Our last “normal” Sunday at Lancaster Baptist was March 8—two months ago. The following Sunday, we met in small groups, and days later, the shelter-in-place order moved all of our services online—temporarily. 

Over these past two months, our church has patiently submitted to those in authority over us and has worked to protect our members from the real threat of the COVID-19 virus. As an undershepherd of the local church, however, I don’t want to see this season of carefulness morph into what could become the strangulation of our biblical obedience to the Lord to assemble as a church as commanded in Hebrews 10:25. (I have previously written about this tension here and here.)

As I have prayed, waited on the Lord, and sought counsel regarding what it will look like when we return to in-person services, one thing has been abundantly clear: our return will be in phases. When we return, it will not be “back to normal,” but we will need to embrace a “temporary normal” for a season. 

With this in mind, I have written a plan for what the phases of return will look like for our church. This is still a work in progress, in that we’re continually receiving new information that creates minor adjustments. But having it written gives us a way to plan and prepare.

The reality is, returning to church is not as simple as opening the doors and saying, “Let’s meet again.” Because of the need to follow the recommendations of the CDC for continued social distancing and ongoing sanitizing of facilities (even between touches in a given service), we needed a thought-out plan for every aspect of a service as well as written policies for how that plan will be followed. 

Other churches may do things differently. Church location and size of the congregation will obviously have an effect on the return-to-service plan. 

I have shared this plan with our church family so we can read it ahead and be prepared to participate in upcoming services when we are able to meet together again. While we have patiently practiced Romans 13, it appears that we’ll have to step out by faith to begin in-person services, perhaps sometime later this month. We’ll be talking about this with our church family in the upcoming days. But please pray as we are in coordination with many other pastors, Christian legal firms, medical professionals, and elected officials. 

If you are a pastor, feel free to use our return to service plan and policies as a point of reference or help as you are working on your own. 

If you are a church member, I encourage you to continue to pray for your pastor and church leadership as they work through these weighty decisions with a desire to both protect the flock and honor Christ in corporate worship. 

After spending weeks in planning and preparing the plan I have mentioned, I am just now concluding a few days of prayer and fasting and am prepared to move forward with what God has placed in my heart. Ultimately, the church belongs to Christ (Acts 20:28), and we want Him to be glorified as we pray and work toward a return to in-person services with a right testimony to our community and commitment to our Lord.

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