By Sharon Mager
On May 14, Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D) leaders hosted the second Town Hall meeting of 2020 to address COVID-19 and its effects on local churches, specifically on the re-opening process. At the meeting, which occurred a day after Maryland Governor Larry Hogan initiated phase one of the “Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery” program, BCM/D leaders shared information regarding the necessary preparation of church facilities including properly sanitation of facilities, safety precautions, children’s ministries, church finances, and understanding the emotional effects of the epidemic.
BCM/D Director of Evangelism Mark Dooley welcomed over 80 online guests. Dooley said, “Our desire today is to spur your thinking in unique directions as we all prepare to open our churches.”
Church finances and staff
Associate Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer Tom Stolle cautioned online participants to not expect church activities to quickly return to life as it was before COVID-19.
Most churches are experiencing a reduction in their offerings and this may not change quickly, Stolle said. While many leaders are considering budget cuts and re-allocation of funds, Stolle cautioned against across-the-board cuts. In crisis situations, you may sometimes have to assign more money to some expensive items, such as digital outreach, as opposed to others, he explained.
Additionally, he encouraged church leaders to build three-month reserves and expand those reserves to last for six months, if they have not already done so. “We want to last in ministry and be here for a while. That’s important,” Stolle said.
He noted that the deadline for the Baptist Foundation of Maryland/Delaware’s emergency loan program has been extended to May 31.
Moving forward, Stolle encouraged leaders to think about how they are effectively communicating the church’s financial needs, how they are building relationships, and most of all, casting a “clear compelling vision.”
Stolle also addressed the issue of fraud. “Sadly, fraud exists in churches. Statistically, according to LifeWay, it exists in about 10% of churches and in a convention of 500 churches, that’s 50 churches. We’re in a season where everyone is working alone without the usual precautions,” he said. Stolle encouraged the review of bank statements, check images, and credit card charges.
Finally, he urged pastors to make sure their staff knows they love them. “Just because you think that you’re showing them love doesn’t mean they’re feeling it. More love or less love becomes more evident in a crisis,” he said.
For more information, especially about the loan program, email Stolle.
Read more about managing finances during this Covid-19 season in Tom Stolle’s article, Managing Finances and Loving Staff.
Preparing the church facility
Emily Reedy, director of Skycroft Conference Center, has spent much time managing the preparation of the facility for future opening.
Reedy shared information about the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and state authorities’ recommendations to properly clean and disinfect churches. She suggested that churches form teams responsible for preparing the building for reopening and for implementing new cleaning protocols on Sunday mornings and beyond.
“By doing a deep-cleaning now, you are setting yourself up for success,” she said. The deep cleaning primes the spaces so they can be disinfected quickly and thoroughly once they are in regular use.
Reedy said it is imperative to use disinfectants approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and to pay close attention to contact time. “[Contact time is] the amount of time a surface needs to remain visibly wet to kill the virus. That is crucial to protect the people coming and going. If you are not using it as the label recommends, then it won’t be effective,” she stressed. The labels on the back of the products call attention to the disinfecting time, however, the EPA list provides the specific time needed to kill the coronavirus.
Reedy also encouraged churches to purchase supplies as soon as possible, including masks, as well as nitrile gloves for cleaning, and hand sanitizer.
Take the time now to prepare, she urged. “There’s so much to assess in world of preparing your facility,” said Reedy.
Dooley encouraged churches to use a variety of methods to let their church members know how the church is being prepared and cleaned and what the return policy will be. Use social media, word-of-mouth, even banners, he said.
Prepare for varying opinions and caring for the vulnerable
Be prepared for a variety of perspectives regarding the virus and returning to the building. Some people are still harboring concerns while others feel the virus was “much ado about nothing,” Dooley cautioned.
“Think through ways to respond, how to shepherd people who think very differently,” he said.
Also, think about how you will care for vulnerable people, he said. “Do you need a separate section, a separate service? Will you continue to livestream, will you dismiss them early?”
“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer,” Dooley said, encouraging leaders to be proactive in knowing how to respond to a variety of situations.
