Around much of the country, churches are beginning (or have already finished) making their plans for what their reentry to in-person gatherings will look like. As we see restrictions lifted and the encouragement to return to a socially distant sense of "normal" it's worth our time as pastors and ministry leaders to look at the reentry as more than a restart.
At Emmanuel, our target date for reentry is June 7. It's a bit later than what Florida has allowed, and we chose to delay our reentry so we could make sure we have enough supplies, protective equipment, and are able to set ourselves up for what worship will look like in the reentry phase. That means converting our Fellowship Hall into overflow seating, removing Bibles, hymnals, and other things from the pew racks, doing a thorough cleaning, and stocking up on supplies (do you have any idea how hard it is to find things!).
Throughout this quarantine season, my refrain to our church has been "When we get back together in-person, we're blowing the roof off the place." I still want to see that. We're not sure what kind of crowd we'll have on the 7th, but we're going to be loud. We're going to sing, we're going to clap, we're going to cheer, we're going to scream "Amen!" It's going to be a time of joy, of fellowship restored, and of a hope reminded. For us, it will have been 84 days since we last gathered.
Pastors, don't just treat your first Sunday back like it's another normal Sunday. Your church has been through a difficult season. People have been discouraged, many have been personally affected by COVID-19, some may not be back to work yet, and all of us have come through this profoundly changed. It's not just another Sunday. Every Sunday is a refreshing of the good news of the Resurrection, but some Sundays are different. This will be one of them.
Take time to celebrate. It's a good thing to cheer for what God has done. In every tragedy, there are always reminders of grace and goodness. Find those. Celebrate them. Recognize and share the good things that have come over these last weeks.
Take time to pray. We know when we reenter in-person worship, we won't have everyone there. There will be a number of our folks, including some key leaders, who won't feel comfortable being in a public space like that yet. We know names and faces of people in our communities who have been affected by this crisis, whether it be their health or employment or family hardship. We know thousands will be grieving. We know that we aren't out of the woods yet. So take time to pray on that first Sunday.
Recalibrate around a healthy doctrine of the church. The church only exists when it is assembled. That means we are made for fellowship and togetherness with one another. We cannot function, much less exist, without being together. Seasons may preclude us from meeting, whether it be a global pandemic or you wake up with a sick kid on a Sunday morning, but our natural and general desire should be to gather together on a weekly basis.
Refocus on what the mission is. One of the blessings of this season has been that it has shown us what is and isn't important in our worship lives. Our mission is the Great Commission through the Greatest Commandment. We don't exist for the secondary stuff. That's what was taken from us during COVID. We lost the fellowship dinners and small groups and weekly events. But what wasn't lost was our task to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth as we love God and love Neighbor. That's why we're here. For Emmanuel, God put us at 8305 US Hwy 301 so we'd be a witness to our community.
Love the church. Even though we're not going to be able to interact like we normally could, we still have to look at that first Sunday back as a way to renew our love for the church. As hard as it is, we cannot resume shaking hands, hugs, or taking the hand of a widow to tell her you've missed her. That shouldn't stop us from loving one another. We've spent time praying for/with one another, we've met needs by providing food and resources, and we've shared grief and joy over the phone and Zoom.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.