Christmas + COVID: 7 Ways to Prepare Your Church Building
Churches that plan to offer in-person Christmas worship services this year may need to adapt their facility to mitigate the potential spread of COVID.
Your church lobby serves as the first point of entry. It’s the initial space that greets newcomers and long-timers, and it’s the place where people will want to mingle most. But, how will it work in the midst of COVID?
Where to Start
Derek DeGroot, VP of Design and Integrated Services for Aspen Group, shares, “It’s important to understand that people will be uncomfortable reentering our spaces. There is no ‘normal’ established right now. Anxiety—and excitement—about returning to church may be heightened. Everyone will be a first-timer, looking and experiencing church with a fresh perspective.
“Take advantage of this opportunity to audit your space with fresh eyes. Start small—seating, layouts, floor signage, outdoor gathering areas, clean spaces, and great communication. These are ways we can lower anxiety and help people feel comfortable in our spaces.”
Does Your Ministry Space Intuitively Instruct People on How to Connect Safely?
Here are seven key ways to prepare for your church for Christmas and help keep guests safe:
1. Reset Expectations
As your staff, congregation, and guests gather, it won’t feel the same as it did last Christmas. That’s okay. It’s your church’s first time to host a Christmas altered by COVID. Will there be singing? Will there be candles? Reset expectations for your team and guests by sharing details in advance about what everyone can expect.
Even if you have added trees, lights, and garland, your lobby may feel empty or just a little off. You can overcome this and maximize your lobby by avoiding a lights-off, monitors-off, shutdown environment. Provide welcoming messages of encouragement on monitors, signage, or in other creative, authentic ways. Consider what guests need to experience most right now and make simple changes to create energy, hope and life in your lobby.
2. Guide Traffic Flow
Have you focused on simple, intuitive traffic flow? Guide your guests with visual cues like signage, floor decals, stanchions, or even strategically placed furniture to help them stay socially distanced and moving in the right direction.
Volunteers stationed at an appropriate distance can also help to welcome and guide the crowd. The size of your lobby may help dictate if guests can gather safely for small group interactions. In a more spacious lobby, you may have room for limited, socially-distanced conversations and connections. If your lobby space is tight, plan to focus more on moving people through the area.
3. Adapt the Welcome Desk
As you consider your Welcome Desk or Guest Connections area, do your current fixtures and procedures create a positive and safe experience for your congregation and guests?
When many are reaching out for hope and connection, prioritize a relational experience with guests over a transactional one. This requires staff and volunteers to remain at a safe distance from guests and to focus on making helpful and positive connections. Plan to reduce contact with surfaces like counters, forms, pens, and shared touch screens as much as possible.
Consider having people who are serving at the Welcome Desk stand in front of the desk instead of behind it as they interact with guests. Even while socially distanced, this approach can be more personal, plus it prevents people from touching surfaces and leaning on the desk. Vinyl floor stickers with fun welcome messages could also provide visual cues on where to stand.
10 Ways to Adapt Your Lobby for COVID
4. And Coffee?
When we think about hospitality at church gatherings, we often think of coffee. As Kaysi Stanley with HOPE Coffee points out, it is just a big part of our culture. Much like if someone was visiting our home, we love the gesture of offering guests a beverage. Recently, Kaysi shared six tips with us on how churches can still safely serve coffee.
Ultimately, it’s important to be intentional about your serving procedures at your cafe or beverage station. Then, make sure staff and volunteers are trained to adhere to the guidelines and help guests follow them.
5. Reimagine Key Gathering Spaces
As you look for the best ways to socially distance people, focus on using all available spaces in your church. Regardless of what a space was designed to do, imagine what it could do.
According to Aspen Group Project Architect Craig Dobyns, “Our buildings are still ministry tools, and churches are in a unique position to reimagine their space, even if temporarily.” This may mean you are looking at larger spaces and considering how to host small or medium-sized groups in the area.
In your primary space, consider different configurations like worship in the round. In this layout, the speaker is positioned in the center of the room. The chairs are arranged around the speaker in several segmented zones to allow for smaller audience sections and maintain safe distances. The number of chairs can be adjusted according to regulations set by local municipalities.
Consider offering varying seat configurations in the same space, like tables and chairs along with rows of seats. Craig notes, “Usually when we are providing seating in a worship space, we are trying to maximize comfort and capacity. In our current season, comfort is the main consideration. Creating different seating options within the same space will allow people to choose an option they feel most comfortable with. You can experiment with different layouts based on your specific needs.”
6. Rethink Outdoor Gathering Spaces
Depending on your climate, you may not instantly warm up to the idea of outdoor gatherings at Christmas time. However, it can be a season to get creative and utilize your property, and especially your parking lot.
Consider designating an outdoor gathering space. It could be in a courtyard, patio area, rented tent, or a convenient sidewalk area near your worship entrance that allows for plenty of fresh air and social distancing. If you’re in a region with colder climates, consider adding heaters, chimineas or fire pits to the area for warmth and ambience. You could also consider drive-thru activities with Christmas lights or nativity scenes.
7. Deck the Halls with Care
If your church is getting ready for the hanging of the greens, keep in mind that setting up these delightful decorations could generate potential safety hazards for church staff and volunteers. We have a few tips to help keep everyone safe this holiday season.
Joe LaPaglia, Director of Cost Modeling and Strategic Partnerships, suggests conducting a walk-thru of your space to identify secure locations for Christmas decorations. Then, ensure you have the right tools to assist you in fastening them around your church building. You’ll avoid repairs later and be more assured your decor will not drop to the ground–or on someone. He also reminds churches to avoid overloading power strips or daisy-chaining them together, which pose significant electrical hazards. Instead:
- Purchase sufficient power distribution strips and place them around your church.
- Ensure your extension cords, drop cords, and distribution strips are properly sized for your electrical loads.
- Use only commercial timers to control your exterior lighting displays.
- Avoid the temptation to utilize light-duty outlets on your HVAC units to power roof lighting displays
It’s likely most churches will provide some combination of an in-person and online experience this Christmas. Check out our free guide on how to build a phygital strategy at your church.