Church Reopening Resource Video Introduction | SBC of Virginia
Church Reopening Resource Video Introduction | SBC of Virginia
Northam Religious Service Guidelines

Governor Northam has provided mandatory guidelines and best practices for churches as they reopen facilities.

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Please note, this conversation guide offers suggestions and in no way should replace guidelines from government officials and health care professionals. Every local church is autonomous and must, therefore, make their own decisions about how to move forward to be the church, honor earthly authorities, and love their neighbors.

Download a PDF version of this resource.

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Preparations to Reopen Church Campuses

A Letter from our Executive Director

Churches Adjusted and Mobilized:

SBC of Virginia pastors, leaders, and churches have quickly adjusted and powerfully mobilized their Gospel influence in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Pastors have proclaimed the Gospel to thousands via online platforms, while some have developed drive-in worship services. Churches have mobilized to minister to communities and blessed others through blood drives, free meals, and random acts of kindness. We have chronicled many of these stories through our Not Alone Stories.

Churches Can Prepare:

Conversations around the Commonwealth are now beginning to focus on what “reopening” church buildings and campuses should look like. Federal officials have issued their guidance on suggested phases for reopening. It appears state and local authorities will each determine what reopening looks like in our communities. We all are wondering when “stay-at-home” orders will be changed and what “phases” we will go through in reopening. Reopening will likely follow a “phase-in” approach with guidelines adjusting over time.

A Practical Conversation Guide:

We have compiled “a practical conversation guide” to support and assist your local church. We will also seek to offer forums and foster communication among SBC of Virginia pastors and church leaders as you develop your reopening strategy. For starters, we have also included a few sample reopening plans. As your church develops your reopening plan we ask for you to email a copy to SBC of Virginia at so we can add it to a catalog of sample plans for other pastors and churches to reference. Our team will be working to strengthen churches and connect churches with best practices.

The Lord has done and is doing amazing work through His church. Souls are being saved, and lives are being changed – amid a pandemic! Thank you for your partnership in the Gospel. You are not alone!

Your brother in Christ,
Brian Autry

A conversation starter not a definitive document

Please allow this guide to support and assist your church or ministry. It is meant to start conversations in how to reopen facilities after federal, state, and local authorities have provided the opportunity to do so. It is not meant to be a definitive document. Of course, all SBC of Virginia churches are autonomous and are free to choose for themselves the best decisions based on the desire of the local congregation and the context of their community.

Transition to freely meeting in person

This resource covers the time between the drive-in and online-only era to when worship services can be held freely, as defined by local authorities. In other words, this guide takes into account that this is an ongoing process and any reopening may have to be done slowly, over many months.

Key words in reopening


Churches must strive to maintain a Biblical expression of New Testament worship: this is not a question of whether or not a congregation should assemble, but how they will do so in the best interest of public health and testimony to its community.


Church leaders should commit to making each service the best it can be while still submitting to the larger scope of wisdom. Phasing-in will not only help avoid gathering too soon but also not hold your church in this drive-in/online-only era for longer than needed but still not rushing the process.


Recognize the possibility that in-person gatherings will look different. For the sake of health and life, consider each gathering needing to have a reduced capacity. This area will influence how you hold weekend worship, children’s and student ministry, and small groups.

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What should our leadership be doing?

Gather prayerfully with your leadership team to navigate this time of transition. Evaluate how this crisis may continue to impact your community. Rally your leadership team around the church’s mission. Focus everyone around a mission that expresses who you are as a church. Consider:

  1. Communication: Your church and community will appreciate hearing the steps you are taking to maintain clean and safe conditions on campus and a relevant ministry future.
  2. Evaluate: During this time, you have had to learn, relearn, and unlearn different things as a result of the restrictions. Many pastors report that God is using this time to cause more creative thinking about their ministries. Make a list of activities that will remain as you transition back to your public gathering. Ask questions like:
    • What has worked well for us during this time?
    • How can we continue to improve on this procedure to better our communication?
    • What should we stop doing?
  3. Developing leaders: Continue to use online resources to disciple the leadership to help in the transition and ministry after reopening.
  4. Change in responsibilities: Consider changes needed to the church staff’s responsibilities to address new ministry needs.
  5. Updates to governing documents: Review your governing documents and ensure they are in order so you can do business online.
How do we know we are doing this right?
  1. Consider local authorities: Share ideas or plans with authorities in advance, ask for their input, and allow them to help you better understand the changing state and local guidelines.
  2. Avoid unilateral decisions: Proverbs mentions over and over the wisdom of multiple counselors. This is a season to do the work of learning what is helpful to your congregation, what unifies the leadership of your church, and what encourages your community.
  3. Cooperate locally and nationally: Understand the status of your local community and how COVID-19 has affected it. If businesses cannot open or are severely restricted, you may not want to hold a pre-COVID kind of worship gathering until restrictions are lifted.
Test drive before in-person

Test drive everything you do before you announce it. This enables church leaders to gain valuable feedback, learn how people will respond, and iron out best practices by inviting trusted people to experience the worship service. The concept applies to small groups as well.

