The Idiot’s Guide to ReOpening Your Church

As you know by now, re-opening your church building is a far more complex task than closing your building ever was.

The question is, how do you do it well?

When emotions, adrenaline and fatigue run high (and they’re all running high right now), it’s a perfect set up for decisions you may one day regret.

So, loosely inspired by The ScrewTape Letters (with deep apologies to C.S. Lewis) and by Dwight Shrute’s profound leadership insight from The Office tv show:

Whenever I’m about to do something, I think to myself, “Would an idiot do that?” and if they would, I do not do that thing. 

…here’s my (tongue-in-cheek) attempt at an idiot’s guide to reopening your church.

This post pokes a bit of fun, but please hear my heart, I really want you to open well and see your church grow. You are working hard and your community needs you.

Re-opening your church building is a far more complex task than closing your building ever was. Click To Tweet

I hope this provides some clarity and a smile (we all need a bit of fun right now). So please be kind in the comments and offer some examples of other things you really don’t want to do when reopening your facility.

Also, please know I’ve made my share of idiot moves in leadership (like, perhaps, writing a post called The Idiot’s Guide to…). There are clearly some moments I wish I could get back.

With all that said, if you were aiming to be an idiot when reopening your church, here’s exactly how to do it.

When emotions, adrenaline and fatigue run high (and they're all running high right now), it's a perfect set up for decisions you may one day regret. Click To Tweet

1. Violate As Many Social Distancing Guidelines As You Think You Can Get Away With

There’s what the law says, and what you think you can make the law say.

As a former attorney, I’ve been trained to spot loopholes, or to play creatively with wording to get it to say what I want it to say.

So, to be an idiot, take the most expansive view you can of any and all guidelines and do the minimum required.

Besides, are the officials really going to check whether people are 6 feet apart or 5 feet apart? At 5 feet apart you can squeeze 100 more people in…and does it really make that much difference?

And sure, families are recommended to sit together, but nobody’s going to suggest friends sit apart, right? I mean really…

And wait, if they’re wearing face coverings (made by Aunt Buelah),  does there really need to be 6 feet between them?

Oh, and don’t worry about the kids. Push all the kids into one room. It’s impossible to socially distance kids anyway.

2. Exercise Your Constitutional Rights But Ignore Your Responsibilities

You have rights the government can’t take away, and nobody can make you do anything you don’t want to, correct?

So, to be an idiot, exercise your constitutional rights but ignore your responsibilities. Strangely, the US government still educates citizens on their rights and their responsibilities.

In a hyper-individualistic culture, you should count on other people to exercise their responsibilities. You, after all, can just focus your rights.

And when you think about the Christian faith deeply, it has nothing to do with the responsibility to love or care for others. It’s all about you.

3. Open So Fast You Have to Close Again

The best way to have to close your church down after you re-open the doors is to become the source of an area cluster of infections and deaths that trace back to your church.

That will guarantee you lots of press (perhaps national coverage) and impress your unchurched neighbors, who, prior to COVID, were already struggling with you.

Plus, the quick open/close move probably means even more people will trust you next time you open your doors.

The best way to have to close your church down after you re-open the doors is to become the source of an area cluster of infections and deaths that trace back to your church. Click To Tweet

4. Make it Political 

We live in an amazing age where everything is both tribal and partisan and therefore deeply inspiring.

Make sure you politicize human disease and suffering.

This is not only guaranteed to confuse and irritate people, it will immediately discredit you with people who vote differently than you do.

One of the best ways to instantly alienate half the people you’re trying to reach is to make the Gospel partisan.

One of the best ways to instantly alienate half the people you're trying to reach is to make the Gospel partisan. Click To Tweet

5. Use Your Social Media Platform to Vent

This is a fantastic tactic.

Since social media gives everyone a platform, make sure you share your every emotion (especially anger, irritation, frustration, and impatience) on social media.

The best way to do this is to post something in the heat of the moment. Don’t pray about it, share it with a few trusted friends first, or sleep on it for a night or two. Definitely do not ask your spouse if you should post it.

Not only will this improve your credibility, but your impulsiveness will also deepen people’s trust and respect for you.

6. Abandon Your Online Advances And Make it 100% About the Building

Once you’re back in your building, even though your attendance will probably be much lower than you’d hoped, abandon any progress you’ve made with online church in the last few months.

Online ministry isn’t real ministry, and the people you’ve reached online don’t need the same level of care and attention as people you can see face to face.

For bonus points, pivot all of your staff-dollars back into in-person ministry.

The internet is a bit of a fad anyway.

