In the past few weeks, I have been impressed with what churches and pastors have done, not only to maintain their ministries, but to continue to grow them. Many have started doing creative things online to feed and encourage their people during the COVID-19 crisis. On Saturday night and Sunday mornings, it seems that the church owns the space on Facebook and YouTube.

This situation has motivated many ministries to explore the benefit of an online presence going forward. I think that’s a positive! Some churches are doing weekly check-ins with their members. Deacons who in the past were reticent to visit, are now making calls to listen, encourage, and pray. Some churches are serving their communities in wonderful ways: they’re producing and giving away masks, they’ve opened drive-thru food pantries, and they make deliveries for the elderly. The church has not stopped her mission. With more time at home, we are thinking a little more creatively. These are all plusses.

But what’s next? We miss being together. We want to meet together. We want to see one another in the flesh, the way the disciples saw Jesus! Facts on the ground tell us, we still won’t be meeting two weeks from now, the same way we met 7 weeks ago. I’ve gone through a few websites to help prepare church leaders and laypeople think through what may come next.

Guidelines for Getting Back Together

While we’re considering the future, please keep this in mind, just like this season has opened opportunities for new connections and vital ministry, so will the next. My hope is this description of the phases will help us think through how we can shape that future and use it for mission.

Here is a brief outline of how the White Houses’ 3-phase approach may affect our ministries in the coming months.

NOTE: dates and requirements are determined by state governors.

These guidelines for individuals will remain in place for all 3 phases:
• Wash hands
• Avoid touching face
• Sneeze and cough into tissue or inside of elbow
• Disinfect as much as possible
• Strongly consider using masks when in public
• People who feel sick should stay at home

Phase 1

Possible after 14 days of good numbers (see The White House). This is recommended for May 1st at the earliest.


  • At-risk individuals should shelter in place
  • Take precautions to isolate from vulnerable individuals


  • Maximize physical distance
  • Avoid groups of more than 10, where distancing is not practical
  • Minimize non-essential travel
  • Schools, camps, daycares should remain closed (children’s ministries)
  • Worship services can operate under strict physical distancing protocols

Phase 2

Possible after 14 days of good numbers (see The White House ). Potentially recommended for May 15th.


  • At-risk individuals should continue to shelter in place. Take precautions to isolate from vulnerable individuals.


  • Avoid groups of 50 people or more, where distancing is not practical
  • Organized youth activities can reopen (daycares, camps, children’s ministries)
  • Worship services can operate with moderate physical distancing protocols
  • Food services can reopen with diminished seating and standing-capacity

Phase 3

Possible after 14 days of good numbers (see The White House). Potentially recommended for June 1st


  • At-risk individuals can resume public interactions, but should practice physical distancing and other precautionary measures


As you can see, it’s going to require planning and preparation to make our gatherings a success. It’s also apparent that what we’ve been doing, will have to continue for some time. If you’d like to consider specific ministry questions to help you discern what needs to be done, consider the list Ken Braddy offers.

Continuing and Emerging Needs

  • There will always be vulnerable people we need to serve, who will not be showing up to worship any time soon. We will need to keep some of our newfound connection ministries in place.
  • Church will need to stay small, for a while. We may use a permanent mix of online and in-person groups, to maximize connection. Small groups give the church resiliency and flexibility. If a state must take a region back to Phase 1, we will be set up to continue and even grow the ministry without pause.
  • Our financial models may need to change. The way we receive offerings and allocate funds will be shaped by this. We can treat that as a good thing, if it makes us more focused on the mission God’s given us.
  • Crisis and grief support ministry needs will grow. Some people are being devastated by the virus. There are those being devastated economically. Many are just wracked by fear itself. Our communities will need the church to do what it does best, administer the grace of God in visible and tangible ways.

Going back to church shouldn’t be about going back. Our goal is going forward into a new world and learning to do ministry in new ways. Our mission hasn’t changed. Our context has. So we must. Let’s embrace that and excel at the making of disciples.


These aren’t clearly defined by the White House, but from CDC and other sources, these are good beginning points. (source: Christianity Today)

Strict physical distancing:

• Stay at least 6 feet from other people
• Do not gather in groups
• Stay out of crowded places and avoid mass gatherings

Moderate physical distancing:

  • Sanitation precautions (cleaning, hygiene, food service procedures)
  • Safety precautions (facemasks, distancing, no greetings, adapting offering and communion)
  • Size of gathering precautions (limited to 50 or less)

Limited physical distancing:

  • Sanitation precautions (cleaning, hygiene, food service procedures)
  • Safety precautions (facemasks, distancing, no greetings, adapting offering and communion)
  • Steps in enlarging gathering size