Every pastor is thinking about the future. Every pastor is considering what reopening will look like. With each thought comes countless questions. 

When we will re-open? How will we re-open? Will people come back? Will our church ever look the same? 

And the truth is that no one really knows the answers. While that may not sound reassuring, know that you are not alone, and everyone is in a constant state of adjusting and adapting.

As our team has talked to pastors across the country, we’ve noticed a few crucial differences between the churches that are forming solid plans and the churches whose plans are falling apart. 

As you continue to formulate the next steps for this next phase, make sure that you avoid these 8 reopening mistakes.

#1 – Thinking everyone is going to come back.  

Re-opening will be too late for some and too early for others.

Churches are reporting anywhere from 25% to 60% of previous attendance. It’s safe to assume that you will have a sizable amount of people who won’t be comfortable returning to an in-person experience, no matter the measures you put in place.

“Remember it’s summer. People are scared and just cause they didn’t come on Sunday doesn’t mean you are a failure.” – Jarad Houser, Senior Pastor, Shorewood Church of God

#2 – Not listening to your people.  

The best way to understand the needs of your church is to understand the needs of your people. Want to know if they’ll return? Ask them. Want to know what will make them feel safe? Ask them.

The opinions of one loud person are not always reflective of the congregation or community.  Don’t fall into “some guy syndrome,” where some guy said something, and assume it’s a shared majority opinion. 

Follow the lead of the Holy Spirit, your team, and the whole church.

You won’t get unanimous answers, but you’ll gain an understanding of the majority. 

Return to Church Check-In from Gloo is a helpful (free) resource that does all the work for you. 

#3 – Not recruiting new volunteers.  

Recruiting new volunteers may not seem like an obvious strategy. If you expect to have members not return to an in-person service, you should also expect to have volunteers not volunteer at an in-person service.  

Reassign volunteers from other ministries that may not be operating at their full capacity (or at all) and recruit new volunteers to fill the gap.

#4 – Failing to develop a comprehensive communication plan.  

Solid plans have to include a clear communication plan, and this includes contingencies. One of our church fuel members made a list of 3 things to consider:

  1. Known knowns: Things that we do know are happening and how things are going to be around our church moving forward.
  2. Known Unknowns:  Things we know we need to learn more about.  It's not 100% clear, but we are working on trying to understand it.
  3. Unknown Unknowns:  Things that might happen, but we don't know.  Things that we haven't even considered.  Things that could happen that would change how we do something pretty fast.

#5 – Leaving behind your online audience.  

People have formed new habits and new expectations that are not going away just because places are opening up. This is the new blended.  

Even if we open our physical doors, we cannot close our digital ones.  Keep creating content for your online church. This is an opportunity to continue to reach people, no matter where they live.

#6 – Not having a contingency plan.  

No one knows what next week will look like, let alone the next several months.

We have to be prepared for all scenarios and adjust our expectations to adapt to each one. If re-opening is your next step, make sure you don’t place all your eggs in this basket.

There are a lot of unknowns but not being prepared is a difficult blow.  Consider what your plan is if/when a member tests positive. Who will be responsible for contact tracing? What if a volunteer tests positive? What will your messaging be? How will your services change in those scenarios? 

You’ll likely have to answer these questions eventually.  Asking them now will help prevent panic, and perhaps lead to different decisions as you decide what reopening will look like.

#7 – Forgetting your own needs.

Not only are you having to manage the needs and health of yourself and your family, but you’re also managing the needs and health of your church. That can be a lot of weight to carry, and making sure that you are taking care of yourself can not be understated.

Connect with God. Connect with friends. Create healthy systems to manage the rest. 

#8 – Being defensive or judgmental.  

Every church and every member will have their own choices and their own reasons. Your job is not to decide for them, or unnecessarily emulate them. Your job is to lead your church. The church down the street or across the country doesn’t know your people like you do, nor do you know theirs.. Be confident in your leadership, and what wisdom and love look like for you and your people. And leave it at that.

For more resources, check out our REBOUND course. It’s designed to help your church bounce back and move forward.

Take the Next Step

The Senior Pastor’s Guide to Reopening is a free ebook that helps church leaders ask the right questions and make a wise, strategic decision about reopening for in-person services. It includes examples from real churches, practical tips for creating plans, and important safety, sanitation, and communication topics to consider.