7. Treat Online Attendees Like Second-Class Citizens

Because in-person attendance at a physical location is is the only way authentic Christians express their faith, make everyone engaging and participating online feel like they’re second-rate.

The fact that they might be older and at higher risk, struggle with some co-morbidity risks (like obesity or diabetes), might not have access to health care, are worried about their children or aging parents they’re caring for, or are even away for the weekend and wanting to connect shouldn’t deter you.

The people who aren’t in the room don’t really count.

8. Tell People Your Faith Buys You Immunity from Disease

For bonus points, make in-person attendance theological.

Even a cursory reading of scripture shows that God never lets his people suffer. The Bible has no calamity, disease, poverty or suffering in it, and when it does, God’s people never have to go through it.

So let people know that when they show up, they have immunity because they’re far more faithful than those who aren’t in the building.

The Way to A Better Future…

Okay that’s enough of the idiot’s guide.

But thanks for hanging in there.

Although I’m definitely no C.S. Lewis and this is not the ScrewTape Letters, after finishing this post, I feel a little like Lewis did when he finished The ScrewTape Letters and remarked:

Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment. … [T]hough it was easy to twist one’s mind into the diabolical attitude, it was not fun, or not for long. The strain produced a sort of spiritual cramp. The work into which I had to project myself while I spoke through Screwtape was all dust, grit, thirst, and itch. Every trace of beauty, freshness, and geniality had to be excluded. It almost smothered me before I was done.”

I’ve written a whole body of work on the church in the midst of crisis that’s written in a much different voice (just poke around this blog).

The reopening of our church buildings is far more complex than closing them ever was, but to do so with kindness, humility, grace is the challenge before us.

Leaders, let’s open our churches well. Thoughtfully, prayerfully, wisely and with consideration and kindness.

Put all of that energy and adrenaline you feel into great decisions, not impulsive ones.

Sometimes knowing the wrong way to do something can point us to the right way to do it. And that’s my hope with this piece.

The reopening of our church buildings is far more complex than closing them ever was, but to do so with kindness, humility, grace is the challenge before us. Click To Tweet

To wrap up where we started, a little more Dwight Shrute wisdom:

“Nostalgia is one of the great human weaknesses, second only to the neck.”

Remember, church leaders, as much as we all miss the old normal, the past has a nostalgia that the future never does.

But the future is what we’re called to lead people into.

The past has a nostalgia that the future never does. But the future is what we're called to lead people into. Click To Tweet

The New Normal Is Here. You Ready to Pivot (Again)? 


On a way more serious note, yes, there’s a ton of change happening right now. And nobody wants to be an idiot.

How do you lead well when everything’s changing all the time? Especially when you know that some organizations will survive, some will thrive, and others won’t make it.

I’d love for you to be one of the thrivers. And thriving belongs to leaders who know how to pivot.

My brand new online training, the 30-Day Pivot, will show you how to develop your agility as a leader and as an organization to position yourself for growth.

The 30-Day Pivot is a simple 3-step process you and your team can utilize every as often as every 30 days to respond to the change around you and capitalize on it.

In the 30-Day Pivot, you’ll learn:
  • A simple 3-step process your team can use to arrive at your next pivot in 90 minutes or less.
  • An approach that fosters team-generated innovation.
  • An implementation and evaluation framework that will help your team move quickly and accurately.
I’ve led teams through multiple pivots, and in the 30 Day Pivot, I show you the strategy and framework you need to make quick, accurate and responsive moves that can position your organization for growth, even in the midst of deep uncertainty and change.

Some organizations and churches will thrive in the new normal.

Others won’t.

While the future is uncertain, yours doesn’t have to be.

You can learn more and gain instant access to the 30 Day Pivot here.

Any Other Mistake You Can Make?

Wisely re-gathering the church is going to be so critical.

What are some other mistakes you are looking to avoid?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

The Idiot’s Guide to ReOpening Your Church


  1. what kind of lingerie do men like most reddit on January 18, 2022 at 9:23 pm

    Can someone recommend Crotchless Tights? Cheers xox

  2. Scott on December 30, 2020 at 2:57 am

    9. Do potlucks right away again. Indoors.

  3. Nate on June 17, 2020 at 5:12 pm

    Funny change of pace for a post! Reminds me exactly of a JP Sears video.

  4. maureen courtney on June 1, 2020 at 1:15 am

    I was so surprised to learn that the white house changed CDC guidelines for opening churches. I saw the original CDC recommendations for increased safety and then I saw what the WH altered and released. Unbelievable! People will be at much greater risk due to politics instead of hearing scientific facts. For one example, all recs focused on singing as a greater risk due to greater expulsion of air and droplets was removed. There were several others. Do evangelicals really want to die to support Trump using his false information for churches?

