Seven Sentences We Never Expected to Hear in Churches in 2020

I can only imagine how we would have responded in 2019 if someone had told us we needed to be prepared not to gather in-person in worship services for several months in 2020. Indeed, if we had been given a glimpse of this crazy year ahead of time, we would have thought the world had gone crazy.

It probably has. 

Look at these seven sentences we hear in churches today. We could have never predicted them. 

  1. “We need to decide if we are going to require masks in church.” If I had heard this sentence would be common in churches, I probably would have wondered if we are having mandatory costume parties in 2020. With the different masks used today, maybe we are.
  2. “We can’t take the offering anymore.” Really? I think many leaders would have freaked out if they heard financial support would become dependent on digital giving. Probably many more would have been surprised how many members were willing to move to digital giving.
  3. “We can no longer have the stand and greet time.” This issue was contentious in many churches before 2020. While many churches held tenaciously to this tradition, it was fading overall. But, imagine if we outright banned it in churches. That has happened for the most part. In case you’re wondering, I’m really okay with this development.
  4. “We need to measure our streaming views over 30 seconds.” For sure, a few churches were doing live streaming services prior to 2020, but they were a distinct minority in number. I don’t think any of us anticipated that streaming views would become a common church metric.
  5. “We need to arrange our worship center seating to accommodate social distancing.” Prior to 2020, I would have thought social distancing was only something we introverts practiced. Now it is something church leaders plan on a regular basis. 
  6. “We need to move all of our small groups to meet on Zoom.” If most church members had heard this statement in 2019, they may have wondered if small groups would be in some drug-induced state. Zoom? What is that?
  7. “We will no longer visit church members in the hospital.” This development in 2020 is painful both to those confined to the hospital and to those in the church who really want to care for these members. It is indeed one of the tragedies of the pandemic.

Who would have predicted the articulation of these sentences in churches prior to 2020? It has been a strange year. It has been a painful year. 

What unexpected sentences would you add?

Posted on September 7, 2020

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • This is not heard IN church but by church members who I run into in restaurants and stores (often without a mask on): “I sure do miss church, and can’t wait until we can go back, but I just don’t feel safe.”

    Sometimes I wonder if people listen to themselves when they speak.

  • Robin G Jordan says on

    I do informal research into what churches are doing in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Europe and elsewhere to protect their congregations and communities as they reopen their buildings for public worship. Here are a number of the steps that they are taking. Several of them have also been recommended by Church Answers in its webinars.

    Reduce the length of the service and reduce the length of the sermon. This reduces the length of time that congregants and service leaders may be exposed to the virus if someone who is infected with the virus is present. The longer an individual inhales the airborne virus and the larger the concentration of virus particles they inhale, the more serious the infection is likely to be. At my university the length of time a student can spend in a particular classroom is strictly controlled, based upon the same principle.

    Require pre-registration of all individuals and households who will be attending a service of public worship or other gathering. Limit the number of people at each service of public worship or other gathering. This may require going to additional services and gatherings. At my university the number of students who may occupy a classroom is strictly limited. If more than the number of students permitted in the classroom at one time show up, the latecomers are turned away. No exceptions are made.

    Reduce the number of people on the platform. This may entail reducing the number of members of the music ministry team. The people on the platform should maintain a distance of six feet or more from each other. One body of research suggests that even six feet may not be far enough.

    If there is singing, limit the amount of singing and use the softer songs. Some emerging research suggests that singing softly reduces the risk of COVID-19 infection in two ways: those singing softly are less likely to produce aerosols that carry the virus particles and, as singing softly does not require as deeper breathing as singing loudly, they are likely to inhale less virus particles if an infected person is present. This research may have limited application since it was involved individual singers under controlled conditions.

    Require everyone present—congregants, staff, music ministry team members, and volunteers—wear face masks at all times. While wearing a face mask may be uncomfortable, it has been shown to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection. Removing one’s face mask while on the platform or seated or standing in the sanctuary or auditorium defeats the purpose of wearing a face mask. At my university student, faculty, and staff are required to wear face masks at all time. Students may remove their face mask when they are in their dorm room and may lower their mask in the cafeteria while eating. Students who refuse to wear a face mask may be subject to disciplinary action.

    Ask congregants, staff, music ministry team members, and volunteers to take their temperature and the temperature of household members before going to church. This will identify anyone who may been infected with the virus but is not yet showing symptoms. It will not, however, identify individuals who are infected with the virus and are genuinely asymptomatic. Ask congregants, staff, music ministry team members, and volunteers who have a fever or who have a household member who has a fever not to attend church. At my university faculty, students, and staff who have in-person classes on campus or work on campus are required to take their temperature daily and record their temperature on a special phone app.

