Sharing Christ with Muskegon & the World

Lakeside Baptist to Reopen on June 14th: Guidelines for Reopening the Church

June 4, 2020

Dear LBC family,

I am sure many of you feel the same way we Elders and Deacons do: “When can we get back to church?” That is a wonderful question and expresses a godly desire. This letter is intended to help provide a blueprint back to making our Sunday morning gatherings a reality and to do so in a safe and loving way.

The Elders and Deacons of the church have been working hard to discern God’s wisdom on this topic, and we believe we have come up with a Christ-honoring plan to reopen Lakeside on June 14th.

First, a word about motive. We have been concerned from the beginning with honoring the wishes of our government, since God tells us through Paul, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Romans 13:1-2 ESV). We have done well with this. Whether we agree with everything the president says, or with everything the governor says, we are called to seek this biblical attitude. We can be sure that the authorities in Paul’s day would have been harder to submit to than any authorities we have in our day.

At the same time, the Bible clearly tells us, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…” (Hebrews 10:24-25). So we are commanded not to neglect meeting together.

Then, Romans 13:9-10 instructs us, “ ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor…” So we are reminded that we need to care deeply about the health of those around us, especially those who may be at greater risk of being affected by Covid-19.

Finally, Romans 14:1-12 teaches us not to pass judgment on one another over areas in which we have honest disagreements about things that are not clearly taught in scripture. We will certainly have different opinions about how to weigh the medical and scientific principles from the CDC and WHO and various government agencies. Even those two medical establishments do not agree on everything! So let us try to give grace to others who see things differently than ourselves, assuming the best of their motives and seeking to accept one another.

To summarize these biblical priorities in light of our situation, the following seems clear: 1) The Federal government has stated clearly that churches are now allowed to open if they do so in a safe manner. The state government at this point is less open to this, but still allows it. Governor Whitmer’s executive order 77, item 16: “Consistent with prior guidance, neither a place of religious worship nor its owner is subject to penalty under section 20 of this order for allowing religious worship at such a place. No individual is subject to penalty under section 20 of this order for engaging in or traveling to engage in religious worship at a place of religious worship, or for violating section 15(a) of this order.”

So it appears that we are legally permitted to begin assembling together, assuming that we seek to do it safely. Hebrews tells us that church is certainly “essential” as far as our normal obedience to the Lord is involved. There have been times when the church needed to break from normal operations throughout church history, but we need to maintain the zeal and priority of getting back together as soon as it is reasonable and safe to do so. As we do so, we need to honor Paul’s love command above in Romans 14 in how we treat each other in the church. Some see the risks as minimal, others as more severe. Let’s respect each other’s views on this and be willing to “consider others as more important than ourselves.”

Reopening is important. So is keeping each other safe. So we will do our best to accomplish both.

The Elders and Deacons have decided on the following practices in order to allow us to meet soon and yet safely.

Social distancing will be key. The 6 foot rule will be our firm goal. This is critical to all of the rest of the items that follow. So this involves a few guidelines we’d ask everyone to follow:

Anyone who is not feeling well must stay home for the good of the whole flock.

Sitting only in pews that are clearly open. There will be pews that are marked off with ropes to help us ensure the distance we should maintain. Thankfully, we have a large sanctuary with lots of rows for seating. We encourage people to sit by the aisles giving room for a possible additional family on the opposite side of the same pew.

As we enter the building and sanctuary, please go directly to your seat. We need to avoid lingering/gathering in the lobby/narthex.

We will not utilize an official greeter at the door for this time to avoid hand-shaking or hugs. But we will have a person to open the church door for you upon entrance and exiting.

Our listening/hearing assistance technologies will be limited as we look to establish appropriate cleaning procedures.

We will seek volunteers to stay after church on Sundays or come during the week to thoroughly disinfect key “high touch” areas in the church.

We will display signage throughout the church helping first time visitors, as well as regular attenders to remember key practices.

We encourage the use of a face covering while in our church building, to help ensure the safety of all our members. We also understand that there are good, legitimate reasons why certain people might not wear one and they will not be judged or looked down upon.

We will provide (they have been ordered weeks ago, we await their arrival) non-touch hand-sanitizer stations around the church, and encourage regular use, as well as hand-washing.

Each of us must exercise great care when coughing or sneezing to do so into their elbow or handkerchief.

We will be modifying certain elements of the worship service to avoid extra “touch points”. We will use pre-packaged communion cups. We will have an offering box/plate at the back welcome center where people can put their offerings on the way out. Mailing offerings to the church is still a great option.

We will not congregate in the church lobby for visiting following the service. If certain people agree with one another that they are comfortable with more relaxed measures, they can meet in the parking lot following the service for interaction.

Pastor Tom will say goodbye to folks at the back of the sanctuary following the service, but will not be hugging or shaking hands, keeping the 6 foot rule.

We urge everyone to pursue what will enable your neighbor to feel safe and comfortable in worshipping. There are many things that cannot be “outlined with rules” and common sense goes a long way. Let’s always think about how others may be feeling and act accordingly.

We will be “starting small and basic” with ministry avenues. For a time, we will only be pursuing the 10:30 service, with no extra classes or groups. Sunday School will be added in the months to come, hopefully by fall. We want to pursue excellence in one area before seeking to add more layers.

We are dedicated to beginning to video our sermons during the Sunday morning services for those who are unable or uncomfortable with attending during this time. Those will continue to be posted on the church website and on Facebook, although they may not be posted in “real time”. Other aspects of the church service will not be posted to video at this point.

We realize that these precautions are not what we would all want, if given the choice. But we feel strongly that it is more than worthwhile to practice these items if it will allow us to meet together as we so long for that to happen. Just being able to physically see and hear each other and worship our Lord together in more than just spirit will be such an amazing blessing!

We can do this! As God enables us, with hearts that want to serve our neighbors above ourselves, we believe that we can demonstrate mutual love, acceptance and worship of God together through these challenging times.

It is very possible that we have missed something in communicating these guidelines to you all. If you have any questions at all, please feel free to call any elder or deacon in the church.

May God bless us all as we seek him together. We are truly better together!

With much love,

Pastor Tom, with your LBC Elders