The guidance and regulations for places of worship across the UK do not distinguish between Sunday services and other types of meeting for which churches may gather.

Therefore, where meetings are part of the worshipping and ongoing discipleship life of the church community, these are permitted, but not where they are social gatherings. Other rules such as restricting household mixing are also applicable in these contexts. Therefore, churches can hold meetings in their buildings or buildings that they use, but the restrictions may mean it is more beneficial for these meetings to continue to operate online.

Meetings that are front-led’ are more workable as in-person gatherings because they do not involve interaction between people attending. Activities such as prayer meetings or Bible study groups are less workable because interaction between people attending is intrinsic to their operation. In places where limited interaction is permitted, for example in tier 1 areas of England, you could run a Bible study where participants are in groups of no more of six for discussion. 

Can we meet in a home?

The exemptions that have been granted to places of worship in all four nations of the UK, apart from when lockdowns are in operation, relate to the buildings that churches meet in, whether owned or specifically used for that purpose, but explicitly do not extend to the use of private homes for such uses. Therefore, while you could have a mid-week Bible teaching session in a church building (provided rules on interaction are followed), you could not have the same session in a house. The general rules for interaction in houses apply, so in most places you cannot have multiple households together. 

What is defined as interaction or mingling?

The English regulations governing the tier system and previously the rule of six set out limits on interaction with people not in your household. Primarily, in tiers 2 and 3 you may not interact with anyone outside your household indoors unless there is a specific exemption, and only in groups of up to six people outdoors. 

For church meetings and events this means that for all indoor meetings people in tiers 2 and 3 should not have a substantive conversation with people outside their household. We have discussed this with government officials and while this does not stop you from saying hello to people as you arrive or leave, it does not give you the scope to stop and chat. 

There are exemptions to this rule for people who are working or volunteering, so this would mean that if you are involved in setting up a church meeting you can interact and talk with others doing likewise. Similarly, if you are a church leader you can talk to different people during the course of a meeting or before and after in order to carry out your role. We would caution discretion in using these exemptions due to the risk of confusion it could cause between those who are allowed to talk to others and those who are not. 

Can we use the support group exemption?

In England there is an exemption to the restrictions on household interaction that allows up to 15 people to meet in support groups. While it could be argued that all church discipleship and pastoral groups are support groups’, this would be improper use of the exemption. The exemption is designed for those groups where meeting in person is essential; examples provided in the legislation include those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, those who have suffered bereavement, and for new parents. In England the most recent definitions also include parent and child groups alongside support groups as an exempt category. 

Where churches provide these groups, they can use this exemption, and where they see a need for such groups, they can start them.