. This plan follows along with Indiana’s back on track plan, but we’ve removed the dates. 

“We want to continually assess the situation, taking into account our community and our people, and how we can best serve them.” 

Christ’s Community looked to another local church, Zionsville United Methodist Church, and used their plan as a template, making some adjustments for their congregation. 

See how their reopening plan mirrors the governor’s plan:

Graph of five stages for reopening church titled Indiana Back on Track - CCC Response

The church’s reopening plan relies on small groups, and Pyle has invited people who aren’t already part of a small group to join one. 

Throughout all five stages of reopening, the church will continue to livestream worship. Church leaders see the livestream not just as an opportunity to provide spiritual care for the congregation, but to share the gospel. In a video to the congregation, Pyle invited them to share the livestream link with people they’re praying for, or host a Facebook watch party to worship with friends.  

How to adapt this process in your church to make a decision about reopening

  • Put together a team of people to make this decision and provide recommendations regarding the pandemic. 
  • Reopen in stages. At each stage, you need to be able to observe social distancing guidelines outlined by the CDC and follow advice from local health officials. 
  • Current local health advice is a minimum; when churches are allowed to open doesn’t mean they have to open. You know your people and your context. Don’t feel rushed to reopen if you aren’t ready or it’s not the best thing for your congregation.
  • Digital worship is accessible to newcomers in a way that in-person worship isn’t. There’s an opportunity to share the gospel; think about how your congregation can build on this even as you start reopening. 

Watch how Nate Pyle announced the reopening plan to the congregation: 

Christina Tazelaar is the chief communications officer for the Reformed Church in America. You can get in touch with Christina at