Now that social distancing restrictions are starting to be slowly lifted around the country, churches are planning how they will operate safely in this new world. Weekend gatherings will be limited because of ongoing restrictions on capacity and people’s proximity to each other. This will alter the number of worship services, how children’s ministry is offered, the ingress and egress of people in the building, on-campus classes, and many other ministries, but what about small groups?
Small groups in homes seem like a logical place to start since they are decentralized and mostly come under the gathering restriction numbers, but before you flip the switch back on for your in-person small group, you need to think through the same types of questions every church, restaurant, and retail business is pondering right now.
There is a trust that has to be rebuilt between host and attendee in every environment. We have been conditioned to keep at least six feet between us and the next human being, and that surfaces outside of our home are not to be trusted. Wearing masks in public to protect those around us is also encouraged, and in some localities, enforced.
With that in mind, here are a few questions to think about before you throw the doors open to the small group in your home.
- How will you offer childcare? Childcare issues are already at the top of the list for most small groups, but they are especially important now. It will be some time before parents will be comfortable with leaving their children in close proximity to other kids, so you may have to stop offering group childcare for awhile.
- How will you handle food? I am a big proponent of having food options at a small group meeting. It helps people start to feel comfortable quicker, and who doesn’t love food? However, how you offer the food may have to change. Our small group will normally have a buffet style of snack offerings with a line of bowls and community dipping spoons for each. That arrangement will no longer be acceptable.
- Where will people use the restroom? This is a question that I bet most group leaders have not had to wrestle with before. If you only have one restroom available, that will make it undesirable for multiple people to use in one night.
- Is there room in the gathering area for people to properly spread out? The living room where my small group meets is pretty tight. We can comfortably accommodate around 10-12 adults in a semicircle. We are going to have to rethink our numbers and spacing before our next in-person meeting.
- Can you offer a virtual attendance option for some? Not everyone is going to be comfortable with attending physically right away, and some group members may be in the most at-risk demographic and should not attend until there is a vaccine. Now that people are accustomed to attending online through Zoom or Hangouts, can you set up a computer with a web camera and allow them to still attend virtually?
- Do you have time to deep clean your house before group every week? Guidelines for restaurants reopening call for thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting everything between every customer. That includes door handles, tables, chairs and menus. Are you prepared to offer that level of cleaning for your group each week? People will expect it.
- Are you comfortable with group members wearing masks during at least a portion of the group time? This may not be necessary during the study discussion when everyone is properly spaced, but may be while people are arriving and socializing at the beginning and the end of group time.
Some of these changes may be temporary and some may be permanent. I would encourage thinking through every detail and having a plan before reopening our homes so group members can come back confidently and safely.