The risks for churches post 19th July

After the 19th July, the Government will remove all remaining COVID-19 measures. This means that there will not be legal restrictions such as social distancing or wearing face masks. But the Government and the national health/science advisors have been clear that COVID hasn’t gone away. It’s not that those measures don’t matter anymore, it’s that we are being asked to use our own judgement when deciding locally and in different contexts what is appropriate.

This means that the onus is really on church leaders to think carefully about risk assessment and risk mitigation.  In a follow up post I’m going to talk in a little bit more detail about some of the considerations we need to take into account when making our risk management plans. Today, I wanted to highlight what I think the big risks are .

Risks to put on your plan

I would suggest that there are 5 key risks that we need to be alert to.  These are as follows.

  1. There is the risk that there will be a COVID breakout originating from or exacerbated by a church gathering. We want to mitigate against this risk for two reasons. First of all, we want to protect others from risks to their health. We certainly don’t want to be responsible for serious illness and deaths. Further, an outbreak centred on a church is likely to damage the confidence of people to gather and affect its reputation in the wider community.
  2. There is a risk that you will find yourself in break of other legal liabilities. This may include break of responsibilities towards your landlords if a tenant, the terms and conditions of your insurance policy and/or breach of health and safety law. This is important because you are no longer likely to get a visit from the police, you won’t receive a fixed penalty fine for breaching COVID rules but there could be legal consequences down the line for failing to take risk responsibilities seriously.
  3. There is a risk that how you organise things will affect the confidence of church members and attendees that you are encouraging to return. They will be looking at how you organise things to ensure that church is a safe place to be. This is not a selfish desire, it arises out of a genuine concern to love others and to be a good witness.
  4. There is of course a risk the other way, that the mitigation measures in place may be off putting and discouraging to believers who are desperate for the day when we leave behind masks and silence. Again, this does not arise necessarily out of selfishness. There is a natural desire to worship fully, a concern for what best glorifies God and also a concern for those whose mental health has been significantly and adversely affected by lockdown.
  5. There is a risk that if we get things wrong then this will have a negative impact on the reputation of the church and therefore the Gospel in the local community.

The unspoken but most important risks

Whilst the four risks described above may appear on your plan, here are two that should be there, either on the plan or unspoken, unwritten but very much in your thoughts. These should be our most important concerns.

  1. That as a church together we will fail in our duty to love God with our whole hearts, to glorify him and to enjoy him forever.
  2. That as a church together we will fail to love our neighbours as ourselves linked to a failure to make disciples who obey everything Jesus has taught us.

Think through your decisions as a church.  Are they seeking God’s glory and honour before our own needs and preferences? This means that we need to be careful that we are not so risk adverse that we lose sight of faith.  But it also means that we should be asking whether the things we prioritise are reflecting God’s character and bringing him glory or causing his name to be slandered in our communities.  My view is that this means that we should prioritise the desire of God’s people to obey the command to keep gathering and do our best to fulfil it. However, we shouldn’t have a superstitious view of God and worship thinking that he somehow needs out physical attendance in buildings together. This is as much about what we need and our love for one another.

Also consider whether your decisions show love for neighbours.  Indeed, it is helpful to remember that our love and concern for each other is an expression of our love for the God we cannot see.  The majority of our risk assessment concerns arise out of this concern to love others.  Think about you’re your reputation as a church and what you want to be known for. Will you ne known as loving and is that what you want to be known as.

So, draw up your risk plans but do so not as some kind of bureaucratic exercise. See your risk management as part of your worship, as glorifying God and enjoying him,  as loving one another.