Test Drive Check List:

  1. Be legal and on the same page with local and national authorities to resume assembly.
  2. Follow up-to-date social distancing guidelines (CDC Guidelines).
  3. Start building your test teams right now in preparation for when local authorities allow.
  4. Choose healthy, trustworthy families who represent a wide demographic to even consider those with talents to help with various aspects of corporate worship.
  5. Invite 5-10 fewer people than the maximum permitted gathering size, allowing for unexpected guests to your service.
  6. Attempt to run absolutely everything you are hoping to do, giving maximum value to your test drive.
  7. Communicate your test run plans to the congregation.
  8. Health screen all attendees and volunteers. A test drive service is a great chance to see what is helpful and possible. For instance, if group sizes are limited to 50, is it practical to ask all attendees to be screened before entering?
  9. Learn as much as you can from attendees. Allow them to choose not to do something or to offer a better solution on the spot.
  10. Do a follow-up Zoom meeting with your test drive group and learn what you need to know from them.
What are the methods of reopening?
  1. Drive-in church: This is the safer model of reopening. Learn the pros, cons, and best practices of the drive-in church.
  2. Sign-up worship services: This will limit the number of live worship services. In other words, authorities may limit the building capacity per service. Ask congregants and guests to sign up for one live service per month, or every other week (for a time). If needed, they can take turns between online and in-person worship services during this interim time. Do not forget to allow space for guests by registering fewer people (for each worship service) than the maximum allowed.
  3. Multiple gatherings during the week: A church divides the number of congregants by the maximum legal gathering number and offers that amount of live worship services. Example: 150 regular attendees combined with a season of 50 maximum gathered would mean a church could offer 3-4 live services. Sign up less than the legal capacity to allow for guests.
  4. Utilize multiple methods: Most churches should land on this decision. What the church lost in COVID was the ability to gather in-person, but it gained a renewed evangelistic emphasis. It is wise to nurture both aspects. This approach displays wisdom for at-risk individuals.
  5. Adult-only services: This method asks parents to alternate worship attendance (naturally reducing attendance as one parent stays home with children) and holds off on the need to determine kids’ ministry methods until it becomes clearer.
  6. Small groups live and corporate worship online: Small- and medium-sized churches may decide for legally appropriate small groups or Bible studies to happen on campus. They continue online worship services. Home groups are an option, but leaders would have no way to ensure proper cleanliness.
  7. Online-only until 100% clear: Take this approach if you are in a high-risk area, your community is still largely in a lockdown, or your local governing authorities have asked you to do so.
What are the best practices for health safety?
  1. Medical professionals: Work with medical professionals or county health department personnel to develop best practices related to the health of your guests. Determine point persons who will oversee and keep an eye on the basic health protocols over the next 2-6 months.
  2. Appropriate social distancing: If the standard is 6 feet, follow it with the distance among your chairs.
  3. Screening volunteers: Ask your team leaders and volunteers to document their health status before serving. View a good screening form. Make it clear those who may be affected by COVID-19 are better serving the congregation by staying home.
  4. Clean & clean again: Do whatever it takes to ensure a clean building. Protocols should be implemented to reduce the spread of the virus on campus. Consider hiring a cleaning company or provide detailed checklists that must be accomplished before holding in-person gatherings and recruit volunteers or church staff.
  5. Provide COVID-19 protection: Offer masks, gloves, and hand sanitizing stations throughout the building and at exits and entrances. Deploy cleaning teams while services are in progress, as well as before and after gatherings. Make sure to purchase enough supplies in advance of reopening.
  6. Screening attendees: Implement the highest levels of health safety. It may or may not be appropriate to screen everyone coming into your building but should be considered.
  7. Encourage wisdom from at-risk groups: Champion wise decisions and patience for those who are at-risk and might be hesitant to gather for other health reasons.
  8. Discourage personal contact: It may be wise to discontinue meet and greet times in worship or be creative while maintaining social distancing (bonus: get a nice printed sign with welcome slogans for greeters to hold).
  9. Questions to ask:
    • Are there medical professionals or county health department personnel you could work with to help develop best practices related to the health of your guests?
    • Who will provide campus “policing” of the protocols? More specifically, who will work under the authority of the pastor/elders to keep an eye on the basic health protocols for the next 2-6 months?
    • What ongoing (daily, weekly, monthly) cleaning protocols should be developed before meeting in-person?
How do we execute our online and physical services?
  1. All live: Livestream every live gathering you produce. This is a good choice for churches with adequate equipment and experienced people. Churches can replay any of their services when they choose.
  2. Livestream & record: If you have multiple live services, record the first service and replay it throughout the weekend on a predetermined schedule. This is a good choice for churches that have ample equipment but are limited in people.
  3. Separate live & streaming services: Record a service during the week. Re-stream that service on a predetermined and advertised schedule over the weekend. Live services would be conducted separately and not streamed over the internet. This option is a good one for churches with limited equipment and where the same person is both producing the content and executing the technology needed for the service.
What are options for preschool, children's, and student ministries?
  1. Continue online only: Limiting worship services to the entire family, while ministering to children online during the week. This approach limits health concerns for children and allows parents or guardians to oversee them.
  2. Limited offerings: Some churches may provide a limited and highly controlled preschool ministry during the worship service. This option allows preschoolers to attend in-person classes while parents are in corporate worship. The same can apply to children and students age-graded, in-person bible study. Or they may choose to attend with their parents.
