Adaptability Will be Essential for Churches Planning Christmas Celebrations in 2020 

Church staff throughout the nation are preparing for the 2020 Christmas season with both hope and uncertainty as a rising tide of coronavirus infections threatens to affect in-person gatherings in many states and communities.  

The number of COVID-19 cases reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) crossed the 11 million mark in mid-November and continues climbing. With community health and safety in mind, several states have tightened restrictions in hopes of slowing COVID positivity rates before the approaching holidays. These include limiting indoor social gatherings, requiring people to wear masks, and moving schools to remote instruction. Some cities and counties have enacted stricter mandates. 

Measures churches introduced earlier this year for in-person activities to reduce the spread of COVID-19 will continue to serve them through the holidays. These include increasing the number of in-person services, offering online worship services, enhancing sanitation, wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and taking other steps to protect people from getting sick. 

Preparing for Christmas services and other outreach events may require additional creativity, due to the uncertainty of what COVID-19 may bring. This is true, whether your church is planning for in-person, remote, or a hybrid blend of services. It may be useful to develop not only a Plan B, but also Plans C and D. Consider folding the following into your plans: 

1. Watch infection rates. Conditions are changing rapidly. It’s a good idea to keep a close eye on your county’s COVID-19 infection rates and hospital ICU bed availability. Watching the trends may place you on notice to limit attendance at future gatherings, move worship services online, or offer a blend of both options.

2. Check health notices daily. The CDC urges ministries to check their state and local health department notices daily about transmission in the community and adjust operations accordingly. For more guidance, see the CDC’s Considerations for Communities of Faith.

3. Communicate with health officials. State and local health officials are your best source for information about efforts to control the spread of coronavirus within the community. Contact your county health department if you have questions about COVID-19 and to discuss ideas your ministry has on how to safely do Christmas services, outreach efforts, or other events. 

4. Expect staffing shortages. Planning for holiday staffing is not a new concept, as some employees or volunteers may travel out of town to be with family. Now, add the possibility that a few may have exposure to someone who has the coronavirus and will need to quarantine. Others may develop COVID-like symptoms and will need to stay at home until they’re tested and determined to be free of the virus. Make a list of how many staff and volunteers will be needed to perform the essential duties during the Christmas season. Then, double or triple that number. Have a roster available of staff and volunteers who are willing to be called in to help if others become ill or need to quarantine. 

5. Evaluate employee vacation requests and travel plans. Communicate with your employees about staffing needs for the holiday season. Employees who travel out of state may be required to quarantine for 14 days before and after their trip, depending on each state’s guidelines. How would a 28-day absence affect your ministry? Could an employee work remotely while in quarantine due to personal travel?

6. Practice self-care. Be mindful that ministry leaders and staff aren’t immune to stress. You may feel pressured to perform at a high level, despite adverse conditions. Think about measures your planning team can take to simplify, pare back, and focus on the one key thing you wish to accomplish this season. Consider these tips to keep your heart at peace while planning for Christmas, and reach out for help if you feel overwhelmed. 

If anything, 2020 has reminded us of the incredible grace and peace that God provides to those who trust in him. It’s encouraging to reflect on the simplicity of the first Christmas and the joy that accompanied Jesus’ birth, despite adverse conditions.

Consult these additional resources for practical guidance on ministry and outreach events amid COVID-19. 

Posted November 19, 2020

The information provided in this article is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.

Directors and Officers