Dear Pastors and Leaders,
Yesterday, Governor Doug Ducey announced the end of the “Stay at Home” directive this coming Friday, May 15. He gave the green light to businesses, fitness centers, movie theaters, and major league sports to open up with appropriate health precautions. He said, “This is a green light to continue going forward on the way out of this pandemic. Now, this is not a green light to speed. This is a green light to proceed with caution.”
With regard to churches, the Governor’s office released the following statement, “While never formally closed, many places of worship opted to temporarily change or suspend services in order to follow physical distancing guidelines. As they resume operations, the Arizona Department of Health Services released guidance for enhanced physical distancing and safety precautions.” You can find those guidelines HERE.
That document specifies that while attending places of worship is an essential activity and there is no mandated physical distancing requirement, activities should be conducted in a manner that provides appropriate physical distancing to the extent feasible. There is not a recommended limit to the number of people who can gather, but the document supports the CDC guideline of six feet physical distancing and further recommends that persons who are sick or who are at risk should stay home.
The guidance from the Arizona Department of Health includes several recommendations for churches including:
• Consider spacing out seating for attendees who are not in the same party to at least six feet apart when possible; consider limiting seating to alternate rows.
• Consider adding additional services to the weekly schedule to enhance physical distancing and holding services and gatherings in a large, well-ventilated area or outdoors.
• Consider whether gatherings may need to have limited attendance, be held virtually, or suspended if physical distancing is difficult. This includes worship services, funerals, weddings, religious education classes, youth events, support groups, and any other programming.
• Consider continuing to live-stream worship services and providing drive-in services.
• Consider posting signage at entrances advising those with symptoms of illness to not enter.
• Consider separate services for vulnerable adults with added precautions.
In addition, ADH recommends that churches provide adequate supplies to support healthy hygiene behaviors such as hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and face masks. People should be discouraged from contact greetings such as shaking hands and passing offering plates.
Obviously, this will require churches to make extensive preparations and will not be able to be done quickly. I would recommend that churches use a multiple phase approach adding services and ministries as they have adequate volunteers and supplies for people to be protected and safe when coming to any activities. Pastors and church leaders need to communicate clearly with the congregation about what to expect when they come. Things will not be the same as before, but churches can still provide a loving and welcoming environment even within these limitations. Some churches have asked members to indicate which worship service they plan to attend so they can make sure there is sufficient space to provide for adequate physical distancing. At least one church had people in the parking lot with signs that said, “Welcome back! We are so glad you are here!” There are several resources posted on our website about re-opening your church buildings at www.azsbc.org which can help you with this process.
These have been difficult days for the church. I want to commend you for your heroic efforts and amazing flexibility to carry on using whatever means possible to continue reaching people and making disciples. The testimonies of what God has done in and through our churches in these days has been inspiring to say the least. We have learned much and will never be the same after this is over. Many of you have discovered new avenues of ministry that will continue into the future. Let’s continue to pray for each other as we work together in the mission He has given us that He would be glorified in our state as never before!