Together Again: A Plan to Reopen

Plan Summary

Download Summary Infographic (PDF)

Phase 1: May 17 – June 7 Home Church

Sodality/Care Groups/small groups gather in homes at 9am or 10:30am (identical worship services) and worship together by participating in the online service and having a time of discussion. More info about hosting a Home Church.

Phase 2: June 14 -21 Coming Back

Worship at FBC campus at our normal times (9am and 10:30am). Limited activities. No Sunday School or Childcare.

Phase 3: June 28 Welcome Home

Worship at FBC campus at our normal times (9am and 10:30am). Celebration event after church. Sunday School and Childcare resume.

From Pastor Ross:

Dear Church Family,

You need to be commended for your faithfulness to our Lord during this odd, confusing, and for many people, a painful experience. For the first time in 130 years, our church building was closed for worship. Notice I do say “building,” because our church never stopped worshiping or ministering, yet we have never experienced such a halt to physically coming together as we have these last few months. Through wars, depressions, natural disasters, and national and world tragedies, we have always come together, so indeed, this has been a considerable event in our lives and history. I am exceedingly grateful that, so far, COVID 19 has not taken lives within our church or residents of our area, although the tragedy has knocked at our door in counties to our east, and several of our members have lost loved ones to COVID 19.

How have we fared? Perhaps time will tell best, but through these months, our office doors were never locked to those in need. Every day we labored, with caution according to recommendations, to feed the hungry, minister to the downhearted, speak to fears, and show the gospel of the love of Jesus Christ to our community. Praise be to God! Our members and staff were relentless in striving to be faithful. So now, what about returning?

Following the Government’s Recommendations

At this point, our Governor Greg Abbot has initiated his Phase I of reopening our state, and most are cautiously optimistic. I have been in Zoom meetings with Governor Abbot (4/23/20), Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (4/28/20), pastors and leaders from our nation, state, and local area, medical experts, and regular folks. These meetings have been informative and often times a joy. Governor Abbot’s Phase I will be followed by Phase II on May 11, and then Phase III on May 25. If COVID 19 does not spike, and if less and less people are contracting the virus, then his plan will move forward, and Texas will continue to open to normalcy.

Currently, as most of you know, under Governor Abbot’s Phase I, many businesses and restaurants are allowed to open at 25% capacity to help people social distance inside. For churches, the government’s recommendations revolve around continued social distancing and protecting those most vulnerable. In this first phase, Governor Abbot strongly recommends that churches maintain a 6-foot social distance policy and that children’s ministries, in particular, hold off. For churches who wish to follow this recommendation, it means that they will need to have as many worship services as necessary to accommodate the 6-foot distance.

In Phase II, (announced on May 11), most all businesses will be opened, and the capacity increased. This means that the social distancing will be decreased as well.

In Phase III, (announced on May 25), Governor Abbot hopes to have as much of Texas back to normal as possible. All of this is contingent, if things go poorly, he will quickly adjust.

Church Spirit and Understanding

So, what about our church? I am aware that certain groups feel that the sooner we come back together the better. There are even some people who feel that we never should have gone to online services to begin with. Other members, however, are cautious. Some are more vulnerable than others, or they have family who are more vulnerable. In the last month, I’ve met people who were offended that I got too close to them, and others who were offended that I didn’t hug them when I saw them. We are going to attempt to thread this needle with wisdom.

I first want to humbly ask that all members give each other, our staff, and me a tremendous amount of grace right now. We have never experienced this before. If you feel that something is right, please be careful in thinking that it’s also right for everyone else. I ask that you pray for great understanding for each other and be determined that you will be joyful no matter what. I promise that this plan will not suit everybody to a tee, but I believe it is what God would have us do.

Come Back Quickly Scenario

Based on all of this, we can come together quickly, this Sunday in fact. But what would that look like?

Our “Together Again” plan is based on a few realities and emotions. My basic emotion is this, after not being able to meet for so long, I don’t want our coming back together to be 6 small services in order to adjust for social distancing. This is based on the number of people who typically worship with us.

On top of the services being small, many, if not most people will still be wearing masks, no Children’s Ministry, no coffee, no fellowships, two empty rows between everyone, and several seats between families. Also, many people will simply not attend at all. Some churches are asking that their older members wait to come back. Many who do come back will be tiptoeing and nervous. Last week the Governor even recommended dismissing everyone to their cars by families so that people will not be close together. This does not present a life-giving picture of worship to me, not to mention the struggle our praise team will have conducting 6 services, or the need to have a team clean and disinfect everything in between each service. Last, is the need to greatly reduced singing because it has been shown to increase the spread of the virus. A 60 person choir in Washington spread COVID 19 to 45 members of the choir after one practice, and a number of them died.

That kind of “come back” or reopening sounds unexciting and uninspiring. Our church is looking forward to returning, and I hope that when we do, we could offer something better than this. Conducting all those small services with a mountain of stipulations sounds like a nightmare, not a celebration of being back together.

