Looking Forward: Guidance for Re-Opening CBAC Churches

Introduction

We are here to walk with you as you do ministry during COVID and we’ve created this page to equip you with resources and guidance for recovering and restarting in-person gatherings.

We recognize how difficult this has been for our churches and leaders. Since early March, we’ve all felt like we’re in uncharted territory. As the CBAC, we share that sentiment, and we want to have a posture of helping you decide what’s best for your ministry. We cannot mandate what you do as a church—this page is simply a set of recommendations based on the best knowledge we have.

Permitted and wise—both of these conditions need to be met for you to enter the process of gathering together again.

In the conversation around “closing” churches and then re-opening our in-person gatherings, there has been some concern about government overreach. We do not feel this is the case, and we strongly echo the voices from the worldwide Church: we never closed. We simply had to change the way we did things because of the health and safety of the people in our congregations and wider neighbourhoods.

Please consider the following four principles for your re-opening process:

  1. Slower is better. Hurry is risky. While people are longing for community, they generally are wary and fearful of large gatherings. Much of that fear will continue for some time, perhaps even until  vaccine is found.
  2. Stay one step behind the government and our neighbourhoods. We want to be fully honouring and respectful of authority—but this doesn’t mean we must re-open before we’re ready. Please do not act hastily and become the centre of a new outbreak. Consider waiting a period of time after it becomes permitted to gather in person again. Consider setting even tighter restrictions on physical distancing and hygiene.
  3. Use protocols to foster a deep sense of safety. In light of what retail businesses and other public places have done to increase sanitation and safety, churches need to invest time and resources in this as well.
  4. Senior adults and immunocompromised people will (and should) be slow to return to larger gatherings. What will it mean to minister to them in the midst of the re-opening process? Do you need to continue practices from the fully-remote ministry you have been doing?

Table of Contents

  1. The Big Picture
  2. Provincial government restrictions and re-opening guidelines
    1. New Brunswick
    2. Newfoundland and Labrador
    3. Nova Scotia
    4. Prince Edward Island
  3. Your written operational plan for re-opening
  4. Practical Questions and our recommendations
  5. Resources

The Big Picture

Keep scrolling and you’ll detailed, technical information about re-opening your church. But we don’t want you to miss something that’s crucial for our future: this is a moment of opportunity for our CBAC churches.

This is an opportunity to reshape.

This is an opportunity to join God in our neighbourhoods in a new way.

This is an opportunity for working together with your team, other churches, your association, and your denomination.

Don’t miss it!

Big questions you should be asking along the way:

Tight restrictionsMedium restrictionsLifted restrictions
  • What is the best plan for our church, when we’re still in the phase with strong restrictions on distancing and public health measures (no gatherings or up to 15)?
  • What are the opportunities for doing church in an entirely new way?
  • What unique opportunities for neighbouring are we seeing right now?
  • If we move from “house church” to in-person services, how will our congregation feel?
  • Is it wise or risky to gather in-person in our church facility?
  • How will our services be welcoming to our neighbourhood?
  • How should childcare, children’s ministry, and youth ministry change?
  • How will we grow and maintain community and fellowship as we head toward COVID-19 recovery?
  • How is our wider neighbourhood doing? Are we responding to their needs?
  • What practices from pre-COVID should we stop doing? What have we started that we can’t stop doing?
  • What would be the impact of doing multiple services to limit gathering size?
  • Will multiple gatherings become part of our congregation’s DNA moving forward?
  • Could “home churches” or other expressions of church be legitimate church gatherings, tethered to our larger congregation?
  • What does online ministry look like for our church now? Was it a tool to “fill the COVID-19 gap”? Or is it a tool to embrace going forward?
  • What have we learned about online and automated giving that can serve us well from now on?

Provincial government restrictions and re-opening guidelines

Note: All restrictions and information listed in this section include the requirement for physical distancing of 6 feet or more.

NBNFLDNSPEI
New Brunswick:

Newfoundland & Labrador:

  • Newfoundland & Labrador is at Alert Level 2
  • “Guidance for Faith-Based Organizations” (gov.nl.ca)
    • Churches may host services of no more than 50 people, or 50% capacity, whichever is less. This limit is including officiants, staff, and volunteers.
    • Drive-in services are allowed, and are considered a safer alternative to meeting in person.
    • Churches are requested to ask attendees to voluntarily provide their name and contact information, so that contact tracing can happen more efficiently if there is a potential exposure. Attendance lists would only be requested from churches if a potential exposure occurs.
  • Department of Health and Community Services:
    • healthinfo@gov.nl.ca
Nova Scotia:

