Churches all over the world are strategizing about relaunching their services. In this session of Chemistry Conversations, Matt Steen, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing, discusses relaunch strategies with Greg Atkinson, an author and the founder of Worship Impressions and the First Impressions Conference.
- Greg was selected as one of the Top 30 Christian Leaders to follow on Twitter. Continue the conversation with Greg on Twitter.
Get Greg's Book: Secrets of a Secret Shopper: Reaching and Keeping Church Guests
- Greg's Blog post: 10 Questions to Ask Your Congregation Before You Reopen
- Worship and Guest Services Facebook Group
Chemistry Staffing COVID-19 Resources ...
COVID-19 is causing all of us to have discussions that we never thought we'd be having. We're here to help you and your church during this time. Even if it's just to have a sympathetic ear to talk candidly and off the record about what might be next. Click here to find out more.
We'd love to hear thoughts about YOUR church's re-launch strategies and ideas (just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org). As always, we are here for you, and we're praying for churches and teams all over the United States!
Read the Full Transcript
Greg Atkinson: Yeah, thank you for having me. Glad to be here.
Matt Steen: So Greg, we've been talking to a bunch of church leaders, just kind of asking them, as we slowly move back towards reopening our church buildings, what do we need to be thinking about? What stuff do we need to be preparing for? How do we need to be ready for whenever everybody comes back home on Sunday morning?
Greg Atkinson: Yeah, great question. I like people that methodically and strategically think through how they want to reopen, and it's going to be different for every state, every region, every part of the country, and local state government officials and how they roll that out. And also just knowing your people. And so I put together a blog. It actually went viral on my blog gregatkinson.com about ten questions you should ask your congregation before you reopen. It is basically just encouraging you to bring back the old congregational survey. I didn't create a survey for you. I'm not selling anything. I'm not wanting to put anything off on you. I just say, here's some questions you ought to think through. And then here's a bunch of websites that you could use like Survey Monkey or JotForm or Typeform or Google Form so that you can use to create your own digital survey. And then you pick the questions that you think resonate the most with your congregation. And it's stuff like, if we were to reopen, would you even come back? If you volunteer, would you still be a volunteer? And I just have pastors think through things like, if you're a congregation of 500, what are you going to do if only 100 show up? And if it takes 100 volunteers to pull off a Sunday, what are you going to do if only 10 volunteers show up to serve? And what do you do about children's ministry, bulletins, handouts? Everything I'm reading says to not do any printed material, no handouts no bulletins. But thinking through stuff like communion. A lot of churches, a lot of denominations do communion every week. How do you do that? Do you serve coffee, do you serve donuts, do you serve refreshments if you've done that in the past? Do you pass the offering plate?
Matt Steen: Can you have church without coffee and donuts? Is that even allowed?
Greg Atkinson: It can happen, it can happen. But like, what do you do about the offering? So a lot of churches are looking at giving boxes and mounting those around the facility and having places where maybe there's just a basked in the back of the auditorium and they drop their offering or connection card in there. A lot of churches are creating digital connection cards so that there's nothing printed, nothing tangible, nothing that people can touch or spread germs on. So at gregatkinson.com, I just put together a resource and I listed several blogs, several blogposts and articles that have helped me of other professionals that have listed questions and things to think through for reopening as well as government guidelines and CDC and things like that. And so I just put them all on one place where you could look through and make an informed decision with your leadership team.
Matt Steen: That's great. We'll link off to that in the show notes on here. So tell me, church decides to move forward, okay. They decide that they're going to open. One of the things I appreciate about you is you probably think better about the guest experience than just about anybody else out there right now. What are you telling churches? How do we change the guest experience to be sensitive to the time that we live in, but at the same time still make it not an awkward weird event on Sunday morning for somebody who's showing up for the first time.