  5. James Oldham on May 28, 2020 at 1:03 pm

    Churches should check with their insurers to understand how reopening can affect their liability coverage.

  6. Tom Seward on May 27, 2020 at 11:00 am

    One side not mentioned. Is that when you come back to service. You have to teach and model grace to your congregation. Though your church may be meeting. A segment of your congregation won’t be ready yet. It is so important to teach that they are not deficient in faith or spirituality. And that they too are working it out in Gods’ grace, and that is okay.

    • Phil on May 28, 2020 at 10:53 am

      Yes he covers this point explicitly- possibly need to reread.

    • Janet L Adams on May 28, 2020 at 2:13 pm

      Thank you for your comment. I feel the pressure when invited to small group gatherings and prayer invitations for individuals who are sick. 68 of my friends gathered to pray and not any masks were worn. I gracefully tried to let the person know that I would not be attending the prayer time. I am a senior citizen and my husband and I decided to not attend until the end of the summer season and check on the Covid-19 numbers. Actually, we have enjoyed the online time with our church family. We are both retired educators and find that engaging in God’s Word has been amazing through the online platform.

      • Carey Nieuwhof on May 28, 2020 at 4:59 pm

        Janet…I hear you. My parents, who are healthy and I dearly love, won’t be attending public events any time soon either. I think we need to honor and serve them where they’re at, not pressure people into attending.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 28, 2020 at 4:56 pm

      That’s very true!

  7. Josh on May 27, 2020 at 10:02 am

    Love this! My only suggestion, we need to not use the language of business and commodity. “Reopening” is not what the Church is doing. “Resuming Public Gatherings” is longer and takes more characters, but conveys the reality of who the Church is.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 28, 2020 at 4:57 pm

      Sure. Thanks Josh. It’s the language everyone is using so to make it relatable, I used that term. Church was never closed, but leaders still call it ReOpening.

  8. James Oldham on May 26, 2020 at 4:51 pm

    It’s wonderful how humor can take down many high horses.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 28, 2020 at 4:57 pm

      Ha ha. Yes.

  9. Josh on May 26, 2020 at 4:06 pm

    Unfortunately it has become evident, based off science and the numbers, that the reaction to this crisis was indeed very much political. In order to lead well, church leaders will be needing to have authentic conversations about the use of fear and anxiety to drive their emotions and decisions, and how that plays a part in the political landscape as well. Lead our people to be free from the fear, anxiety, and worry that guided decisions and responses from so many over the past 3 months and help them be better prepared to see those political tactics employed to their emotional, mental, and spiritual harm in the Fall. Further, if the falling rates of “engagement” in online environments have proven anything its the severe discipleship and relational limitations of such a ministry philosophy approach outside of severe circumstances that necessitate it for a short time. The more we encourage our community and people in our churches to, yes, step out in faith to overcome fear and anxiety to engage in real community and relationship, the better we are serving them. That can be done all the while offering and online avenue for connection for those who as mentioned above have any kind of limitation or circumstance preventing them from joining on a given week. We’ve been meeting again together since the first week in May- pastors/leadership teams, the most important thing you can do in your “relaunch” strategy is to do so. No matter what. It won’t be perfect- in fact it will be messy and require alot of love, grace, and flexibility. Yes, a cluster might get sick. People won’t want to follow the restrictions. But gather anyway. Lead with love anyway. We’ve gathered now 4 straight weeks using social distancing guidelines and nobody who has gathered has even experienced so much as a sniffle to follow. No cases of the virus. No deaths. That doesn’t ensure there won’t be in the future, but if you meet, trust a congregation that has already been doing so- Jesus will show up how He wants and as a church family you will be fine.

    • Janet L Adams on May 28, 2020 at 2:44 pm

      “Lead our people to be free from the fear, anxiety, and worry that guided decisions and responses from so many over the past 3 months and help them be better prepared to see those political tactics employed to their emotional, mental, and spiritual harm in the Fall.”

