Five Stages Out of Lockdown for Church Meetings
We would love to get back to church meetings as they were before lockdown straight away, but that may not be the wisest action. Here is an approach to help us on our way.
As we begin to wrestle with what Sunday meetings look like as we move out of lockdown, there are myriad regulations - both rules and guidance - to get to grips with and then apply to our own context (although they will be different if you have a building than if you don’t, or if your congregation are mainly elderly than if they’re not, for example).
However, as you plan for this over the summer, I want to suggest one idea that I’ve been talking to individual leaders about.
It is not about the detail of how we organise things but the philosophy behind it and – importantly – a key way we can keep churches together as different people come out of lockdown at different rates.
In my mind, I’ve split a return to fully meeting together as before into five stages. There is, I believe, some value in running through these stages as a church even if you were only to stop off at some of them briefly (perhaps only one or two weeks). The time at each stage might reflect your technical resources, building size, congregation context, and so on.
We all want to get to Stage 4 (which is what I’ve called ‘return to normal’) as quickly and safely as possible - I hope that goes without saying - but rushing from Stage 0 to Stage 4 overnight might cause some confusion and risk alienating some people. Plotting a route towards a return to normal, it seems to me, falls into the ‘wise leadership’ category.
Stage 0 is a weekly recorded video sermon or service.
Not every church is doing this, I know (hence Stage ‘0’), but it is worth including because I wonder how wise using, for example, professionally recorded and performed music now and jumping straight into Stage 2, 3 or 4 would be (moving to Stage 1 first might be a helpful buffer).
The videos in this stage can be watched remotely but together by publishing as a Premiere at a specific time, or published to be watched as and when is suitable.
Stage 1 (what we’ve been doing at Christchurch Harborough) is a live stream.
For example, we’ve tried to replicate as much of what a standard Sunday service might be like: local musicians (often me!), preaching and leading live, only a small use of videos (for example of readers or for people to say hello).
Some interaction with those watching could be possible with this method.
This would be watched remotely when it is live, or could be watched afterwards if you set it to be published once the live stream is over.
Stage 2 is a live stream with people watching the service as it is being filmed in your building - but the focus is still on delivering the live stream online as your primary means. They watch live, or later if the stream is published.
Those who are present physically are able to enjoy some of the benefits, but you are not focused primarily on them, they are the observers.
Stage 3 is a back in building service which is also live streamed - but now the primary focus is those physically present (yet don’t forget those watching online).
There is a subtle difference between Stage 2 and 3, but an important one: the focus has shifted but much of the setup, preparation, content, and technology has not.
Now those online are the observers either watching live or later (if set to be published).
Stage 4 is a full return to normal, as before the lockdown.
You may want to continue filming (that’s a conversation for a different article and people will come to different conclusions), but to all intents and purposes your service is physical and back in the building like it used to be.
Which Stage, and When?
On reflection, a number of churches are finding that jumping from Stage 0 to Stage 3 is too big a leap. The advantage of the graded approach is that you’re still headed in the same direction with the same goal, but you have permission to find your way gradually as you assess what works and what doesn’t. It also manages expectations at each stage for a congregation.
For example, talking to a church leader recently, we realised that in his context even just two weeks of Stage 1 would help build a buffer between 0 and 2 and keep the church working, serving and worshipping together.
You may have got this all sorted, in which case, the Lord bless you! But if you’re wrestling with either the volume of what needs to be done or the even more important challenge of bringing the whole church with you, then maybe this is an approach you could adopt.