    Ask congregants, staff, music ministry team members, and volunteers who exhibit other symptoms associated with COVID-19 infection or who have a household member who exhibits these symptoms to stay home. At my university faculty, students, and staff who have in-person classes on campus or work on campus and who exhibit other symptoms associated with COVID-19 infection or who have a household member who exhibits these symptoms are instructed to stay home or in their dorm as the case may be. Those who ignore this precautionary measure may be subject to disciplinary action.
    My university has also banned off-campus and on-campus student activities which involve even small gathering of students. The precautionary measures that it is taking may appear to be strict to some readers but the university has so far avoided the sizeable COVID-19 outbreaks that a number of other universities have experienced and which have turned them into COVID-19 hotspots.

    The principles that my university is implementing are basically the same principles that churches should be applying, based upon my research, if they are not applying them already. The university has a responsibility to the students’ parents to keep them as safe as possible and it also has a responsibility to the community to prevent the university from becoming an epicenter of new clusters of COVID-19 cases in the community. Churches have a similar responsibility.

    • Craig Giddens says on

      “While wearing a face mask may be uncomfortable, it has been shown to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection. ”

      No it hasn’t! There is just as much research not only showing wearing masks does not protect against Covid-19 and other viruses, but that prolonged wearing of masks can be detrimental to once’s health.

  • I would like to know which studies you are referring as it pertains to the bathrooms. I recently officiated a funeral where a loved one told me that toilet lids are needed to prevent germs from being spread. That was the first time that I had ever heard that. We would have to purchase 17 new toilet seat/lid combinations for our church if that study is true. Each of the toilets in our church only has the seat and not a lid. Never thought this would be something I would be talking about on this website. All of our bathrooms do have exhaust fans.

    • Nathaniel Malone says on

      There are disposable/flushable paper lid covers. They’re fairly inexpensive, too
      I don’t think it would be feasible to change them after every use,

    • Robin G Jordan says on

      I read about these studies on the BBC News website if I remember rightly. BBC’s reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic is fairly reliable. I bookmarked all the articles and reports but it would take me a while to find them as I have bookmarked so many articles and reports. I take an personal interest in the latest research on COVID-19 transmission for two reasons: I am blogger and post articles on church safety and related subjects on my blog. I am also in a high risk category myself. I am 72 years of age and have at least underlying conditions.

      One early study was done on why COVID-19 was spreading in hospitals. The researchers found high concentrations of COVID-19 particles in the bathrooms used by COVID-19 patients. This was attributed to several factors. The bathrooms were small, poorly ventilated enclosed spaces. In addition to breathing virus particles into the air of the bathroom the patents were also shedding virus particles when they defecate and urinated. The COVID-19 particles were becoming airborne and lingering in the air. One subsequent study suggested that they might linger in the air up to three hours under controlled conditions. Hospital employees were entering the bathrooms and inhaling the airborne particles and becoming infected with the virus. The rooms of the hospitals where the research was conducted that had the lowest concentration of virus particles were those that had natural ventilation. They had open windows which allowed fresh air to enter the room and dispel the particles.

      An earlier study during the SARS epidemic in Hong Kong found that the SARS virus had infected the residents of an apartment building through the ventilation system that linked the apartments’ bathrooms to the exterior of the building. The duct work had been altered so that several apartments were linked together and the virus spread from apartment to apartment through the duct work. People infected with SARS also shed virus particles in their feces and urine.

      Another study identified toilet plumes as one of the ways that concentrations of airborne particles could form in a bathroom or a restroom. When we flush a toilet, it sends a column of air jetting upward. If our feces or urine contains virus particles, they are carried upward with the column of air. Closing the toilet before flushing the toilet prevented the toilet plume from spread virus particles into the air of the bathroom or restroom. If, however, an infected person, did not close the toilet lid when he or she flushes the toilet, the next person who uses the bathroom or the toilet stall in a restroom will be sitting in a cloud of airborne virus particles. The longer that individual remains in the bathroom or toilet stall , greater are his or her risks of infection. The worker who cleans the bathroom or restroom, based on the hospital study I referred to earlier, would also have a high risk of infection as they would spend a longer time in the bathroom or restroom than most people. The fact that people infected with the COVID-19 virus shed virus particles in their feces and urine has been used in the UK and Europe to estimate the number of people infected with the virus in a district by testing the waste water of the district.

