As the level of coronavirus and risk of infection reduces across the UK incremental changes are being introduced.

Last updated: Wednesday, 1 July 2020

In England churches will be allowed to open for services from 4 July, and weddings will also be able to take place from this date. Church buildings in England are currently allowed to open for private prayer, this has been permitted in Wales from 22 June, while churches in Northern Ireland can begin to reopen from 29 June. In Scotland small outdoor weddings will be allowed from the same date.

In the light of these changes many churches are considering how and when various meetings and activities which have paused because of lockdown, or shifted online, may resume in person. At present the steps relating to churches wanting to reopen are very limited, with only minor changes added to the previous exceptions of recording worship and providing essential services such as foodbanks. 

It is anticipated that church services as we experienced before the lockdown in March will not be able to resume for some time, and there are a few core aspects to consider when resuming any activities. This guidance will constantly evolve as government guidance and advice is issued, both from the UK government and devolved administrations. Our hope is that this aids you in planning and preparation as much as possible. 

Each of the four nations of the UK are lifting the lockdown in slightly different phases and timings. Therefore, please take note of the specifics in your nation before making firm plans. Likewise, some denominations may put additional restrictions in place for how their church buildings reopen. 

Principles to consider

There are a few key principles which are helpful to consider in all circumstances and will aid your planning for how church buildings can reopen and activities resume.

Physical distancing

For the foreseeable future all activities which are permitted to resume will need to be conducted with physical distancing between household groups. This means that the capacity of venues will be reduced and measures such as one-way systems and separate entrances and exits may be necessary to reduce bottlenecks. Some areas of the building may pose particular challenges to distancing and may need to be closed off. The primary rule remains that people from different households or support bubbles should remain 2m apart where possible, however, if mitigating measures can be put in place — such as the wearing of masks — this can be reduced to 1m. Each nation of the UK is approaching this slightly differently but it is vital to consider how many people your venue can safely hold, taking into account the difference between individuals and household groups.

Cleaning and hygiene

Church premises will require more frequent and deeper cleaning. This will be particularly true between meetings or events with different sets of people, and the cleaning of high traffic areas and places where the infection is most likely to spread, for example on door handles or stair rails.

Hygiene procedures will need to be evaluated and put in place so that people attending church meetings and other events in the building, or using the building as a place to pray, are able to wash their hands on entry, or at the least have hand sanitiser available. It is unlikely that shared food will be allowed for some time and shared equipment and facilities will require careful monitoring and cleaning. 

Protecting the vulnerable

When restrictions are lifted that enable groups of people together in greater numbers or indoors it is vital to remember that many people will still be being advised not to gather. Based on current guidance it is unlikely that there will be a blanket ban on people over 70 from attending gatherings (when they are permitted) but there will be advice that encourages them not to. For those who are considered especially vulnerable or who are advised to shield they will probably not be able to attend church meetings in person for some time. There will also be others who are anxious about attending meetings with other people and either need support to do so or the provision of alternative means of accessing church activities and services. 

Risk assesments

Ahead of resuming worship services churches should undertake a risk assessment which takes into account their premises, their activities and the people likely to be involved. There is no required standard for this assessment but the questions at the end of this guidance may provide a starting point. The Church of England have also produced a template which is available for download here which may be helpful.

A risk assessment is a way for churches to understand the impact of their activities and take into account the particular risks that the coronavirus poses. This will therefore need to be separate to other risk assessments. 

One area that will pose considerable challenges for churches is the advice against congregational singing. The scientific evidence appears to suggest that singing and other loud vocal activity such as shouting or cheering increases the risk of infection. At the Evangelical Alliance we are closely monitoring this situation and we understand that Public Health England are undertaking a review of the evidence. We will be pressing for this review to be made public as soon as possible as such a restriction on Christian worship is acceptable in extremis, but not a situation that can be allowed to persist longer than essentially necessary. In the short term this may well be a significant reason why some churches decide to wait to resume full services. 

Frequently asked questions

Working for the long haul

This guidance touches on some of the key issues that will probably need to consider as you plan for the future. It’s not designed as an exhaustive list, and we are not being prescriptive in how you respond, but hopefully these FAQs, and the further questions below help you prepare. 

