Between Reality & Return: One Church’s Approach To Reopening

Sharon McCarter

Associate Pastor, Maryville Vineyard, Maryville, TN

By Sharon McCarter (Pastor, Vineyard Church Maryville in Maryville, TN)

Two text messages, two opposite ends of the bell curve … 

Our governor gave the churches in our county permission to reopen on May 1st, with a laundry list of restrictions. Before our church made any announcement about what we would do, one of our kids pastors got two text messages that day. One text was from a volunteer apologizing that she could not teach class on May 3rd, because of a family commitment, but assuring that she could be there the following week to teach. The other text was from a volunteer saying that she will not be able to teach on May 3rd… or any other Sunday, for that matter, until there is a vaccine for COVID-19.

Those two volunteers represent the two opposite and extreme points of view in regards to when and how the church should reopen. Then, there are all of the people who are caught somewhere in between. So, what should we do?

We wait. We pray. We discern. We realize that these two realities, and everything in between, are here to stay – at least until we are on the other side of an effective vaccine. And it is our job to minister, teach, love, and shepherd them all.

But how? Well, we decided to keep church online – through the vaccine, and probably from now on. We did not reopen our doors in May, and to be honest, we are still trying to decide on June.

In the meantime, we are working overtime to change our methods to preach the same Gospel message, and it might be the best thing to ever happen to us! Why? Because this is forcing us to do something that will get us over the wall that we’ve been hitting for years.

We are taking coveted square space in our building and turning it into a permanent filming studio. This will allow us to do so many more things that we have been dying to do, but never seemed to be able to fit into our church calendar or anyone’s overly-packed family calendars.

We have decided to continue to have church online every Sunday, with the video available all week long. We are now also able to record countless classes, trainings, and teachings that we have always wanted people to attend but could never find the right time to create. COVID-19 is forcing our hand to finally lean in to all of the countless digital opportunities that we have for both discipleship and outreach.

We are seeing a renewed hunger for outreach as people have been inviting family and friends to church online like crazy! And they are sharing our online church videos with people all week long. We are hearing stories of friends, neighbors, co-workers, relatives, and people out-of-state who are tuning into church online who have never and “would never” (as they say) actually come in person.

Church online is an incredible outreach tool for people to hear the Gospel, find your church, and lower their fears of actually coming to church one day. 

So for us, church online is here to stay. We are praying and teaching that people would not choose this option as a means of isolation, but rather that they would use this as a means of outreach and assimilation.

As far as reopening our doors, we are thinking through things like having smaller services, shorter services, and making each service a ticketed event. We are planning to wear masks and preparing to hand out some at the door. We are collecting cleaning supplies and recruiting cleaning squads. We are ordering individual communion elements.

Like everyone else, we are not going to have kids’ ministry (because kids can’t social distance) but instead, we are putting all of our kids ministry online, including VBS. We are preparing “VBS In A Box” and giving them to each family to help them participate in VBS at home this summer.

It’s hard to believe we are living in an actual pandemic, but we’re grateful that it came during a time when we are fully equipped to do all that we do outside of our walls.

We keep reminding ourselves that the Holy Spirit does not have to shelter-in-place. The Holy Spirit is alive and well in our hearts and in our homes and in our communities. And Jesus is always at work drawing people to Himself. So, as a church, in the midst of these times, we are just continuing to seek out new ways, and lean into digital ways, that we can join God in the renewal of all things!

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A Note From Vineyard USA: While we do not claim to know the best steps for each church as they look ahead to reopening, we do hope that hearing from other pastors and churches will help you discern the process within your local context.