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Relaunch Church Q&A

Church leaders are wrestling many challenges throughout this COVID-19 crisis. Here, we're curating questions and answers to help you solve short-term solutions for reopening and long-term strategies to relaunch your church. Check back often for new Q&As!

A: Many churches are facing a new realization: their building isn’t designed with spaces to accommodate groups of 10 to 50, the range for church gathering sizes in the initial reopening phase for many states.

Churches with large sanctuaries or multipurpose rooms that are designed to seat 200 or more can be used for a gathering of 10 to 50. But hosting 50 or fewer in a room designed for hundreds affects the group’s social interaction and impressions of intimacy, warmth, and safety in the space.

The relational dynamic in groups of 20 to 50 is different from groups of 100-plus. It allows people to connect more broadly than in personal space, but also more deeply than in public space.

Here are some potentials ways you may be able to gain medium-sized gathering space for your ministries to meet in:

Sharing Space: Some churches might consider teaming up to co-lease spaces, like at a retail strip center, and meet at different times in the week. A larger church may even purchase a space like this and lease it out to smaller congregations. Some churches may choose to continue live-streaming Sunday morning, but offer medium-sized gatherings for ministry use for their congregation throughout the week. Collaborative churches can share spaces in new ways and refresh their spaces with innovative ideas that match the creative potential of their new ministry approach.

Shape the Community: Consider leasing and outfitting medium-sized retail spaces to expand the footprint of the church and help communities. Even as the church thinks creatively about medium-sized spaces, we may simultaneously have the opportunity to help the community renew the thousands of retail spaces that will become available in the economic aftermath of this year.

Outdoor and Temporary Spaces: Churches often overlook the property available to them outside their church building. Outdoor spaces, such as parking lots or green space that surrounds the church building, may provide a high-impact, low-cost opportunity to expand available space and spread people out.

Read more about how to adapt your church facility for phased-in gathering sizes here.

A: Here are four ideas for how to rearrange seating layouts to adapt large gathering spaces into spaces for smaller groups with social distancing in mind:

  1. Table worship groups
    Tables are a great way to gather in groups at safe distances. These tables could accommodate a family or small group. The floor around the tables could be marked with a circle of tape to provide a “zone” or visual cue for keeping at a safe space, as well as creating traffic patterns for navigating the room. This idea could also be a strategy for connecting newcomers who have never been to your church building.
  2. 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 increased or decreased according to regulations set by churches' local municipalities.
  3. Maximizing comfort vs capacity
    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.
  4. Stage seating for medium-sized groups
    Stages usually can accommodate medium-sized groups and provide much more space than our typical classrooms. Consider temporarily converting the stage in your worship auditorium or sanctuary to host a small gathering where people can have ample space and not feel cramped.

Read more about how to adapt large gathering spaces for smaller groups here.

A: When COVID-19 hit, pastors had to make the shift, nearly overnight, of leading from a sanctuary platform with a room full of people to preaching and teaching on our small screens. According to Kristi Bramlett, a coach for communicators, here are ways to make an effective switch from the big room to the small screen:

  1. Imagine the person you’re speaking to. A screen is one-dimensional. When you’re in church, everything is three-dimensional and has a fuller feeling of energy, sound, and bodies in the space. This is why it’s important to remember that you’re speaking to the person you are imagining, not hundreds or thousands of people. In an online service, the communicator must be intentional about inviting the Holy Spirit into the "space"—their location, the in-between—and into everyone's living room. Keep it urgent and the stakes high (after all eternity is a pretty high stake), but keep it simple, authentic, and do NOT push for effect.
  2. Make sure you are taping or live streaming in a space where you feel comfortable. I think the most important thing for the communicator is to imagine delivering the message to one person. "Place" the person you are trying to reach just on the other side of the camera lens, not a room with 500+ people. Another thing—watch your talk afterward, make adjustments, and record again if needed.
  3. There is NO room for winging a service online! You need to know the camera doesn't let you get away with anything. Everything is magnified—every habit, every twitch, every missed word, every gesture. If you desire to maintain your authenticity in an online platform you MUST practice your talk!

A: According to Kristi Bramlett, a coach for communicators, churches can transition to a blend between online and in-person services in different ways depending on available resources. You could still record your online services in the church or at home prior to the weekend services. By doing it this way you could still keep it simple (this might appeal to a new group of people), honest, and relaxed, or you could just live-stream the service while it is happening on the weekend. It will feel different online because there will be people in the space and the pastor will not be talking exclusively to the camera, they will be making contact and connection with the people in the church service.

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