OUR THOUGHT PROCESS
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented wisdom and action. We have been praying and seeking God to give us a supernatural edge in how we approach this highly complex issue of re-entry. And before we give you our plan of action, we want to give you the thought process that has led us to this plan.
First and foremost, we must remember that the church is not “closed”. It never did close, and it never will close. “It” is not closed because “it” is not a building. The church is the people. From the beginning of this pandemic, our church has been as active as we have ever been in our mission of leading people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus. People have been praying more than ever. We are reaching more people per Sunday with online church than we were in-person before the pandemic. We have as many people gathering in digital small groups as we did in-person small groups before the pandemic. We have hundreds of people serving on our Pandemic Serve Team. And finally, our tithes and offerings have held strong throughout the entire pandemic. I want to give God glory for all of it and I also want to keep this in mind as we look to re-enter our buildings. We must realize and calculate the risks of re-entry and weigh those risks against its rewards. While there are very real rewards of re-entering buildings, we also have to keep in mind that some of those rewards will not be realized in the initial stages of mandatory restrictions and recommendations.
Subsequently, there are many dynamics at play when it comes to this decision to re-enter our church buildings on Sundays. Our team has been in discussions for more than a month and has explored many strategies. We have condensed the many factors we are looking at into two categories: 1) the safety of our community and 2) the quality of the Sunday service experience. These have become the two driving forces of our actions going forward.
THE SAFETY OF OUR COMMUNITY
We have a mandate as leaders in this community and representatives of God to protect the physical health of the people in our church as well as the people they will come in contact with when they leave the premises. We must realize that we are a church that gathers hundreds of people at a time, multiple times per weekend. Which means we are among the top environments posing the highest risk of causing rapid spread of this highly contagious virus. And as expectant and excited as we are to gather in those large numbers again soon, we cannot let that desire lead us to irresponsibly perpetuate the spread of this disease. At the very core of our values as Christians, are sacrificial love and selflessness. As Christians, we should be the first to realize that the world does not revolve around us and we should be quick to sacrifice our own desires for the good of others. Of course, we do not live with a spirit of fear, according to 2 Timothy 1:7. And as Timothy goes on to say we will instead live in power, love, and with a sound mind. We believe and choose to act as though it is loving to consider other people’s health before our own, and it is mindful to heed the expertise and advice of our health professionals when making these decisions.
THE QUALITY OF THE SUNDAY SERVICE EXPERIENCE
The other factor to consider is the quality and comprehensiveness of our worship experience when we do gather in large numbers again. With the health restrictions given to us by our governmental and health authorities, we must realize that re-entering our buildings for Sunday services will certainly not be “back to normal” any time in the foreseeable future. It is very apparent that holding a Sunday service while following the Virginia State Government and CDC requirements and recommendations, could lack many of the components that make it the experience that we have come to know and love, at least in the early stages of re-entry. It is imperative that we take this into consideration. It is not as simple as “opening the doors again”. There are dozens of factors to weigh out as we adhere to the mandatory and recommended restrictions. We must decide how those costs weigh against the rewards, from kids and youth ministry, to lobby interactions, to the staffing of vital volunteer teams, etc. We could be looking at an experience in the early stages of re-entry that does not come close to meeting the standards and values that make our Sunday service experience what it is.
In summary, we are committed to re-entering our buildings when we feel that we can meet both the levels of safety and quality of experience simultaneously.
So what is our plan? Our Re-Entry Action Plan has two levels.
RE-ENTRY ACTION PLAN: LEVELS 1 & 2
LEVEL 1: IN-PERSON SMALL GROUP GATHERINGS
Launches on June 7, 2020 (assuming VA enters “Phase 1” in all campuses’ counties)
On Sunday, June 7, 2020 we will launch our “Summer Small Group Semester” which will include in-person groups that will follow strict health guidelines provided to each Small Group leader and attendee. Virtual Small Groups will also be an ongoing option for people looking to be in community but who cannot join in-person for various reasons. Also included and encouraged will be groups that meet on Sundays to watch Church Online together. This will provide an opportunity to experience the Sunday Service in community, while still abiding by the guidelines necessary to reduce the risk of the spread of infection within our community. TLC facilities will not reopen for in-person small groups in Level 1.
LEVEL 2: IN-PERSON SUNDAY SERVICES
Launches upon completion of the “Level 2 Dashboard”
Our team has decided upon five checkpoints that need to be met before we will enter Level 2 of re-entry. In the meantime, we will continue to put great effort into providing an online church experience that you can either enjoy with your family or with your small group (once Level 1 begins). These five checkpoints make up what we call the “Level 2 Dashboard” and as each one turns from “red” to “green”, we will be one step closer to re-entering our buildings for Sunday Services, Wednesday Night Youth Services, and other activities.
Has our church considered drive-in services?
We thoroughly explored this idea as well as talked to other churches about their experiences in hosting drive in services. We also donated the use of our equipment (and our staff helped serve) to help another local church execute a drive-in service on Mother’s Day. After weighing out the pros and cons and witnessing the experience first hand, we do not feel this is the best strategy to help us accomplish our mission at this time.
What about other events in our buildings?
Our buildings will remain closed for all gatherings until we launch Level 2 of our Re-Entry Action Plan. The only permitted use of our buildings are minimal essential office operations and food pantries.
Will we wait to open all three campuses at once? Are we willing to open one before another depending on local county governments regulations?
Our goal will be to open all 3 physical locations at the same time, but we are remaining flexible on this decision.
What about Warrenton Campus, since it meets in a public school?
Our Warrenton Campus will follow the Re-Entry Plan Dashboard along with the other two campuses. Once the dashboard turns “all green”, our campuses will re-enter our buildings. The Warrenton Campus will follow suit assuming Fauquier County has allowed use of their schools by that time.
What will happen to daily interactive prayer?
Daily interactive prayer has been a tremendous blessing to our church during this time. We are committed to daily interactive prayer until the launch of Level 1, at which point we will re-evaluate the frequency of our corporate prayer meetings.
What kind of restrictions will small groups have?
In-person small groups will follow the guidelines laid out by our government and health authorities by not exceeding 10 people in attendance. That being said, we encourage people to continue engaging in our virtual small groups and to use necessary precautions by not attending an in-person small group if you are immuno-compromised, feel sick, have a fever or have been around someone with symptoms. Our small group leaders and attendees will be updated with all the latest guidelines and regulations.