  • Limits:
    • No social distancing: up to 10 people (strongly encouraged to be consistent groups)
    • Indoor gatherings: 50% of venue capacity, up to 200 people
    • Outdoor gatherings: 250 people
    • Drive-in church services: no gathering limit, as long as social distancing is maintained
    • House-based event with social distancing: 50 people maximum indoors & outdoors
  • COVID-19 Prevention Guide for event organizers, theatres, and performance venues (PDF) (novascotia.ca)
    • Faith-based gatherings are included in this guide.
  • Churches must develop a Prevention Plan for re-opening
  • According to Dr. Robert Strang, NS Chief Medical Officer, churches should include the following areas in their prevention plan:
    • Clearly telling attendees and staff not come if they feel unwell
    • Facilitating hand washing on-site, especially as soon as people enter the facility
    • Managing the movement of people as they enter, exit, and use the washrooms, so that physical distancing can be maintained
    • Enhanced cleaning of common or high-touch surfaces
    • Increased ventilation with fresh air
    • Recommending to everyone to wear a non-medical mask. Mask use should be the expectation or norm for faith gatherings.
    • Plan to practice shared activities (such as communion or offering) in a hands-free way so that few or no people have to touch a common implement or element.
  • “Workplace COVID-19 Prevention Plans” (novascotia.ca)
  • “Workplace COVID-19 Prevention Plan Checklist” (PDF) (novascotia.ca)
    • We encourage churches to read documents like these and replace “customers” with “congregation members.” The principles and guidances are the same.
  • “Preparing to reopen Nova Scotia” (novascotia.ca)
  • Occupational Health and Safety:
    • (800) 952-2687
    • laesafetybranch@novascotia.ca
Prince Edward Island:

Your written operational plan for re-opening

Your church needs a written operational plan (in Nova Scotia this is called the Prevention Plan), which must be ready before you restart in-person gatherings. This document should detail your measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19. This isn’t a “big picture” kind of document. This is a detailed, technical plan for your re-opening and what you’re doing to address public health protocols.

Your church should follow the specific requirements of your province for what needs to be in your operational plan. For churches in Newfoundland and Labrador, you should still develop one. Consider basing it on the templates provided by other provinces, so that you will be prepared for when such a plan is required in your province.

Links to provincial government guidelines for operational plans:

Examples of operational plans:

Note: Do not copy from other operational plans when writing your own. Take the time to draft a plan that is specific to your congregation, facilities, and gatherings.

Practical Questions and Our Recommendations

 

Facilities

Questions
  • Does our parking lot setup need to change?
  • What is our plan for building entrances and exits?
  • Can we make the gathering a completely “touchless” experience (i.e., people touch only their seat)?
  • What signage is required to meet provincial regulations?
  • How do we sanitize the facility after each service?
  • How do we set up the auditorium? What do we do if we have pews, chairs, etc.?
  • How will we keep track of sanitization for areas used by different groups at different times?
Recommendations
  • Communicate your health and safety protocols to your congregation before they arrive.
  • Ensure that people can physically distance as they enter and exit your parking lot, walkways, and building.
  • Provide hand-washing and/or hand sanitizer stations with appropriate signage
  • If possible, change traffic flow to one-way in your building, to reduce people meeting each other while walking in and out of your rooms
  • Install new directional signage to direct traffic, including arrows on the floor
  • Think about every possible surface that your people could touch as they are in your facility. Have multiple people review this list.
  • Make a list of areas in which physical distancing will be highly unlikely.
  • Create a checklist and schedule for areas that need to be cleaned.
  • Offer face masks at the entrance of your building

Worship Services

Questions
  • How will we practice adequate screening of people coming into our facility?
  • How will we determine the maximum number of people in one gathering?
  • What will be the roles and expectations of greeters and ushers?
  • Can we take up the offering and observe communion safely?
  • Can we sing? Should we?
  • How will the music team, preacher, and other service leaders practice safe physical distancing, including the transition moments in the service?
  • Can we do a safe “greeting time”?
  • What new training is needed for all the people who serve in specific roles for the service?
Recommendations
  • Develop and execute a plan for active screening and/or passive screening for people attending your services.
  • If your province has not already mandated a specific gathering size for when church gatherings can happen, please exercise caution. Make a plan for how you can stay well within the limits.
    • As of June 5th, New Brunswick is allowing indoor religious services of 50 people or less.
  • Set up your auditorium so that attendees will sit at least six feet apart. Block off pews or move chairs around to do this.
  • Most provinces recommend against (or prohibit) the sharing of food and drink, which applies to communion. Think about observing communion with an online church gathering instead.
    • In New Brunswick, communion is allowed but must be in pre-packaged or individual portions, with other requirements.
  • Singing is more risky because it projects droplets of moisture from your lungs much further than normal talking. Some health officials say physical distancing of 12 feet is much safer than 6 feet. If singing is allowed in your province, and if you choose to have singing, please take a much greater level of caution.
    • Consider asking your congregation to refrain from singing along with a music leader.
    • Do not use hymnals or chorus books. Use projection or printed disposable lyric sheets (placed on seats).

Childcare, Children’s Ministry, and Youth Ministry

Questions
  • Is it safe to have a nursery and childcare during a service?
  • What measures need to be in place before we can safely have childcare?
  • What will our children’s ministry do when gatherings are limited?
  • What will our youth ministry do when gatherings are limited?
Recommendations
  • Coming soon!

Remember: these recommendations are our best understanding and not to be taken as legal advice.

Resources

Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada: “Re-Opening Church Wisely and Re-Imagining Forward” (PDF)

Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec: “Preparing Your Church for the Next Phase” (PDF)

Plan to Protect: Readiness Assessment

Government of Alberta: “COVID-19 information: guidance for places of worship”

Government of Saskatchewan: “Drive-In or Remote Worship Guidelines”

Government of Canada: “Risk-informed decision-making guidelines for workplaces and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic”

The Latest