Northlake Church Reopen Strategy

Over the last several weeks, the Northlake Church leadership has been praying and discussing when and how we will reopen for public worship gatherings.  This has been a process of soliciting advice and recommended guidelines from Governor Abbott’s office and professionals in the medical field. We have also been in conversations with one of our members, Dr. Tom Wood, an Epidemiologist and Director of International Health Program for Samaritan’s Purse. In addition, we have had discussion with other churches, some smaller than Northlake and some much larger.

Let me first answer a few questions so hopefully there is no confusion. It is our desire as church leaders to maintain a good reputation in our community, since we represent Christ and the body of Christ.  As an expression of the church in our community, we recognize that we are called to submit to governing authorities (Romans 13). We believe the plans we have made going forward honor our biblical duties in submission to authority.

There may be some confusion between Travis County’s extension of the “stay home, work safe” orders that are now extended to May 30, 2020 and Governor Abbott’s directives to begin to open up the state of Texas.  Legally, the governor’s directives supersede local, city and county mandates.  With this in mind, we are balancing the directives for the good of our church family and our community.

To address the confusion, we thought it best to answer a few basic questions that have been answered for local churches by the governor’s office.

Q: Can Churches Meet?
A: YES.  As per the Governor’s order GA-14 on April 27, “essential services” shall consist of everything listed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in its Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce, Version 2.0, plus religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship.”

Q: Are churches subject to the 10 person or 25% capacity limitation related to restaurants, etc.?
A: NO.  These provisions apply ONLY to commercial establishments such as restaurants through Phase 1.  Each church’s seating capacity is limited only by the individual logistics of their available space using social distancing guidelines.

Q: Are face masks required for congregants, ushers/greeters, worship team, etc?
A: NO. Both Governor Abbott at his press conference on April 27 and Lt. Governor Patrick on the Texas Pastor Council Zoom call on April 28 confirmed that masks are not and cannot be required by county or city government.  The guidelines clearly recommend masks be worn in public, but are NOT mandated. Churches MAY choose to require face masks be worn at whatever level each pastor believes best fits their demographics, but again, there is NO local, state or federal requirement.

Q: May churches reopen children’s church, child care, etc. as well?
A: A QUALIFIED YES. Due to the continued recommendations to comply with CDC heath protocol, opening child care for churches is complex, and there are  higher risk factors because of the natural logistics of managing small children.  As a result, most churches opening regular services are choosing to wait until at least Phase 2 (May 18th) to begin any children’s on-site programs.

Q: Why are some churches waiting until early or mid June to open while others are opening now?
A: CHOICE.  All of the current guidelines – NOT mandates – point toward allowing each pastor and church to decide when and with what steps to reopen based on what is best for YOU.  Church attendance size, facility size/layout, age and health demographics are different for every church and should be factored into the decision.

Equipped with this information and suggested guidelines, Northlake’s leadership team has decided to target June 7th to reopen for public worship gatherings and all other mid-week activities will resume the first week of June.  This timeline falls in sync with what should be Phase 3 re-opening of the state of Texas, making the church experience much less restrictive. In our internal church survey, over 75% of respondents claim they are ready to re-gather. As we reopen, we still find it prudent to follow some basic suggested guidelines and recommendations.

As we reopen on June 7th, we recognize we cannot guarantee that no one will get sick; however, we can guarantee that we have taken necessary precautions to keep everyone as safe as possible.  We also understand that not everyone will be ready to return due to their own physical condition and circumstances.  We are prayerful that soon enough everyone will feel comfortable joining others in worship again.

With the understanding that we will be opening to the public under the projected Phase 3, the less restrictive phase, here are the general guidelines of our reopening on June 7th:

In General:
- We ask everyone to maintain social distancing as you move in and out of the building.
- Face masks will not be required, but optional.
- Our greeters and ushers will wear gloves, hold all doors open and will refrain from any physical contact (handshakes, etc).
- We encourage everyone to bring your own hand sanitizer. Even though we will have plenty of hand sanitizer stations on campus, we encourage you to bring some as well.
- We encourage everyone to wash or sanitize hands upon entering and after any interaction with others.
- All hard surfaces (door handles, countertops, etc) will be wiped down between services.
- We will not pass out any bulletins or handouts in near future.
- Distribution of coffee will be suspended for the first few weeks that we begin to regather.  Bottle of water will be available.

Worship Service:
- Under the proposed Phase 3, there will be very little occupancy limitations in our worship space; however, we will still be cautious.
- We have allowed for more space between rows.
- We are asking each family unit to leave one seat on each side of them open.
- All pens, connection cards and giving envelopes will be taken out of seat backs for the time being.
- We will use pre-packaged individual communion elements in the event we take communion.
- We will have one area designated and reserved near the back of the worship center for those who are at risk.
- We will not pass offering plates during the service. For your convenience there will be three giving boxes situated in the lobby. We also encourage you to use online giving.
- Recognizing not all will be returning as soon as we open, we should easily be able to maintain a 75% capacity or less for several weeks.

Children’s Ministry:
- Opening under the proposed Phase 3 allows us to move forward with offering a fully programmed children’s ministry.
- Volunteers will check in your children so that there is no need to touch iPad check in stations.
- Each child’s hands will be sanitized upon entering and their temperature checked.
- Each volunteer will freshly wash hands, use hand sanitizer and their temperatures will be taken
- We will be suspending the distribution of snacks to children.
- All toys in classrooms will be swapped out with new toys between services.
- In addition, all toys will be sanitized weekly after each use.
- All hard surfaces will be wiped down and sanitized between services.
- For the immediate future, the open gym will be closed until further notice.

We are excited about reopening and meeting together again!  The safety of our church family and our surrounding community is really important.  The precautions we are taking do not take away each individual’s responsibility to do their part.  If you are not feeling well, if you are at risk, or if you have any questions regarding your health, we ask that you stay home and join us online!

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to our office.

Pastor Denny
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