  3. Offer ministry corresponding to school schedules: Follow the flow and protocol of your public-school system. An advantage here is that a church will have access to teachers and school officials to learn best practices. Also, the community at large will already be comfortable and familiar with these decisions.
  4. Offer normal ministries, scaled for social distancing: This could be an option for the future. Regular preschool, children’s, and student ministries could be started incrementally in compliance with approved assembly numbers. This is a good option if it complies with governmental standards and you have prepared for the highest level of health safety.
What about Bible studies and discipleship?
  1. Groups could be a safe regathering strategy: This is a good short-term approach to avoid tensions with providing a safe corporate worship experience. On the backside of this method, be sure to include digital groups in your discipleship strategy.
  2. Groups can help you keep a pulse on the health of volunteers: Well-screened groups could provide a better serving pool when the opportunity arises to reopen a campus at any level.
  3. Consider group health safety: Groups on campus provide a unified standard of cleanliness as opposed to groups meeting at homes. Meeting on campus allows your church to control the cleanliness and health safety of meeting space.
  4. Start new groups: Sunday School groups can get large. If you have space, consider starting another hour of Sunday School, or start new groups, to help people spread out.
How do we approach outreach?
  1. Deal with the obvious: Let local issues help guide your effort to advance the Gospel in your community. Things like jobs, protective gear (masks), financial coaching, and food are all good starting places.
  2. Connect your online offerings to real-world needs: Connect outreach to your ministry strategy. Invite everyone to your online service.
  3. Unleash smaller, screened, and well-coached teams: If and when a decision is made to do local missions, start with trusted volunteers. You can always expand the opportunity to others after church leadership has a better handle on what should be done.
What adjustments should we be prepared to make?
  1. Lord’s Supper and baptism: Consider using self-contained juice and cracker cups at stations placed around the room where members could pick up on their way in to the service. Ask your leadership team to discuss other options to continue conducting believer’s baptism.
  2. Summer Student Activites: Should you cancel or delay camps and VBS until later this summer? There are alternatives, like delaying VBS until August and using it as a big back-to-school event. Other churches are using the materials in backyard Bible clubs, which allow for smaller groups. LifeWay published resources on this very issue. Visit to learn more.
  3. Special events: Should we host weddings, funerals, revivals, dramas, children’s programs/choir, and Bible drills? Consider which ones will continue and which ones need to be postponed until the “all clear” is given.
  4. Coffee stations: Coffee stations and coffee shop experiences may not be feasible at this time. Place tables and chairs in storage so people do not congregate within a couple of feet of one another.
  5. Volunteer numbers decreasing: Plan and adjust to the possibility that some older or at-risk volunteers and families with young children may be nervous about returning until a vaccine or other treatment is readily available.
  6. Financial: Develop a plan for reducing expenses if your church’s offerings do not rebound, or hold steady, due to rising unemployment in members. Financial questions to ask:
    • Can you project long-term trends on giving? What is the bottom-line impact of these giving trends?
    • Cleaning and contact efforts will be an ongoing expense that is most likely beyond current spending plans. How will you fund these required resources (donations of cleaning supplies, financial adjustments, etc.)?
    • What new ministry opportunities have you identified and what are the associated costs?
    • Have you led the church to consider the missionaries supported through the Cooperative Program, Vision Virginia, Lottie Moon Offering for International Missions, Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions, and others? These are real people called by God and sent by your church to minister in difficult places. They are trusting you and your church to hold the rope even in difficult times.
    • What creative things are you doing to help church members who have lost their jobs?
Reopening checklist
  1. Check with local municipalities and governing officials on the legality of the church reopening.
  2. Develop a response plan for attendees who have contracted COVID-19 after attending a worship service. Also, develop a plan of response to those who show up with symptoms of sickness.
  3. Consider hiring local law enforcement to help implement appropriate standards and maintain social distancing.
  4. Test-drive any assembly with trusted church members before offering to the public.
  5. Determine possible traffic patterns where COVID-19 could be easily passed. Consider providing a one-way traffic flow for pedestrians.
  6. Social distancing: Set your worship centers to comply with current standards and develop an entrance or exit strategy for worship services that meet requirements.
  7. Professionally and thoroughly clean your entire church campus to CDC standards.
  8. Shampoo carpets and clean floors. Sanitize worship seating, door handles, light switches, and anything else usually touched by the hand.
  9. Bathrooms: Either choose to communicate that bathrooms will be closed, or develop a plan for multiple cleanings before, between and after services.
  10. Sanitize worship equipment: pianos, mics, drum sticks, in-ear monitor stations, and podiums. Remove hard copy Bibles and all print material from pews or church chairs.
  11. Remove nonessential children’s ministry items. While children’s ministry will be among the last ministries to be implemented, keep the rooms as clean as possible. Consider closing these rooms. Prep volunteers to thoroughly clean between uses.
  12. Implement drive-by giving, place a box in the back, or highlight online giving. Avoid passing the plate.
  13. Develop signage asking attendees to refrain from physical contact.
  14. Determine which volunteers must wear gloves and masks. Should all attendees be given gloves and masks?
  15. Provide multiple hand-sanitizing stations inside and outside of the building.
  16. Develop a plan for at-risk people (seniors and medically compromised) who decide to attend a worship service.
  17. Communicate cleanliness and health expectations to all attendees. In communication, reserve the right to deny attendance.
  18. Consider making a video to share with your church telling them what to expect their first Sunday back in the building. The video should outline traffic flow, seating guidelines, children and preschool expectations, etc. Emphasize safety! Think in terms of over-communicating the precautions you are taking as a church.
  19. Move all printed materials to digital (i.e., worship bulletins).
  20. Develop a digital plan for collecting information on guests and spiritual decisions.