Greg Atkinson: Yeah, great question. I saw Craig Groeschel do an update to Life Church. He was just sending out a weekly communication, giving them a heads up of here's what we're thinking through, here's what we're planning, here's the kind of timeline we're looking at. I heard Steven Fertick say last week he had just gotten off the phone with Craig Groeschel, and they were both saying they don't know when they're going to reopen and they don't know how they're going to roll out, but what Craig in his weekly newsletter video update did say is when they do open, it's going to be a touchless experience. And so nobody's going to get touched. Almost every single church I have heard of - there are states like Texas and Georgia that are starting to loosen restrictions and are opening quicker - and every church that I've heard anywhere across the nation. I have a Facebook group where I am constantly keeping a pulse on churches around the country and around North America, really around the world. People on there from all over. But one of the common themes is family services, so there's no children's ministry, there's no breakouts, no small groups, no Sunday School, nothing for the kids. And so families sit together. Still keep social distancing, six feet apart. Some churches are doing every other pew, and you sit together with your family. But a touchless experience, which means those overzealous greeters don't stick their hand out and say, "good morning, welcome." It's hands free. I did a seminar recently where I talked about it would be a good time for churches to hold those signs that you see, the pop signs say "welcome back," "glad you're here," "welcome home," just kind of something that gets their hands occupied so they're not reaching out to shake your hand. I would prop doors open and just let people walk through and not be touched.
About two weeks ago, I had a repair person come out to the house to fix something, and when I opened the door I immediately shot my hand out and said, "Hey," and he just out of reaction shook my hand. And then he said, "Oh, you're not sick are you?" And I said, "No, you're not sick are you?" It was just human nature. And so when we get back together, we're going to have to really just hold back because, and here's what's important, we got into a big discussion in my Facebook group. I have a Facebook group called "Weekend Worship and Guest Services" and we talk about this kind of stuff. And there are some people that are pretty passionate saying, well I love the sense of touch, I love hugging, I love shaking hands, I love the meet and greet, I love the fellowship time, it's my love language to hug others. I said, that's great, but you're going to freak some people out. There are some people who especially right now in this COVID season do not want to be touched. They don't want to be approached. There was a restaurant in town. They just loosened a lot of stuff here. I live as you know in Rock Hill, South Carolina, which is a suburb of Charlotte, North Carolina, so we're right at the border. That's why we call it the Carolinas and the Carolina Panthers, split both South Carolina and North Carolina. So I'm on the South Carolina side but I'm in a Charlotte metro. And in South Carolina, the governor loosened on the restrictions, and so they had all these restaurants open and outdoor dining was a thing that they were starting. Well I didn't do that, and I thought I would go get takeout. And so I went to my favorite Mexican restaurant because yesterday was Cinco de Mayo, and I thought I'm going to go in and order takeout and take it home. Well I walked in. I had my mask on. And there were all these people that were waiting in line that were close to me, not six feet apart but very close, and they didn't have masks on and it freaked me out, and I thought I'm not waiting in this line. I'm going to go back home and make my own tacos. And so I walked right back out of the restaurant and went home and made dinner at home. So if you have somebody that's overzealous, or maybe sit even feels a little selfish of well I like to hug, I like to shake hands. Loving your neighbor right now, being hospitable, loving your neighbor looks like giving them space. Giving them space and safety and not getting in their personal space so that they can feel comfortable. Because they're taking a brave decision to come back.
Matt Steen: That's a good word. So how do you communicate that ahead of time? If people just show up at church on Sunday morning, they're going to think it's normal, right? And they're going to do their thing. So how do you communicate that well?
