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 Mark Anderes, Executive Pastor at Uniontown Bible Church in Union Bridge, MD.
Also, be sure to check out Uniontown's reopening plan here.
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Mark: Yeah, and an hour north of D.C.
Matt: About an hour north of D.C. You guys are in process of opening right now. So let's talk a little bit about what's going on in the state of Maryland. Let's talk a little bit about why you guys came to the decision that it's time for us to reopen. And then we can kind of walk through that from there. So tell me first of all, so Governor Hogan in Maryland has allowed you guys to open up. What are the requirements on churches in order to meet?
Mark: Yeah, the governor opened last week, actually kind of in a surprise. We didn't expect it to come so quickly, but he opened congregations up at a 50% capacity with “social distancing and masking requirements” is what their exact wording was. And then they put out a document that really talked through different suggested practices within each thing. Things like wearing masks, cleaning between each service, lots of different things like that. Actually instead of six feet apart, they've asked for seven feet apart in churches. Just different ways like that.
Matt: Extra distance between huggers.
Mark: Yeah, right.
Matt: It helps. So talk to me a little bit. You told me that a lot of churches in your area are not opening, but you guys made the decision to. Help me understand what the thinking was and why you guys thought that it was time for you all to open.
Mark: Yeah, so we've had a plan ready to go for quite some time, anticipating what the governor would say. And when everything lined up and he said that, we decided this last week that we would not open and that we needed some more time to get it together. But we decided we're still going to offer our livestream, that's still going to be happening. So we're still going to have that available for people that aren't comfortable as well as people who shouldn't be coming, honestly, for safety. Elderly, immune compromised, so forth. So that's going to be in play no matter what. Then on top of that, we decided there is a large group of people in our community, and I think across the board, who really are needing some connection, some personal connection in a safe environment. I think everyone who's gone to the store and you see a friend across the way, they've kind of stopped and talked at a social distance thing. And that's just healthy for us. We're made for community, right? So that was kind of the thinking behind it. We want to keep people safe. Absolutely. 100%. We don't want to make anybody feel like they need to come. You're a part of the church just as much over here on the livestream as you are in person. In fact, we're doing a lot of things to push and help the people who are going to be at home and to love and care for them differently than we are the ones that are coming to church.
Matt: Very cool. So making that a guilt-free kind of experience for not showing up type of a thing?
Mark: Yeah, absolutely. We're going to be calling personally every person who says that they're going to the livestream. We have a whole team of people calling them back Sunday morning to talk with them, get a prayer request, that kind of thing as well as a week after - we're still making this happen - but sending those people a Uniontown coffee mug to watch livestream at home with their coffee mug. It's a small touch. It's not a big deal, but it means we care and we're thinking about you.
Matt: And one of the things you told me is your facility is unique enough in your area that it makes it a little bit easier for you guys to open up. So tell me a little bit about how that shaped your thinking.
Mark: Yeah, we have one of the larger auditoriums in the area, in our county. Our seating capacity is 1,000 people, 1,054 to be exact. So because of that, we can social distance and fit a good number of people within our room safely. So what we've done is, we basically have 540 chairs placed out. We're not going to go over 250 people in the room. And the way it's going to work is, once they register for their tickets, when they're there, they'll be able to pick the area where they want to sit, and the registration person will remove the four seats next to them so that they can't be picked. So that way there's social distancing from every angle. It looks funny, I'm not going to lie. When you stand on stage and you look out and the aisles are literally seven feet apart, it's an interesting look.
Matt: So that's cool. So you're requiring everybody to register. You're also doing multiple services. What other requirements are you putting on people, and what are you telling your congregation to prepare for this?
Mark: Yeah, so masking. We're telling everyone that they need to be wearing a mask. We're asking everyone to take their temperature at home before they come and to make sure that they don't have any symptoms of any kind. If they do, stay home. Absolutely don't come. We have hand sanitizing stations. Fortunately we thought about that a long time ago, went and bought a whole lot of supplies ahead of time, which was wonderful. We have a huge cleaning protocol. Well let me say this first. It's a touchless environment, so no one that's coming will have to touch anything. There's not going to be offering baskets passed. We're not passing out bulletins. You won't have to open doors or touch handles. Even within the bathrooms, we've created at the bathroom entrances the doors will be open, so we've created dividers so that people can't see in. Things like that just to make that completely touchless. So that's going to happen. And then the cleaning protocols are huge. We're cleaning the floors in front of the seats in between each service. We've worked with the health department really closely. We're Lysoling all of the chairs after every service. If you have stock in Lysol, you just made a lot of money from us.
Matt: You're welcome.
Mark: Yeah, right, exactly. We are still going to wipe down all the handles on all the doors just as a precaution and all of those ways. Trying to think of some of the other -
Matt: - So how long is that going to take in between services do you think?
Mark: So we have a whole cleaning team that's coming in. And the way we've worked it is that the bathrooms, every other stall is going to be closed. And then those will be clean, and then the ones that are used, so we'll flop them from service to service. So that can happen during the service. When service lets out, we have 15 minutes to get the floors and Lysol the chairs and get the door handles and everything done. Which with the team of people that we have shouldn't be a problem. But it will be intense.