Before proceeding into the specifics it might be worth taking time to review your activities and meetings. What have you stopped during lockdown that you want to resume, what have you stopped that you might not restart? Likewise, what have you started during this crisis that will now fade away, and what might become a lasting part of your activity?

What does the witness of the church look like in the next season? How can we contribute to our local community and share the Good News of Jesus? What is a sustainable approach to support your congregation and bless your neighbourhood?

On more practical matters as has been noted above the framework for churches to operate in will vary depending on which nation of the UK they are in, as well as any specific guidelines and restrictions from their denomination.

Church leaders’ checklist

These are some questions for you to bear in mind as you plan and prepare:

  • How many people can you safely gather together in a single meeting – once such meetings are allowed? This may need to be flexible to account for household groups.
  • What modifications to the layout or building arrangement may you need to make?
  • What additional cleaning protocols need to be put in place?
  • How can you provide facilities for hand-washing or sanitising?
  • What meetings will you as a church prioritise happening in person once they are allowed?
  • What will gathered meetings look like if you are not able to accommodate the whole congregation?
  • Will you meet together on Sundays if you are not allowed to sing?
  • How will you continue to accommodate those unable to attend because they are particularly vulnerable or advised to continue shielding?
  • How might hybrid services, both in-person and online work?

Specific advice from the Evangelical Alliance for the nations of the UK

Official guidance documents

England advice and guidance on reopening places of worship (applicable from 4 July): https://​www​.gov​.uk/​g​o​v​e​r​n​m​e​n​t​/​p​u​b​l​i​c​a​t​i​o​n​s​/​c​o​v​i​d​-​19​-​g​u​i​d​a​n​c​e​-​f​o​r​-​t​h​e​-​s​a​f​e​-​u​s​e​-​o​f​-​p​l​a​c​e​s​-​o​f​-​w​o​r​s​h​i​p​-​f​r​o​m​-​4​-​j​u​l​y​/​c​o​v​i​d​-​19​-​g​u​i​d​a​n​c​e​-​f​o​r​-​t​h​e​-​s​a​f​e​-​u​s​e​-​o​f​-​p​l​a​c​e​s​-​o​f​-​w​o​r​s​h​i​p​-​f​r​o​m​-​4​-july

England advice and guidance on community and multi-use: venues: https://​www​.gov​.uk/​g​o​v​e​r​n​m​e​n​t​/​p​u​b​l​i​c​a​t​i​o​n​s​/​c​o​v​i​d​-​19​-​g​u​i​d​a​n​c​e​-​f​o​r​-​t​h​e​-​s​a​f​e​-​u​s​e​-​o​f​-​m​u​l​t​i​-​p​u​r​p​o​s​e​-​c​o​m​m​u​n​i​t​y​-​f​a​c​i​l​i​t​i​e​s​/​c​o​v​i​d​-​19​-​g​u​i​d​a​n​c​e​-​f​o​r​-​t​h​e​-​s​a​f​e​-​u​s​e​-​o​f​-​m​u​l​t​i​-​p​u​r​p​o​s​e​-​c​o​m​m​u​n​i​t​y​-​f​a​c​i​l​ities

Scotland guidance on places of worship:

https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-the-safe-use-of-places-of-worship/

Wales guidance on most recent changes:

https://gov.wales/guidance-reopening-places-worship-coronavirus-html

Northern Ireland guidance letter on church reopening: https://​www​.reimag​in​ing​faith​.com/​b​l​o​g​/​l​e​t​t​e​r​-​f​r​o​m​-​t​h​e​-​e​x​e​c​u​t​i​v​e​-​o​f​f​i​c​e​-​t​o​-​f​a​i​t​h​-​l​e​a​d​e​r​s​-​o​n​-​t​h​e​-​r​e​o​p​e​n​i​n​g​-​o​f​-​p​l​a​c​e​s​-​o​f​-​w​o​r​s​h​i​p​/​2020/6

Helpful church resources on reopening