Dooley also encouraged an “outward focus.” Some churches meet in schools and won’t have access to return. Others may not have the budget they need. Consider how your church may help.
He pointed to the loan and grant programs and encouraged churches who have been blessed to consider contributing to those funds to help churches that need extra help.
“At the end of the day, real people’s lives are being impacted. Who better to step in and meet those needs than the body of Christ?” he asked.
Kris Buckman encouraged pastors to give children’s ministers a “seat at the table” when discussing plans for regathering. ” [Children’s ministers] bring valuable insights for your families that have kids,” she said.
Buckman also suggested inventorying children’s and overall church-wide volunteers – who will be returning? Some may have health issues or other situations that keep them from coming back to church for some time. Additionally, Buckman said to begin training returners now. In light of COVID-19, policies and procedures will change.
She also said that as systems are put in place, it’s crucial to provide that information to families. “Communicate positive messages of what’s being done to prepare for the kids to come back,” Buckman said.
Kris Buckman has written several articles about ministering to children during the pandemic. Read Children’s Ministry and Social Distancing.
Michael Crawford interviewed Eliza Huie, the director of counseling at McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Virginia, who shared advice on what to expect regarding how people will react to the virus’s impact.
Huie said much of the effect of the virus will unfold over time. “We don’t know what to expect,” she said but cautioned leaders to expect a lot of different responses.
Many of the challenges will not be seen, as they are interpersonal struggles people are facing in deep ways. For example, while some families are enjoying the time home together, other families are distressed because their homes are not necessarily safe. There will be more addictions, pornography, and other unhealthy coping mechanisms, as well as anxiety, she warned.
She urged churches to prepare now to address those needs. There are people in your churches who are gifted or who have the training to be able to help, she said. Talk to them now and ask if they can be available to assist when they are needed, she urged.
Huie suggested creating online support groups, not for professional counsel, but for encouragement, prayer, and support for those who are struggling.
Some will need professional help. She emphasized watching for tell-tale signs such as worried family and friends, or someone who is not keeping up with their normal routines and is hopeless, despairing, or suicidal.
Finally, she emphasized that pastors and leaders need to take care of themselves.
“Pace yourself,” she said, and be aware of high-functioning anxiety and depression — it can lead to burnout.
Worship Advisory Group update
Dennis Gray, the senior pastor of Riva Trace Baptist Church, served on the Maryland Governor’s Worship Advisory Group.
Gray shared an update regarding Maryland’s gradual openings and the individual phases. He emphasized the governor’s decision to allow local county leaders to determine whether it is time for their areas to begin reopening, or to remain on lockdown. Gray urged churches to check with their county’s executive offices.
He warned that the Governor may shut everything back down if the virus outbreak grows or if it overwhelms the hospital system or needed supplies.
Referring to church meetings, Gray said the preference is for outside services, but that inside services are allowed at 50 percent capacity in open counties. He emphasized that this refers to 50 percent of the fire marshal’s capacity. These guidelines include seven-foot social distance seating, masks, and a recommended no-congregational singing policy.
Comments from BCM/D Executive Director Kevin Smith
Smith, encouraging safety and loving one another, encouraged congregations to carefully prepare.
“You know your congregation. You know the gifts you have. You know right now whether you have the manpower, whether you have the ministry leaders, and whether you have the people to deep clean the building, and you know if you don’t,” he said.
“The Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is putting no time clock, or push pressure on you, pastor, to get back into the building,” Smith said. “I really want you to feel thoughtful about your pastoral leadership.”
Quoting 1 Peter 5:2, Smith said to pastors, “The essential task is to feed the flock of God which is among you taking the oversight thereof …”
In a time when so many people are talking, a pastor has a different voice, as a shepherd, an under-shepherd, he said.
“What we need is a word from the Lord through His shepherd, through His under-shepherd. I want to encourage you to keep that pastoral task before you,” Smith said.
“There are people in your church that can figure out the cleaning, who know how to handle the money ad finances, and who can do the many of the things we’ve discussed,” he said.
“Take your time and enter this in a wise way, in a prayerful way,” Smith urged. “We are in a global disruption, but God’s Word remains the same.”