      Most toilets in public restrooms which include church restrooms do not have toilet lids. For cleaning church restrooms, I recommend that the door should be propped open and an electric fan used to flood the restroom with fresh air even though the restroom has exhaust fans. I would check to see how these exhaust fans work. Even with exhaust fans ventilation in restrooms is notoriously poor. A good ventilation system would not only exhaust stale air from the restroom but also would supply the restroom with fresh air from the exterior of the building. As for fitting existing toilets with toilet lids or replacing them with new toilet fixtures, I recommend that should be done in increments if cost is an issue. It would require temporarily closing some restrooms. The investment I think would be worthwhile. We are living in a time where we are likely to see more outbreaks of infectious diseases like COVID-19 due to human encroachment into areas previously occupied only by wildlife, air travel, and other factors. Humans who become infected with these viruses are likely to shed them in their feces and urine. It would also be a good idea to limit the number of occupants in a restroom at one time. A number of UK and European schools when they reopened implemented a one occupant only rule. This reduces the transmission risks. I wish that I could be more helpful.

  • All pastoral care including funerals will be done by phone or video, not in person.

  • cotton mathis says on


    Church Answers is a God-send to pastors and other church leaders.

    I am retired now; wish this had been available 20 years ago when online teaching became available.

    It would have helped me deal with some problems I trusted some untrustworthy people to help solve while I was in the active ministry.

    God’s best to you and yours.


  • Don’t worry about the AC costs. Let’s prop open all the exterior doors .

    Ushers, please don’t hand out bulletins.

  • The corollary to not visiting church members in the hospital is that many hospitals will not allow visitors. In some facilities the policy is no visitors unless the patient is a juvenile and then the policy only allows one adult family member. Hospitals not allowing visitors for adult patients includes ministers seeking to visit. The church did not make the “no visitors” policy, it was forced on us.

  • “We don’t want to go back to the church (yet?!).”

  • Interesting read. I thought “Stay at home if you’re afraid of coming to church” is one sentence I’d never thought we’d use. Alternatively, “I think it would be better that you not come to church”, said particularly to the elderly, for many of the backbone of our church. Concern, care and love for those who are vulnerable has brought a whole new perspective.

  • Roy Wahlgren says on

    How do we reach those who are not internet savvy? When the bulk of your congregation is elderly, internet usage is not common. Covid prevents visiting as well. I have been sending each person a “Praying for you” or an “Encouragement” greeting card each week. This has also adversely caused our weekly giving to drop by a large amount. The utilities and insurance and other costs continue.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thank you, Roy.

    • Roy, I can certainly empathize with you on the issue of the elderly not being tech savvy. The majority of our congregation is elderly, and because ours is a rural church, high speed internet is nearly non-existent in the small community where our church is located.
      To give you an idea how bad it is, our Pastor has had to show many of the people how to text. On a FLIP PHONE! I kid you not.
      On the subject of digital giving, I have read every blog post on this site as well as listened to numerous Podcasts on this site, all in an attempt to get our people to give digitally. After nearly 9 months of trying, a grand total of two members made a digital contribution! When both my Pastor and I canvassed the congregation asking why they weren’t jumping on board, it became painfully obvious that ours was an effort in futility. Why, you ask? Because a great many of our people deal strictly in cash. They pay their bills with cash. They tithe with cash.

      So, like I said, I get where you’re coming from. Sadly, I hear the hoofbeats of “An Autopsy of a Dying Church” quickly approaching unless things change. One last oddity…our attendance has increased significantly during the pandemic!

  • Henry Wentz says on

    8. “Make sure all the hand sanitizer stations are filled before the service.”

  • Robin G Jordan says on

    We need to make sure that any space used for a gathering of people of any size is adequately ventilated. This means that we can no longer use spaces that are small and enclosed and have poor ventilation. We can only use large, airy spaces–spaces that permits social distancing and have doors and windows that open to the exterior of the building and permit the flow of fresh air into the space or which have a mechanical ventilation system that replaces stale air in the space with fresh air from outside the building and not just recirculates the air in the space. We may need to put electric fans in the doorways and windows to draw fresh air into a space. We may need to replace existing mechanical ventilation systems with new systems that draw fresh air from the building’s exterior and which will dilute and dispel any concentrations of COVID-19 virus particles lingering in the air.

    We need to think in terms of not one or two precautionary measures but layers of intervention–social distancing, face masks, hand washing, moratoriums on singing, chanting, and corporate recitation , good ventilation, interior traffic flow control, and education of church members in the importance of complying with precautionary measures when they are not attending church as well as when they are attending church. We need to stress these three key principles–stay safe, protect others, and save lives.

    We need to evaluate the ventilation system and the toilets in the church’s restrooms. Does the ventilation system exhaust the stale air in the restroom and replace it with fresh air from the building’s exterior? Do the toilets have toilet lids that can be closed when they are flushed, preventing toilet plumes–columns of air that rise from a toilet when it is flushed, which contain virus particles shed by an infected person when using the toilet, and which studies have shown contribute to the buildup of concentrations of airborne virus particles in poorly ventilated toilet stalls and restrooms. We also need to limit the number of people using the restroom at one time.

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