If you had walked into my church office in January and told me what life would look like in the next six months, I would not have believed you. Yet, we humans are resilient creatures. We have adapted and overcome many challenges over the past few months. Slowly but surely, we are learning to adapt to a new way of life.

As much as we are all looking forward to things going back to some sort of normality, everyone seems to understand that this new normal is going to have to look different to what we once understood as normal.

This realisation is just as true for churches as it is for other parts of society.

Since South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that religious gatherings could recommence in June, churches have had to make tough decisions in order to best care for the community in their particular context. Some churches rushed back at the opportunity to reopen while others are taking a more cautious approach.

Whether your local church has decided to reopen for physical worship services yet or not, the fact of the matter is that at some point, all churches are going to have to learn to navigate the new normal. How can we do this in a loving, responsible, God-honouring way?

Be supportive

“Acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).

One of the biggest misconceptions that I have noticed recently is the idea that lockdown has been an opportunity for pastors to have a holiday. Some people seem to think that because their pastor has not had to conduct physical worship gatherings, they have spent the last few months relaxing at home. This could not be further from the truth. The past several months have probably been some of the toughest that your pastor has ever had to face.

Pastors are no strangers to being asked to do things that are outside of their job description, but these have increased ten-fold since lockdown began. Pastors have had to become TV preachers, telephone consultants, financial advisers, fake news discerner’s, and much more.

Take it easy on your pastors and church leaders!

You might not be happy with the new regulations that your church has to follow to reopen their doors. You might not like the fact that you have to wear your mask for the entire service; that you are not allowed to sing worship songs or chat to your friend that you have not seen for months. Your pastor does not like it either. Your love and support will make an incredibly difficult time much more bearable for your church leaders.

Be compassionate

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

The reopening of church is a joyous event. By all means, celebrate the occasion! But try not to forget those who might still be grieving. People have lost much during this Coronavirus pandemic – jobs, finances, loved ones, and more.

Let us remember those who might not be ready to celebrate joyfully just yet. While you might be over your grief period, others might not be feeling the same. Give people time and space to grieve. Perhaps churches could look at hosting services of lament that give people an opportunity to grieve and mourn for what they have lost.

Be prepared

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23).

Churches have strict regulations that they are legally required to adhere to when reopening their services. These regulations have been implemented to ensure the safety of every church member. Churches must make sure that they are adequately prepared for these regulations to best care for their members who decide to return to church.

However, churches should also continue to cater for those who choose to remain isolated for a while longer. Although some of us might be excited about the prospect of returning to physical church gatherings, not everyone is going to feel the same. Churches have a responsibility to care for all of its members, whether they choose to meet physically or not.

Consider keeping your online ministry going in parallel to your physical church services.

Obviously, this will put a lot of extra stress on your probably already strained church leadership, so perhaps your church could consider ways to alleviate some of the workload on your pastors in order for them to provide adequate care and ministry for all of the church’s members. If your pastor is in charge of church finances, admin, counselling, etc, perhaps see if you could get others to assist with these tasks.

Be creative

“He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work” (Exodus 35:35).

Finally, we need to accept that, at least for a while, church gatherings will not look the same as what they used to. However, that does not mean that our worship services cannot be meaningful for those who choose to attend.

Consider ways that your church can adhere to the current regulations while still giving worshippers an opportunity to have an intimate encounter with their Creator God.This will naturally look different in each specific context, but we have an opportunity to be creative with the way that we conduct our worship services in the coming months.

Whenever your church decides to reopen their doors for worship services, let us try to ensure that we are doing so in a loving, responsible, God-honouring way.