Greg Atkinson: That's where I would follow the lead in what Craig Groeschel did. You know, Craig leads the largest church in the country, Live Church, and he's been doing regular communication. And so he just put out a weekly communication via video, and he talked. He's very natural on the camera. Greg's great at staring down the camera. And he said, hey we can't wait to get back together with you and it's going to look like this. And I saw another pastor in Houston do a video as well, and he said, look we're going to come back, the seating capacity's going to be limited. It will probably be 25% capacity. We're probably going to do a ticketing system where you have to have a ticket and reserve a seat just to make sure we keep crowd sizes down. It's going to be a touchless experience. You'll be able to come in and sit and worship and nobody's going to bother you. So just communicating that, just letting them know. People are looking for leadership in these troubled times right now, these difficult times. So just being clear and concise and consistent and saying, look we're going to do everything we can. Like every church I've heard of, they're talking about adding services so that you stay below those 25% capacity guidelines that the CDC church taskforce recommended. So if you have a congregation of 400 and an auditorium that seats 400, well then we're going to have four services where only 100 people can come, that kind of thing. And the best way to reserve that is through, you could use your church database, CHMS like a planning center, or Eventbrite which is a free option for tickets, finding a way to do ticketing. And one thing, I was on a call with The Malphurs Group yesterday. They're great consultants as well. I have great respect for them and for Aubrey and love what they're doing. And they were saying that one of the things they've been telling their churches that they work with is to undersell the tickets. And so if you have 100 seats available in a service, only offer 80 tickets. So that when you have those walk-ups that didn't register that you're not going to be in a tough situation of turning people away or having too many people in a space at once. And so if you want 100 people per service, offer 80 tickets, and expect 20 that walk up without a ticket, that kind of thing.
Matt Steen: That's really smart. That rooms for guests, leaves room for, you know we all have the image in our head. We know exactly who the one is that goes to our church that's going to walk up without the ticket, right? We know exactly who that is. Well Greg, this has been really helpful. Before we go, I want to be respectful of your time, but before we go is there one thing that you would say to everybody who's watching this, just before we go back into this season of seeming close-to-normal maybe?
Greg Atkinson: Yeah, I would just say, regardless of your personal thoughts or politics or whether you think the virus is real or a hoax. I actually got sick. I know it's real. I was sick for four weeks. But whether you think this is too much drama or whatever, a lot of people are really concerned about this, and a lot of people are vulnerable. So the best way that we can love them and minister to them and be hospitable to them is to protect them. And so that means following the CDC guidelines and going over the top with sanitizing your church. For years I've done podcasts, and I've wrote about it in my, I have a book Secrets of a Secret Shopper where I go through all of these different areas. And in children's ministry, which we don't want to open up children's ministry in the beginning, but I've said for years children's ministry should be clean, safe, and secure. Well it's the same way going back now in the COVID season going back to church. It's got to be clean, safe, and secure. And so what this means, and this is a practical tip for you, if your services are 9:30am and 11am and you have to finish your 9:30am service, which gets out at 10:30am, 10:30-11am is probably not enough time to sanitize everything down again and allow the disinfectant to be wet and to do its job and to dry properly and to properly sanitize your pews, your chairs, your auditorium, your table counter, counter tops, your surfaces. It may not be enough time, so you might have to do a 9:30am and a 12pm or a 9:30am and a 1pm service. Maybe 12pm is fine. Or 9:30am and 11:30am, I've seen a lot of churches that are doing two hours apart. But you have to have time. So you want to come in Saturday and Sunday morning and completely wipe down everything, disinfect, sanitize, clean, wipe every surface, everything down. And then between services, you and your team and your ushers and your staff and volunteers have to do it all again. There was a large church that a lot of us are familiar with that opened up in Dallas this past weekend, and they talked about what they went through sanitizing in between services, and they had a volunteer that kind of sat down to rest in a seat. And they had to say, get up, now we have to sanitize it all over again. We have to start over wiping it down. So take this seriously. A lot of people are really concerned, and more importantly a lot of people are really vulnerable with their immune system. So being hospitable, loving our neighbor looks like taking this seriously and being safe, so taking safety precautions.
Matt Steen: That's great. That’s great, Greg, thank you so much. Really appreciate your time. Really appreciate your wisdom.
Greg Atkinson: Yeah, thank you for having me.