Churches all over the world are strategizing about relaunching their services. In this Chemistry Conversation, Matt Steen, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing, discusses relaunch strategies with Chris Richardson, Pastor of Christian Fellowship Church in Columbus, Ohio.
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Chris: Hey, thanks for having me here today, Matt. Good to see you.
Matt: In these conversations we don't necessarily talk timelines or dates or anything like that, we're more just talking about how are you guys are processing this process of reopening. You're in Ohio, so you're just starting to talk through the potential of reopening, all that kind of stuff. As you guys, as you and your elder team kind of think through this, what are the important pieces of this that you guys are thinking through?
Chris: Well, some of the big ones that we've watched, we watched what the governor has been suggesting to people statewide. We've had a revision of the state orders recently, and so things are more of a suggestion here now. We're watching that real close. I watch the science publications and things like that really closely to try to, I spent a lot of time the other day reading a blog about how air flow effects the transmission of COVID. We're really trying to be informed. We've got a doctor on our elder team who helps us talk through those teams, what's plausible, what's not. And you know, one of the big emphasis we've had theologically is that the church is founded on this idea of self-sacrificial love. And so if we do anything that's outside of that, we're outside of the boundaries of what God created us to be. Those are kind of the guiding principles, and that's been a lot of the conversation for us.
Matt: So with the self-sacrificial love, you're talking about, hey, we're going to set aside our desire to gather for a little bit longer for the sake of those that might be at risk, that kind of thing?
Chris: Yeah for sure, and so we've intentionally, we know a lot of churches that are already open, fully open without any real boundaries on that. But for us, we thought, it's good to be cautious, and it's good to allow ourselves to lag a little bit. Yeah our bottom line has suffered as a result of it, but there, community's greater value in the world than the business aspect of church.
Matt: That's great. So you guys, you're a smaller church. About how many would you say do you see on Sunday mornings before the apocalypse?
Chris: 100-150, somewhere in there. Really depends on how good I was the last week.
Matt: Nice. So you guys are running about 150. Everybody pretty much knows everybody or pretty close. It's a little bit different than some of the larger churches that we're talking about or talking to. So as you guys talk about coming back together, questions about masks and questions about social distancing and that kind of thing, how do you frame those conversations in way that your congregation not only gets it but is at least somewhat okay with that idea?
Chris: Yeah. So we've started, and it's helpful that we've had this conversation about John and self-sacrificial love, so we started it all by saying, you know, this is not what any of us would ideally want in this world. And we take these actions not to protect our own selves, but to try and protect those around us. And the nice thing is, I'm in the lowest risk category, and my family is in some of the lowest risk. So I can clearly say this isn't about me, this is about our 90-year-old lady who would never miss a Sunday. We are, right now our plan is that everybody has to have a mask when they come to worship with us. We're telling people they have to make a reservation to come worship with us. It's going to be for insiders for a while. We're going to set up the chairs in such a way that everybody has, families can cluster together but then they have 6 feet circle around them where they don't have other people sitting. There is some conversation about whether the musicians and speaker would wear a mask. I'm struggling to figure out a way that would make sense for us not to because to me it seems like if we're telling everybody else to, we have to follow that. That's one of the details we're trying to hammer through. One entrance, one exit. One of the big things, I think, about this as far as leadership is that sometimes we don't have to have a perfect plan, but people need to feel like we do have a plan, you know. Our goal is that we can be adjusting this as things make more sense. But we want people to feel like we've actually thought it through.
Matt: So you're reminding people constantly, hey this is flexible. This could very well change next week, but we're at least thinking through it.
Chris: Yeah. The beauty of our size of church is that we can be flexible, in that we can say hey we saw a huge spike in Columbus this past week so we're going to meet only online this week. We have the ability we can do that if we have to.
Matt: Yeah. So this is becoming somewhat of a divisive topic in the country but also in the church world. I mean, how, and because you guys know each other a little bit more intimately than a lot of the larger churches that we'll talk to, I mean how are you as a pastor walking through some of the divisiveness of this and kind of keeping your congregation from each other's throats?
Chris: Yeah. Well I've taken a few on the chin if I'm completely honest. My hope is that I am investing in our leadership team and that they are the ones that can have. So I've only been here a little bit over a year now, and so I don't have the level of trust that they do. But even beyond that, we're in an era, and maybe we always have as Americans, but we don't do top-down orders very well. But if our peers talk us into things, a lot of times more likely to listen. I'm really strongly encouraging our elders, our deacons, anybody else who's leading worship to be having these conversations. Hey, we're not telling you you have to wear an N95 mask or whatever they're called, we're just telling you you've got to cover your face while you're here. And we're not telling you you can't hug afterward. We're just saying don't be doing it during worship. So what I've found in coaching some of our leaders in these conversations has been more restorative than me trying to say, hey no do this because we said so. Instead, we have a doctor that's on our elder board, he's talking to people, hey you know I wear these makes at work and yes it's not ideal but it keeps some of us safe. So that's been our intent anyway, and I think it's helped some.
Matt: And it helps I guess that you have a doctor on the board, on the team that you're able to kind of point to and say, hey look you guys know him, you guys know he's not completely crazy.
Chris: Yeah. He's one of the kindest, most personable people, so that helps a lot. He's very, so I tend to lean into confrontation and our head elder tends to do the same, but Mark who is the doctor, he doesn't do that. He's very good at loving people well even when they're not being kind to him.
Matt: That's cool. Hey so before we wrap up, what encouragement would you give to other pastors out there that are kind of thinking through this process and trying to figure out how do we get our church back in a way that makes sense but is also safe?
Chris: I would just say, you know, it's always better to have a plan than to just kind of shoot from the hip. If you have to wait a little bit in order to feel like you have a solid plan, I think that's something that you should definitely do. But I would say, they deeper thing that's carried me is recognizing that when people are lashing out in this, a lot of times it's from a place of grief and struggle. It's probably not about you, and it's probably not about anything you actually did. It's just about the fact that this is a hard world right now. So keep on loving them. It's not easy though.
Matt: Yeah, it's definitely not easy to kind of, you know, when people are in mourning and they lash out at you, it's hard to turn the other cheek right?
Chris: Yeah, it is.
Matt: Well Chris, thank you so much man. Appreciate the conversation, appreciate your wisdom.
Chris: Yeah, go Baylor, go Truett.
Matt: Yeah, that's it. Alright man.