No matter which feed you open, where it’s Facebook, Twitter, or even your own thread of text messages, you’ll see plenty of opinions about reopening churches for in-person worship after COVID-19 lockdowns.
But in a sea of noise, it’s wise for church leaders to focus on communicating to the audience entrusted to them…their congregation.
You can serve your people well by communicating with clarity—in this season and always. Here are our six tips for communicating about reopening.
#1 – Give A Simple Answer
We believe that the decision to reopen is a big one. But there’s no doubt that your congregation has questions about which decision the church is leaning toward, and the pastor’s inbox is likely evidence of that.
If your church has made the decision to reopen, communicate that to the congregation even if you have to say, “Details are coming soon, but we wanted you to know where we stand because we know that you have questions.” This helps people know what’s happening and why even if they’re not planning to return to the building any time soon.
In his book, Next Generation Leader, Andy Stanley wrote: “My enemy is not uncertainty. It is not even my responsibility to remove the uncertainty. It is my responsibility to bring clarity into the midst of the uncertainty.”
Sometimes the answer is “I don’t know” or “Not yet” but there are ways to communicate this reality that provides some clarity and relieves people’s anxiety.
#2 – Use Internal and External Communication
When communicating through a crisis, one important principle to remember is to keep it concise.
There’s a lot that goes into making the decision to reopen and many things that could go wrong, but the congregation doesn’t need to know the brand of thermometer the church will use to check temperatures at the door or the level of disagreement the church elders had about the cost of hand sanitizer stations.
You want to communicate the facts concisely with the most relevant details in external communication (to the congregation and media). And right now, it’s even wise to share the cleaning policies that no one cared about before. But internal communication is the place for nitty-gritty details to guide your staff and key volunteers.
#3 – Share How to Serve
Even those who aren’t in a hurry to come back to in-person services are seeing the anguish around them and looking to their church asking, “How can we help?”
Give the people what they’re searching for—answers, hope, and ways to serve. There might be a place for them on the church’s reopening task force to help make the decision. Or families with urgent needs for groceries or childcare that they can help meet.
As the logistics of reopening become clearer, new volunteer positions will likely emerge. Share these with your congregation and give them an easy way to sign up.
#4 – Remember the Vulnerable
In all of your reopening communication, give a nod to vulnerable populations who are advised to stay home.
Let them know they’re not forgotten. Share the options available to help them stay connected (online services and virtual small groups, for example). Make them feel noticed and cared for.
#5 – Have a PR Plan
We can’t always control the angles that media outlets use to report a story.
But even if you don’t care what the media thinks of your church’s decision to reopen, it’s wise to care for your congregation and community’s perception by having a public relations (PR) plan in place.
Don’t allow the fear of unknown responses from the public to stop you from planning.
Nona Jones once put it this way: “Fear is an invitation to prepare. Fear is not paralytic.”
It doesn’t have to be long and detailed but prepare your response.
Know what to say when asked how church leadership reached the decision to reopen and what the safety measures are. Designate one person to respond to inquiries from the public (typically a Communications Director or Executive Pastor).
A PR strategy is helpful for churches all the time, but it’s especially valuable now. It’s not submitting to public opinion. It’s an opportunity to clearly communicate responsibility, concern for the community, and God’s love to those who are confused, hopeless, and hurting.
#6 – Confirm What Has and Hasn’t Changed
With the term “unprecedented” and the phrase “new normal” floating around all the time, most people are longing for normalcy and seeking hope for the future.
It’s true that there’s a new normal that we’re all getting adjusted to and it’s important to be honest about that.
But Hebrews 13:8 is also true.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Matthew 16:18 is still true.
…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
So, when you communicate about reopening, confirm what has changed. Maybe you’ll be wearing masks for a while, closing some hallways, and canceling some events.
But communicate what hasn’t changed, too. Clarity is comforting and your congregation will appreciate the hope-filled reminder.
Take the Next Step
Not sure what to say in communication to your congregation right now? We created these free, pre-written emails to give you a starting place and help in determining what your church needs to know right now.
You can customize the messages for your church context and use them as a guideline for what to say in emails, on the website, or in social media posts.