We began holding in person worship services on May 24th. This was in accordance with the recommendations of our state government (Texas) and state Baptist convention. We taped off every other pew and encouraged our folks to distance themselves on the occupied pews. We left most of the interior doors open. We did not pass the offering plates, and we did not have a greeting time. We placed hand sanitizer stations at all the exits. In that service our attendance was about 60 percent of what it was before the pandemic. Lots of our older folks stayed home, and young families did, also, because we did not offer childcare. The folks who did come worshiped with great enthusiasm. Very few wore masks.
On May 31st we again worshiped in person. We took the same precautions. On that Sunday we observed the Lord’s Supper, using the little prepackaged kits. Again, our attendance was about 60 percent of our pre-pandemic attendance. More of our senior adults attended on that Sunday. In fact, our oldest member, who is over ninety, went around the auditorium hugging people.
On June 7th, our attendance dipped a bit, but I believe this was because our senior pastor was on vacation. For this service we removed the tape and allowed people to sit where they wished. Again, our folks worshiped with enthusiasm. On this Sunday several of our adult Sunday school classes resumed in person teaching. We had taught the previous weeks, using ZOOM.
We had originally planned to reopen completely—Sunday school for all ages, nursery, children’s church—on June 7th; however, some complications with our Preschool Division prompted us to postpone the complete reopening until June 28th.
We did not offer in person worship for ten weeks. During those weeks, we produced and webcast a video service via Facebook and YouTube. We had good viewership during those weeks, though we noticed that the number of viewers declined weekly. However, we did observe that more folks were accessing the worship video on our church website. That made us think that our members came to realize that they could watch the worship video at another, more convenient time.
Through the weeks of the pandemic, our offerings were good, really beyond good. The first week we only received about 50 percent of our weekly budget need. I thought, “Oh man, this is going to be a rough journey.” However, our tithes and offerings for the second week were way above our budget need, and they have continued to be good until now. They have been good in the weeks since we resumed in person worship, also.
If you had told me that our church would emerge from the pandemic more unified and more financially sound, I would have said, “You’re nuts.” But, both of those statements are true. I wish I could say that our financial blessings were the result of a brilliant plan the staff concocted, but that is not true. We did not do anything. It was due to God’s blessing and generous members.
Our deacon chairman asked me what I had learned from the pandemic. Now, that is a great question, and it really made me think. I answered, “First, this experience has humbled me.” I have served in the ministry for 50 years, and I earned a PhD at Southwestern Baptist Seminary. Most things that arise I know how to handle. That is absolutely not true about ministry during the pandemic. I did not have a clue about what we should do. Our senior pastor also has 50 years of ministry experience, and about once a week we look at each other and shake our heads. We’ve never seen a situation like this. Second, I told the deacon that this pandemic has reminded me of the goodness of God. God has been so good to our church. God has guided our staff to make helpful decisions, and our members have pitched in to help in many ways.
What has your reopening experience been like?