Precaution and preparation, not panic: an 8-point checklist from IBSA
The news about Coronavirus can be enough to frighten anyone, but the response needed from church leaders now is not panic but precaution and preparation. As one Disaster Relief leader said this week, it’s time to ask if our churches are prepared for disruption. He didn’t say “disaster,” but disruption. We may all experience the need to alter our usual operating procedures a bit in the next few weeks.
We at IBSA are not health officials, so we will not presume to make sweeping statements about COVID-19 itself. And frankly, we don’t feel the need to repeat the Centers for Disease Control’s recommended procedures here. But we would like to offer a few links to sources that we believe may be helpful to you and your church leaders as you make a preparedness plan.
“Certainly, our IBSA churches want to be well prepared to respond to the Coronavirus situation,” said Nate Adams, IBSA Executive Director. “The urgency seems to have increased in just a couple of days, and we should all plan and prepare, following both general best practices such as handwashing and social distancing and also local guidance from places like counties and school districts that may be more relevant to a church’s individual situation.
“As we at IBSA seek to resource churches in a variety of settings, we hope this list of questions and resources may assist the pastors and leaders of our autonomous Baptist churches in their own preparation processes.”
Our checklist of preparations to consider:
1. What is our plan for cancelling service? This is the big one. The Governor of Kentucky asked churches in his state to close this weekend. Some Baptists there have pushed back for a variety of reasons. The question his action raises for church leaders in Illinois is this: Whose request or advice will we follow when deciding whether to cancel services?
The need for closures for very large churches or churches in metropolitan areas may be different from those in smaller or distant locations. Churches with elderly members may want to take special precautions, since seniors may be more vulnerable to serious effects from the virus.
One church we know has identified three “triggers” for its decision to cancel services based on proximity:
- Closure of the local school system because of a local outbreak.
- Request from the county health department.
- Confirmed report of a case of coronavirus involving a worship attender who has been present in the past two weeks.
If any of these occur, this particular church will cancel services for the next full week, scrub everything, and reassess late in the next week whether to reopen on Sunday.
2. How should we discourage contact, encourage cleanliness? Some churches have lengthy welcome times in their worship services, or people tend to gather in the hallways to chat, shake hands, or hug. At least during this time of extra precaution, encourage social distancing. In the worship service, practice polite waving or elbow bumps. You can make this fun.
You may also wish to point out that the CDC has recommended singing Happy Birthday through twice to time the 20 seconds needed for thorough handwashing. It’s worthy of note that two verses of Amazing Grace are the same length.
3. Have we prepared the cleaning crew, childcare workers, and volunteers? Review government-recommended cleaning procedures. And be certain there are plenty of cleaning supplies. Church leaders will need to be able to assure parents that their children will be well cared for.
4. Can we take it online? If your church’s worship service is not already online, now is a good time to test a simple Facebook Live stream. If services are ultimately cancelled, the ministry team can provide an online alternative, if they are prepared.
The same applies to discipleship groups and classes. Many meetings can easily be moved to the internet or Facetime, but group leaders may need instructions and practice opportunities now.
5. Can we work at home? Similarly, many church operations can be conducted from a distance. You may wish to meet with the office and finance teams to determine what they are capable of doing from home.
6. Who should stay at home? Our most faithful church members and attenders are also those in the highest risk group. We may need to tell older people that it’s ok to miss church in an extreme situation. If they are not well, keep the germs at home. If they are afraid of contracting an illness, stay at home. Many will welcome the assurance from their church leaders that missing a Sunday may actually be in their best interest.
7. How shall we calculate the costs? Meet with the finance leadership to discuss the possible impact on budget if a week or two of offerings are missed. Like “snow days” which have direct impact on church finances, any closure will affect the bottom line. It will also affect short term finances. Will your church be able to make payroll? Will your church have funds for additional cleaning supplies or hours for the custodial staff? If you have to do a deep cleaning because of direct involvement with the virus, what service will you use and how much will it cost?
8. How will we bring a message of hope? The theologians among us are making statements about moving people from fear to faith. It’s a valuable admonition, and one we should share with our congregations this weekend. We may also wish to urge our teachers to discuss trust in God in times of concern in their classes this weekend.
The most reassuring message we may bring to our churches this weekend may be that we are prepared—as best we can be—for disruption. For most churches at this point in the spread of contagion, this is not a time of disaster, but a time of preparation, just in case. We can do that in ways to do not foster panic.
Right now, we all need good leadership.
Here are some links to sources that may be helpful to you. Included are two statements from local churches that may serve as good models for your own statement.
- Planning for disruption
- LifeWay develops free Coronavirus response training resources for churches
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) Church Planning Template
- Corporate worship amidst the Coronavirus
- Coronavirus Update from Western Oaks Baptist Church, Springfield, IL
- Important update on COVID-19 from Ashland Avenue Baptist Church