      This statement does not ring true with me. Once our CA Gov. began closing our Yosemite, State Parks, businesses and schools my husband and I began to research and educate ourselves on Pandemics. We believe in science, math, and the doctors who hold a degree in epidemiology. This was not political at all. We watched documentaries on historical pandemics and learned that the citizens/medical doctors did not know about viruses at that time. We began to care for our local community by sheltering in place, hold our weekly Bible study on Zoom and continue to pray for each other. We read Mark and 1 Peter and found the words of Peter through Mark and his own book to be profoundly helpful. We stopped chatting about politics and our rights when some of us lost our jobs and our businesses were hurting but continued to read and share how our Father warned us and let us know that we were going to suffer. Take heart! Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.
      Remember these words…Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad, for these trials make your partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. The world is watching me and how I respond each day I live. I want to only point to God…

    • Darlene on May 29, 2020 at 9:15 am

      I am in 100% agreement with you. We can in no way compare this to pandemics of the past, because for starters the death toll does not warrant it being called a pandemic. The medical field also has was more knowledge about virus and bacterial sicknesses today. For starters medical staff wash their hands between sick patients and our waste management (at least in North America) is way more sanitary than it was even 100 years ago. Both of these are huge factors in spread of illness. I think that common sense needs to prevail, but it seems to be a rare commodity these days.

      • Darlene on May 29, 2020 at 9:19 am

        I do not like the term the “new normal” because right now that looks like fear, alienation, suspicion, and uncertainty. None of these help the human race move forward because we are made for relationships with others.

  10. Jim C. on May 26, 2020 at 2:04 pm

    Carey- I think you have a nice teaching main idea in your second point- exercise your (constitutional) rights but ignore your responsibilities. Maybe a reword- Church isn’t about exercising your rights and ignoring your responsibilities. I may use that myself. When we fully open, I’m putting together a “One-Another’ series. How we reset and not just restart.

  11. James Oldham on May 26, 2020 at 1:44 pm

    It’s wonderful how humor can take down so many high horses.

  12. Steve Creel on May 26, 2020 at 1:11 pm

    I know it was meant to be “tongue in cheek”. I am being very careful in my church to protect our people. Still I was very sorry to see you use comedy to call names and lash out in such a negative way. I love your articles and your intelligent and respectful dissection of many issues. This just makes me sad. There is enough negativity and division already. I’m sad to see the pressure of these days get to you in your role as writer. I have observed that I seldom feel better when I am acting superior or denigrating others. I think it likely, that you will not feel better either. I’ll be praying for grace to flood in.

  13. Mike Tamargo on May 26, 2020 at 11:05 am

    Maybe someone should write a book on “how to grow a backbone, and serve God without fearing any political repercussions”.
    I think the world has seen enough of the panty Christians that roll over in fear of losing a congregation.
    Before we get started airing our dirty laundry on a public media, stop calling those who question the idea of keeping our church doors closed because “it is unsafe”, IDIOTS.

  14. Walter Swaim on May 26, 2020 at 9:15 am

    I was actually most encouraged by Tim Salters comments above in response to this. In our church of normally 70+, we began re-opening when state and county guidelines said we could, I spoke with my ministry leaders and the majority were for starting again according to guidelines – and we have done it. Even though those guidelines have been relaxed another step we are sticking another 2 weeks past it with the first ones. We have not been idiots, yet the majority of my church (even those who said “yeah let’s do it”) still don’t show up in the service. I see many of them on social media going out to eat, doing recreational activities, going to the stores, and going to the office and worksites, and more – and yet somehow can’t make it to the physical church for a one-hour service (some of our folks only living blocks away, most within 5 miles or so). We have had outreaches to our community with providing free pizza and now in a 6 weekend campaign to giveaway produce partnering with a major produce distributor – and a few have signed up to do this – the irony is seen in those who involve themselves in that, having contact with countless outside people (yes, still with mask & gloves) yet stay home the next morning and not go to the service (some not watching the service now as the novelty of it has worn off).

    As I attended a Zoom statewide meeting of our affiliation of churches just this past week, this has shown to be the case among most of our churches among various sizes. Carey and friends, the struggle now is not against the virus, it is against the spiritual virus of apathy and hypocrisy (no I’m not going to preach a sermon with that tagline).

    When this began I read an article by young Moses Lee and how the early church delivered God’s love and care INTO the pain and suffering and not away from it. I know the dynamics and methods are different now, and am not endorsing charging into the disease recklessly. My observation that leads into a rhetorical question is this: during this has the church been present or absent WITH the suffering or has it been largely absent and hiding? I see and fear the latter.

    I have served in a third world/developing country as a missionary, experiencing people who have no technology in which to comfortably sit in couches, with pj’s on and sip coffee while watching screen church (I add also, I love & use the technology all I can and will – but please follow the point). Instead they regularly used any loose change they could to take 2-3 buses just to come and be the church physically gathered and to step into serving others with no excuses. So the contrast for me to see us argue this is often moot (and very “first world problems”) when compared to the rest of the 90% of the church in the world (and without a constitution they too fear their loss of liberty and struggle against it).

