Adjusting congregational practices during an outbreak

Make Plans

How does your church make this decision?

Assign key individuals to a Preparedness Planning Group with the authority to develop, maintain and act upon an influenza pandemic preparedness and response plan. Look at your current structures. Does it require the Ministerial to meet? Does your Church require the Council to be involved? Executive and Lead Minister/Pastor? See Getting Started for more information.

Outline what the organizational structure will be during an emergency and revise this periodically. This outline should identify key contacts and their back-ups, roles and responsibilities, and who is supposed to report to whom.

Determine the potential impact of a pandemic on your church’s activities and services. What are some of the needs to be considered when trying to reach a decision? People will want to know what is going on with other congregants and miss the companionship. Recognize the potential scale of the outbreak – its possible duration, peaks and waves. Consider how various government guidelines will impact your church activities and how you might respond. Plan for situations likely to require increasing, decreasing or altering the services your church delivers. For instance:

  • (a)  Will you keep the church open for services and regular activities to enable the healthy and recovered to receive spiritual support and healing during such traumatic events;
  • (b) Will you close the church to minimize the risk of infection from people who are infected but not symptomatic, and who are therefore able to spread infection without realizing it; or
  • (c) Will you plan for alternative approaches to maintain ministry while minimizing the risk of infection?

Plan for change

How will you continue the vital life and ministries of the congregation?  Plan for change.

How does the life and ministry of the church change but continue?

Evaluate your church’s usual activities and services (including religious rites and practices) to identify those that may facilitate virus spread from person to person.  Set up policies to modify these activities to prevent the spread of the virus.  Assess all of your options to ensure that the course of action taken by your church maximizes the support provided to your congregation and community.

Set procedures for

  1. activating your church’s response plan when an influenza pandemic is declared by public health authorities and
  2. altering your church’s operations accordingly. 

Noting age groups that may be most vulnerable and the age grouping of your pastors, workers and congregation, consider the possible impact on you.  Use retirees in your plan.

How can you redistribute the workload among people?  Pastoral staff will be hard pressed in their role, and may be called on to conduct funerals for the community as well as their own congregation.  Do you need to repriorize the tasks and goals of the pastor?  How about the secretary and the custodian?  Survey the congregation to determine what gifts they bring to the body.  Quite possibly there is more than one person who could take on parts of these jobs.  Identify other congregational members who can back-up the regular pastoral and other staff and help them through cross-training and practice.

For example, if the practice is that the pastor is required to preach every Sunday, consider delegating some Sundays to other ministers or lay people. Consider other duties relating to the Pastor’s Role that should be delegated to other persons within the congregation.

Worship practices and social distancing

Following are some suggestions on how to change current worship and programs to minimize viral spread and maximize the ministry of the church during pandemic.

Social distancing


  • Shaking hands, embracing or other common social practices might need to be avoided. Consider alternate forms of greeting, such as touching elbows, bowing or nodding. Think about how your ushers and greeters will carry out their duties.

Food-related activities

  • What are the expectations of those who serve coffee and meals and others? Some activities will need to be modified and some may have to be discontinued. Consider what practices you currently have in place. Train people now to wash hands before handling food and practise good food-handling techniques. Use a dishwasher or hot, soapy water and hot-water rinsing to clean communion elements and dishes.


  • If you are not already doing so, consider using disposable communion cups. Minimize the passing of communion elements, perhaps by inviting people to come to a central location to partake of bread and wine or juice. Discontinue any practice that involves dipping the bread into the wine (intincture).

Weddings, funerals and other significant events

  • Consider whether these events in the life of the church have to be altered, postponed or discontinued. Weddings may need to take on new formats such as an informal small gathering over a meal. Funerals may also need to take on new and different formats; possibly only close family should be involved. Consider that burials might be postponed.

Sunday School, youth groups, church programs, church-based community programs

  • Consider whether and how you should adapt or cease these ministries. Consider for how long should this happen? There may be short-term bans on assembly put in place by the government, but your plan should also address the longer-term nature of a pandemic that will occur in waves spread over time.

Creative worship services

  • What if a decision is made not to congregate in the church for a period of time? How will you reach out to those who cannot meet for worship? You may decide to discontinue worship services in favour of small group meetings. You may already have small groups in place, or wish to start a small group program in your church to facilitate worship planning and other types of activities
    (for example, CARE, cell, K-group or bible study groups).
  • Explore other media to share sermons, prayers, hymns, church messaging. Provide resource information on appropriate sermon and prayer guides, hymns and other worship resources. See CommonWord and Mennonite Church USA.
  • Messages and worship services could be taped or recorded on DVD and delivered to members. Local Radio Stations could be approached to air church services. Recorded worship services could be broadcast on cable television stations, possibly as a public service. People need to be trained in these media so that back up persons are ready to step in as needed.
  • These alternate ways of doing worship should continue for as long as the prohibition is in place or when notice is given that the “dangers” are over.
  • Neighbouring congregations (including other denominations which are physically nearby) should be consulted and some collaboration with them could take place to maximize efficiencies and to reduce duplication of services. This could also help alleviate some of the pressures on leadership.


  • How will visitation of those who are in hospitals and nursing homes take place? Does your visitation team need to be expanded? Quarantine or other serious restrictions may be put in place by government agencies. Determine how this will impact your ministry. It is important to develop phone visitation procedures so that communication can be maintained while such restrictions are in place.

Maintaining Business and Ministry with a Church Continuity Plan

During a pandemic your church will want to have plans in place to ensure that operations continue smoothly and are not a source of stress or crisis.

While churches and congregations are not businesses, they do provide critical services and sanctuary, employ staff, purchase and maintain equipment and supplies, require reliable building heating/ventilating/air conditioning, require income streams, payment of expenses and banking services, information technology and communication systems. All or some of these services and systems are easily disrupted during a disaster or other emergency directly affecting your church or your community or even your province. New church building plans, including building systems, equipment and furnishings, should take these service continuity factors into account, e.g. showers for men and women, ability to easily connect portable generators to electrical system if prolonged power outage, mass public feeding, etc.

A Church Continuity Plan attempts to ensure critical congregational services and activities can continue during a disaster and that there is a plan to resume normal functioning after the disaster. It will help keep your congregation viable during and after a disruptive event.

Critical services or products are those that must be delivered to ensure survival, avoid causing injury, and meet legal or other obligations of an organization. Business Continuity Planning is a proactive planning process that ensures critical services or products are delivered during a disruption, and normal services or products are resumed as effectively as possible after the disruption.

A Church Continuity Plan includes:

  • Plans, measures and arrangements to ensure the continuous delivery of critical services and products, which permits the organization to recover its facility, data and assets.
  • Identification of necessary resources to support business continuity, including personnel, information, equipment, financial allocations, legal counsel, infrastructure protection and accommodations.

Human Resources | Financial | Physical | Communications

For more information on business continuity plans, see