So, I was thinking, just because we can come back, doesn’t mean that it presents the best potential for true intimate worship, which we will certainly want to experience considering we’ve not been together for a long time.

For us, if we are a little patient, we can come back big and exciting, rather than small and tip-toeing with tons of stipulations. I understand that we could start small and build, but starting small in the way I’ve described above, will hurt us in the long run.

If someone suggests that we will still be tip-toeing until the fall or later, as Ed Young (pastor of Second Houston) suggested in the meeting with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and therefore suggests to just start meeting now, I’m not sure that’s true for our congregation. I think if we enter into three phases, as I’ve lined out below, then when we come back it will be the greatest worship service we’ve ever had. I want to blow the doors open when we return. I’d rather our congregation feel like racehorses waiting to sprint as soon as the gate is open, than to have the gates open and the horses standing way back wondering if they can or should run at all.

So, here it is. (All dates are contingent on situation, Government response, church member willingness, and my own discernment.)

Together Again Plan

Together Again: Phase I (May 17-June 7)

Download Summary Infographic (PDF)

On May 17, one week after Governor Abbot goes into Phase II of his reopening plan, we will start Phase I.

Until May 17, we will continue to embrace our current way of ministry with families watching online in their homes.

On May 17, we are asking that all our Sodality Groups/Care Groups have church with each other in their homes. If your group is too large (more than 20), Norman Flowers will work with you to separate into smaller groups of friends. This will help us ease into worshiping with each other again in a small group of trusted friends. During this phase, we ask that if anyone is not feeling well, to worship in your own home. Your small group can worship together by participating in our online services and then discuss the sermon together. We will provide a study guide for the group that follows the worship.

Our Phase I can begin on May 17 and extend to June 7, lasting four weeks. Therefore, even as the Governor enters into his Phase III on May 25, we will still be in Phase I. I know this is a slow roll out, but I pray that meeting with friends in intimate worship times in your homes will be a true blessing that you will never forget. They will be sweet in fellowship and inspire growth. This way, we begin coming back together in a very enjoyable and safe experience.

Together Again: Phase II (June 14-21)

On June 14, three weeks after Governor Abbot as reopened Texas in his final Phase III, we will have our first worship service in our facility. This is when we will come back to church together. Please know that our facility has been deep cleaned, and we’re very thankful to the labor of Deborah, Nancy, Jim, and Elischa for this. Our church has never been cleaner.

During our Phase II, we will not social distance. This is the reason we waited so long to have services together. However, we will not shake hands or hug, limiting physical contact. Also, we will also not have Sunday School, or childcare. There will however be family rooms for those families with small children in the Loft and Koinonia rooms where families can engage the services with a little more freedom.

For these Sundays, because we will not be social distancing, here are some personal precautions: if you’ve traveled to places where COVID 19 is hot, please continue to worship from home; if you feel you are vulnerable, please continue to worship from home; if you’ve been experiencing any sickness symptoms in the previous two weeks before these Sundays, please continue to worship from home.

Our Phase II will go from June 14 through June 21, lasting two weeks.

Together Again: Phase III (Welcome Home Sunday June 28)

On June 28, we hope to have Welcome Home Sunday. It will be the largest party our church has ever had. We will celebrate with a full schedule: Sunday School, children’s ministries, and youth ministry.

Welcome Home Sunday will occur over a month after the Governor has completely reopened Texas in his Phase III. I pray that by this time, our members will be ready to be together with no hesitancy.

(Special Note) For those working with children, we want you to know some of our new precautions that will be lasting for the rest of the year and possibly for the foreseeable future. (1.) Each family checking children into our Sunday morning Children’s Ministry will have to acknowledge that they have checked their children’s temperatures that morning and it is below 100 degrees. If their children have run a fever, or if they have been sick in the week prior to that Sunday morning, we kindly ask that they worship from home. This helps our volunteers stay healthy, our families stay healthy, and our church stays healthy. (2.) When children and volunteers leave a room for the morning, the room will be disinfected by our childcare team. This will have already happened before they enter the room as well. This is already our policy, but we will increase our efforts.

On this Welcome Home Sunday, we want to have a Sunday catered BBQ dinner together. We are having a water park for our children. There will be games on our new Backyard. We hope it will be an exciting day indeed.

If anyone feels that continued caution needs to be taken for themselves, that is perfectly fine. We will continue to air our worship services online.

Please know that all of these dates are contingent on several things, but regardless of the exact dates, we believe the nature of what we will do in each Phase is wise. We desire to reopen soon, but not before the vast majority of our members are ready. I don’t want to start worshiping with a large percentage of our people missing, and I don’t want those who are in attendance to have to worry the entire time.

The fact is, we are being faithful as a church right now, and God is most pleased. We’re not being unfaithful in holding off, but by the same token, we don’t need to wait so long that it becomes odd while the rest of society is back to functioning normally. I am thankful to an amazing staff through all of this. I’m confident that if the virus comes back, we already have a solid method of worship through our online services.

I praise God for you, and for our wonderful hope in the Lord Jesus, on whom our ultimate security rests.

God’s Peace,

Bro. Ross

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