Our church is getting ready to meet again. What’s next?
maximize MINISTRY | minimize LIABILITY
Many churches have reached out to the National Center for Life and Liberty to ask questions regarding holding in-person services again. Every state is taking a different approach to re-opening, with extremes on both sides. States like Florida, Texas, South Carolina, and North Carolina are allowing churches to freely meet without any interference. Illinois, New York, and California are taking more aggressive positions, not allowing mass gatherings, including worship services, through the end of July.
On April 15, 2020, we published a video that discussed this topic, stating that our recommendation was for churches to begin re-opening for public worship services sometime between May 17 and June 30, depending on the location of your church. COVID-19 has affected certain areas more than others. Certain counties have had few if any cases of COVID-19. As churches have begun to follow this guidance, their actions have been met with little resistance across the country, and churches have begun meeting in-person again with little to no issue.
As we state in all of our communications, the NCLL does not direct churches or pastors WHAT to do. Our goal as legal professionals is to provide good information to guide your thinking and help you understand your options as you make decisions for your church. Below is an outline of how to put together your church’s plan to re-open and begin meeting again without placing yourself, your congregants, or your church in jeopardy.
When it comes to the question of what your church should do, there are three main issues to consider.
- What is best for my church? Only you can answer this question. Your church needs to decide what is best for your people. There are always things you CAN do. The question is what is BEST for your church.
- What mandates are in place in my state or locality?Once you determine what is best for your church, you need to understand any local or state mandates. Understanding these mandates and the consequences associated with them is critical to your decision making.
- What is the best testimony for my church? Once you determine what is best for your church and any legal ramifications for those choices, your last consideration includes perception in your community. Your church’s testimony will have far-reaching effects on your ability to minister into the future.
Wisdom in leading during this time is vitally important, as many people are struggling with frustration, hurt, anger, depression, or a host of other negative emotions. This is a time when our people need wise, compassionate leadership. The Scriptures teach us to be courageous (Joshua 1:9). However, we should also respect those in authority. When they violate Scripture in their guidance or rules, we should do what is right regardless of the mandate and with the right spirit. Many churches have been able to work with their local sheriff’s department to open up with sensible precautions in place, even with statewide restrictions still present. Many times, it is not WHAT you are doing but HOW you are doing it. Regardless of current mandates, your church has the First Amendment right to meet and publicly worship. Let’s move forward in exercising that right in a way that truly honors the Lord.
After you determine what is best for your church regarding meeting in person, we recommend the following:
- Put precautions in place to keep people healthy. You can access our recommended precautions in our resources section. These precautions are important, whether you’re doing a drive-in service, meeting in your building, or livestreaming ministry staff.
- Publish a statement of waiver of liability. Somewhere in your bulletin, website, etc., should be a statement of waiver of liability. This statement ensures that everyone understands they are attending at their own risk. You can download the statement here.
- Determine your strategy for any fallout. Before any fallout occurs, determine how you plan to handle the media and law enforcement while shepherding your people through the process. Guard against reactional thinking or responses.
Our office stands ready to support your church as your pastor and leadership team determines what is best for your ministry. We invite you to call our office ahead of time to discuss your strategy, so we are best prepared to assist you going forward.
If you determine the best choice for your church is to go against a state or local mandate, we recommend the following steps:
- Document all the procedures you are putting in place to keep your congregation safe. These procedures should include before-service and after-service building cleaning policies.
Record events or services, including all safety procedures. The best evidence is video recording of all safety precautions taken by your church.
Record and document any interaction with the authorities. If the authorities call or come to the door of your church, do your best to record all interactions with them. This guards against the possibility of any he said/she said moments.
Should we file a lawsuit? Is it time to bring in legal action?
IF something occurs with local law enforcement or health authorities, contact our office immediately. We will stand by your church’s decision and intervene legally as necessary to protect your church’s First Amendment rights. We do not recommend filing pre-emptive lawsuits in anticipation of these situations; if necessary, we would file a lawsuit after government officials act in a way that violates your church’s rights. In addition to potentially providing monetary damages to the church, this strategy puts the church in a stronger position than does a preemptive lawsuit. In the several instances where the reactive strategy has been employed, it has worked well, with government officials backing down completely.
At the NCLL, we believe our job is to support your church as your pastor and leadership team make the best decisions for your church and the people that God has entrusted to your care. We do not tell churches what to do, but we do want to provide options and advice to assist you in making the best decisions. In everything we do and say as believers, we represent Christ. At the NCLL, we believe we are mandated as Christians to take the right stand, the right way, with the right spirit. If we do this in a way that truly honors the Lord, we believe He will take care of the rest.
Our prayers are with every church, pastor, and leadership team as you lead with wisdom during this extremely difficult time. The world has never needed the church more than it does right now. We have the opportunity to demonstrate to hurting people the Hope that is within us. The answer for America is not in the courthouse, the statehouse, or the White House. It is in the church house. Let’s make sure the church house continues to be a light in a dark world.
If you have any questions about this material or want to request a coaching session with Attorney David Gibbs III concerning your church’s decisions, please contact our office at 888-233-6255 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
right STAND | right WAY | right SPIRIT