Matt: Oh I bet. So you guys, I mean, you're requiring people to register ahead of time. Guest shows up that's not registered. How are you guys going to walk through that?
Mark: Yeah, so we have tried to communicate in multiple avenues - Facebook Live, texting, emails, the whole nine yards - we're doing that every day throughout the week, so we're trying to be as clear as possible. The other thing too is most people are not coming to church without looking at your website first because they just don't know if you're even open. So that actually helps us. But we know that there's going to be people that show up. So what we have is, when they come to get their tickets or their seating that morning, we have basically like an airline system. We have a standby card that we're handing them. We're going to give them a standby card. On one side it says "standby." On the other side it says "hey, next week make sure you register and here's how to do it." Just to be clear. And so they'll have to wait for a while to decide until we kind of check people in, get them seated, if there's room available, which there probably will be some, then we'll allow them in and we'll seat them towards the back later. There are some seats in our auditorium that we're calling "obstructed view," and basically it means it's a bad seat. Literally just because of the design of the auditorium. So we're not going to fill those in, and those will probably be filled by people who don't have tickets when it comes down to it.
Matt: Gotcha. So somebody shows up without a mask or somebody shows up - the hugger, and everybody knows who that person is, you're seeing them now - how are you guys going to walk them through that? Are you giving people masks? Are you saying, “hey dude,” you know?
Mark: Again, we've been really clear on our communication up front. Actually to be honest to you, one of the things we've really pushed is, look we know it's uncomfortable for people who are concerned to get sick. We also know that these guidelines are change and they're hard for a lot of people. And to be truthful, if that change is too much for you, it would probably be better if you watched the livestream at home. So we can really brutally honest, upfront with that, and we've said this is what we're doing when you're here. So we've made that expectation very clear. And there are a few people I already know of who are not going to come because they know they have to wear a mask. And that's okay, that's fine. It's our responsibility to keep people safe. And so we're going to do the best we can to do that. If they show up and they don't have a mask, we have masks available. We have surgical masks that can be given out for people if they forgot it or something like that happens. If they're just belligerent about it, we have worked really hard and actually our elder team, our elder team who has great relationships and is our shepherding group in our church, is going to be in the check-in area and they're going to kind of be the enforcement, loving conversation. And so that takes the pressure off the volunteers to have to be the nasty guy if we have to be that. But it also just, we've been very clear in all of our communication upfront. So if you're coming to do that, you're probably coming to just be divisive. And we're not going to do that. Because it's not about that on Sunday morning.
Matt: Yeah, very cool. So you've got people that are already going to walk through and just remind people and say, “hey please don't be that person,” “please don't make us be a jerk,” that kind of thing. That's cool. So you're in a part of the county that is opinionated politically. Is that safe to say?
Mark: Yeah. Definitely leans high conservative, high right side of the fence.
Matt: And so there's a bunch of people, but you're also in a shifting demographic too because you have people from D.C. and the cities and that kind of thing. How are you guys walking through some of the divisiveness that's coming up with this? Because we have people that are like, “hey, this is a fraud,” “this is a hoax.”
Mark: Yeah, we as a leadership team, staff, and elders, we've really tried to identify if there's a specific person that we know who might have a real hard time on either end. And so we're trying to be proactive in that by just reaching out to those people individually and calling them, making sure they're okay. I don't have an issue with either side of the political views. Politics is politics, and views are views. And I'm not going to change that in people. And honestly that's not the church's responsibility. You can have those, that's fine. Where I think we have to be really careful is, we're here to worship God to corporately come together, to encourage one another, to edify one another. And so when that sort of starts to rain in on it is where it becomes the issue. So yeah. We definitely have had some back and forth, some very strong opinions, but we're trying to be very proactive about that. We also know there's 10% over here and there's 10% over here. And we're probably not going to please either one of them if we didn't go hard extreme on either side. Which basically means, come back to church and we're going to do nothing, just everything's normal. Which we're not going to do. Or you know, we should not have church for the next five years. You know, I'm being exaggerative. But that's the reality. So we're really kind of shooting for the middle ground and trying to include both sides into that with our proactive nature.
Matt: That's cool, that's cool. Well Mark, hey thank you for your time this morning. Anything that's really surprised you about this process real quick that would be helpful for everyone else to know before they dive into this?
Mark: Yeah, you ready? Everything. Everything is surprising. No, I'm just kidding.
Matt: Great, super helpful, super helpful.
Mark: I would say this. We have come to the understanding that when we make a plan and we're ready, they are going to change their mind and make it different. So the flexibility aspect of it is huge, and I think the biggest thing for us is, as leaders, is just to remain positive and encouraging throughout it and just to set the tone. It's going to change. It's going to change week by week. It's going to change day by day. And we're going with it just like you are.
Matt: Very cool. Mark, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time and your thoughtfulness in this.
Mark: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks Matt.