Printable Signs for Reopening Church Campuses

The SBC of Virginia has designed color and black and white signs that you can download and print to use throughout your church facility during reopening.

Get the Signs

CDC’s main COVID-19 Web page:

CDC Guidelines

Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 Web page:

Virginia State Guidelines

Virginia Governor’s COVID-19 Web page:

VA Governor Guidelines

Please note, this conversation guide offers suggestions and in no way should replace guidelines from government officials and health care professionals. Every local church is autonomous and must, therefore, make their own decisions about how to move forward to be the church, honor earthly authorities, and love their neighbors.

Download a PDF version of this resource.

Download PDF

Additional Comments and Credits

This resource is only to be considered as a conversation starter – not a definitive document. It will be an evolving resource as directives change from state and local officials and health realities change throughout Virginia.

Provided thanks to giving through the Cooperative Program

This resource is provided thanks to the generous and consistent giving of SBC of Virginia churches through the Cooperative Program.


Resources compiled by the staff of the Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia with contributions from:

  • Ken Braddy, LifeWay’s director of Sunday School, manager of LifeWay Christian Resource’s Adult Ongoing Bible Studies and Adult Trainers
  • Southern Baptists of Texas Convention
  • Missouri Baptist Convention
  • Florida Baptist Convention
  • Baptist State Convention of North Carolina
  • Tennessee Baptist Mission Board

Church sample plan contributions from:

  • Adam Blosser, senior pastor of Goshen Baptist Church
  • Dan Cook, senior executive pastor of Spotswood Baptist Church

Please consider sending your ministry reopening plan to We would like to compile these plans to make them accessible as a resource for the churches of the SBC of Virginia. Thank you!

Download a PDF version of this resource.

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