By Ken Braddy
COVID-19. I wish I had never heard that term before. It has disrupted our lives in unimaginable ways.
And who knows what the future may hold and how it will continue to impact our lives? I’m thankful that God is more powerful than the worst pandemic, and that He is the author of our future!
As many states and local cities begin to allow businesses to restart, the church is also anticipating the day when it can reassemble for worship and other activities. As we all prepare to reopen our churches, we’ll need to have conversations with our volunteer workers.
My church recently sent an online survey to the members to gauge their expectations of what the reopening of our church will look like. There is a small, but significant number of adults at my church, who expect things to be “business as usual.”
They are looking forward to hurrying back for worship and Bible study, plus other ongoing activities. I’m glad they love their church and their friends. But I believe they may be a little disappointed because of whatever “new normal” they find when they return.
Because every church is autonomous and in a slightly different ministry context, the decisions we make about reopening are going to be similar in some respects, and different in others.
It’s those decisions that our volunteers are waiting anxiously to know. “Just what will it be like when we reopen?” is a question on the minds of members and lay leaders.
What kinds of conversations might you have now with your volunteers? What are they wanting to hear and know? Perhaps some of the conversation starters below will be helpful to you.
Conversation #1: “Are you going to continue serving?”
Every church leader should not assume that volunteer workers are going to return when worship begins again on campus. There are men and women who are older and therefore more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19, and returning to a classroom setting might put them at risk.
There are also younger men and women who live with someone with an underlying health issue, and if the volunteer adult comes back to serve and catches COVID-19, they run the risk of infecting their loved one who may not be a volunteer, but lives with them (this is the case with at least one teacher in my church).
There are adult volunteers who are telling their pastors and kids’ ministry directors they cannot return until a vaccine is available.
Having this conversation earlier than later can give staff leaders as much advanced notice as possible so they can recruit new leaders to fil in the gaps left by former volunteers who are not comfortable resuming their duties.
Conversation #2: “We’re going to do greeting differently”
The men and women who serve in your church’s greeting ministry will undoubtedly be instructed that their work will be different upon the reopening of your church.
Here are just a few questions that are already on their minds:
- Will the church doors be propped open?
- Will we be asked not to shake hands with people?
- Should we wear masks?
- Should we greet people from within the lobby, not at the door?
Conversation #3: “Are we shutting down our coffee ministry/hospitality ministry?
Don’t laugh, but coffee is a big deal in some churches. My church has placed a coffee bar area in the middle of our lobby, and it’s become the church’s “watering hole.” We gather, we talk, we enjoy relating to one another.
But your church’s hospitality team needs to know whether or not you plan to offer this as you reopen. It sounds unconscionable, I know, not to provide coffee or other beverages in conjunction with your greeting/hospitality ministry.
The safest course of action coming back from our COVID-19 separation is to forego the coffee, for now. If that’s your church’s decision, the next step is to fully explain to your volunteers why that decision was made.
It may not be readily apparent to your volunteers, so go the extra mile and explain how you arrived at your decision.
Conversation #4: “Why are chairs missing from classrooms?”
As churches reopen, it looks like state and local leaders are advising or requiring physical distancing. Six feet of distance seems to be the standard for now.
If a room has 25 chairs in it and the group used most of them during on-campus Bible studies pre-COVID-19, you’ll have to remove two-thirds of them for just a few people to participate in Bible study.
Your volunteer leaders, especially group leaders, need to know why only a fraction of their people can gather for Bible study. And they will have questions about how to accommodate the members of their group who don’t have a place to sit.
Will you begin new groups?
Will the teachers be asked to lead those extra groups as well?
Will you begin a new hour (maybe two) of Sunday School?
Or will you open your church on Saturday morning and afternoon, or perhaps Sunday afternoon, too?
Conversation #5: “What about our Bible study curriculum? What are our plans for summer?”
My church’s teachers are asking this now – and so are the financial assistants who work for the church.
It’s a great question. Churches should consider the benefits of keeping their summer orders because those important discipleship tools (like the personal study guides) can be distributed to people for use in groups on campus, in groups online, or by individuals.
The study guides can ensure that sound doctrine is being taught to everyone who has one, and they’re a part of an overall plan of discipleship for group members.
And if your church has groups that remain online in summer, no problem: Lifeway is making available the digital versions for free – so my church is committed to keeping its print products and having the digital versions as a second option.
Conversation #6: “What do you think God is up to? Why has He allowed this pandemic?”
This may be one of the most important things on your people’s minds. The answer is, “God is up to great things.”
We hear story after story of more people involved in worship and Bible study in churches across the land. Churches are now online and reaching new people. We have learned (or re-learned) the importance of our church families.
Don’t clam up during COVID-19. It’s time to increase the frequency of your conversations with volunteer leaders, and they’ll appreciate you for it.
KEN BRADDY (@kenbraddy) is the director of Sunday School at Lifeway and disciples a group of adults at his church in Shelbyville, Tennessee. He is the author of several books, including Breathing Life Into Sunday School. He blogs regularly about Sunday school and groups at kenbraddy.com, and is host of The Sunday School Guy podcast.