As we prepare to gather back in person anxiety continues to grow as many questions about reopening go unanswered. As pastors and lay ministry, it undoubtedly is a challenging time where high expectations are placed upon you to provide parishioners with concrete, anxiety-easing answers. Though not all questions can be answered satisfactorily, clear communication is one effective way to speak into this time of the unknown. Here are a few ways to communicate clearly in the coming months as restrictions begin to lift in our communities.
1. Develop a clear, easy-to-read, instructive document that outlines the following:
- Phases the church intends on implementing as restrictions lift in accordance with local authority mandates. Here are a couple of examples to explore:
- Example from St. John’s Bloomfield
- Relaunching the Church by the Billy Graham Center
- What is required during each phase:
- Cleaning supplies that will be used to disinfect
- Social distancing rules
- Amount of people allowed to enter
- What people can expect to change:
- Changes in regard to greeting others, communion, etc.
- New ways of entering/leaving the building
- New signs/instructions posted around the church (see point #4)
- What is expected from parishioners:
- Wearing a mask
- Distance apart
- Diligence in hand washing
- Follow any signs posted (see point #4)
2. Post this document in an accessible place on your website. Save the document in PDF format and place it on an easy to find place on your website which can then be linked to and shared on your newsletter and social media. Print it out and send it to everyone in your congregation, especially to those who don’t respond to digital communication. It may be helpful to develop a Pandemic Response Committee of your own within the church to help look over this document before distributing, or bring existing lay ministry on board to help prepare the church for changes and reinforce the importance of these changes.
3. Prepare your response to pushback. Develop kind but firm responses with your Pandemic Response Committee if you’ve gathered one, or among lay ministry, to handle situations before they arise. People may push for phases to end sooner, to not wear masks, etc. Keep referring back to the document you’ve created, which again, should be in an easy-to-find place whether online or a hard copy version. Reiterate that the first priority is to keep people as safe as possible, which may look like being overly cautious to some. The pastor alone should not be responsible for handling all of the pushback, which is why it’s so important to have a response team or lay ministry informed and on board to help support the pastor and point back to the document you’ve distributed.
4. Print out posters and instructions for your church building to post on the outside doors and within the building to remind people of safety measures. Before meeting in person it may be a good idea to take pictures of the posters throughout your building and put them in your newsletter and/or social media to prepare members for the changes being made before they get to the building itself. It will take a bit of the shock out of seeing their church building for the first time looking a bit different than they remember. Here are some posters from the CDC available for public use:
5. When entering a new phase, or returning to a previous phase, communicate it with all of your parishioners beforehand through your digital newsletter, during announcements, and by making phone calls. Point back to the original document you’ve put together about which phase you are entering or returning to and explain what this will look like. Your response team and/or lay ministry can help the pastor with this communication by helping to make phone calls and standing firm with the pastor if pushback occurs.
While there are many uncertainties as we move forward in this pandemic, communication remains a key component in moving forward together. Leaders in the church can not possibly answer every question due to the nature of the virus, but with clear communication are better able to address those questions that can be answered. If you have questions on how you can better communicate with your congregation please don't hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.