    I knew this all would be hard during the shutdowns, but my low expectations for the “after-struggle” have been admittedly not low enough and way harder in this stage than I even knew. As a result my disappointment in those believers I thought to be stronger and wiser in their faith has deepened. I (as an individual with an auto-immune disease) choose faith over fear. In this after-stage in our area, yes, I do put it in that context.

    The numbers have dropped dramatically and continue to here, we can and should be going out and living life and being the church gathered in-person, using online as an outreach to the unsaved and to comfort those truly physically unable to come meet in person. Those online are encouraged or drawn closer to the Lord not by seeing a preacher speaking to a scant few in a largely empty auditorium, but rather by seeing the church gathered with the renewed faith & vigor that being together physically again brings.

    But I am a microscopic fish in a universe size pond and my opinion will be squelched quickly on here I am sure. I love to be challenged and mostly agree with the posts and opinions on here. Today I get it, laughed a little myself, and #4 spoke to me the most – yet I feel the majority premise this is all based on is not based on a full broad view as usually is practiced here. Thank you for letting me vent and I hope this is received in the love it is given (I really wasn’t shouting this, felt I had cup of coffee in hand and just conversing with brothers over it). Thank you again.

  15. Sue Hughes on May 26, 2020 at 8:58 am

    Thanks Carey
    for a fun post with great use of irony to get us reflecting on how we move ahead – none of us are immune to slipping into a Screwtape (wordly) mindset, so a very timely reminder.
    I’m so profoundly grateful that God is always about his work – and for those of us that belong to the printed age, he is calling us to participate with him as eagerly digitally, as within our inherited ways. exciting times for the gospel.

  16. Sandra Jones on May 26, 2020 at 8:36 am

    Thank You Carey.
    One thing to consider, why there is such a push to reopen churches and schools is once they are re opened, the sports and entertainment world will follow. To me, it seems true wisdom is prevailing. Thank God for His guidance.

  17. Daniel on May 26, 2020 at 5:38 am

    Thank you Carey! I enjoyed reading and laughed, ah, learned a lot.

    “The best way to have to close your church down after you re-open the doors is to become the source of an area cluster of infections and deaths that trace back to your church.”
    This is so true and so sad. It just happened here in Germany, where up to now over 100 Person are infected with the virus after a single church service. Since there are about 400-600 newly infected persons every day all over Germany, this number seems huge…

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 26, 2020 at 7:17 am

      Daniel I hear you…and I think I read about that situation. It’s an extremely difficult moment for church leaders. We’ve never dealt with this before. Thanks for your comment!

  18. Chamaigne Sharette on May 26, 2020 at 12:41 am

    Brilliant and brave.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 26, 2020 at 7:18 am

      Thanks Chamaigne.

  19. Lowell Sensintaffar on May 25, 2020 at 6:00 pm

    This was a very funny and poignant piece. Can’t say that about many things I’ve read lately. Here’s another one. . .

    #9. As a church, we will take our cues from Walmart, Lowe’s and our local grocery store because, if they are “essential” then certainly the church is “essential” too–MORE ESSENTIAL! If I can go to Walmart or my local grocery store, then I should be able to worship at my local church, just like before. To not do this means we are placing getting a loaf of bread from the store above receiving the Bread of Life on Sunday morning.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 26, 2020 at 7:18 am

      Totally. And it ignores the fact that the church is actually very much alive and working, whether in buildings or not. This essential service was never shut down.

      • Mary on May 26, 2020 at 9:42 am

        Even though you may say the Church was never really shut down 48% of your church is not engaged online and are Zoomed out. The mental wellness of this goes far beyond the effect of COVID. We are never going to be free of any disease. Historically we have never quarantined the healthy but always the sick. People are going to all theses major superstores and liquor stores and planned parenthood. The message needs to be consistent. As much as we say the church is not a building, it is a gathering place of hope, and healing. A hospital for those who are spiritually sick.

  20. Scott Guinn on May 25, 2020 at 4:48 pm

    Ummm….see point #5 above.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 5:26 pm

      Ha. I was wondering who was going to raise that. Thanks Scott. You may think I failed my own test (which I may have) but this post was written over several days, prayed over, and shared in advance with a half dozens or more leaders I know and trust who lead small churches through to megachurches of 10K+. They had some very valuable insights and helped me frame the tone better than I would have on my own. Appreciate it or not, this post was anything but impulsive.

  21. Tim Salters on May 25, 2020 at 4:08 pm

    I appreciate the intent and I agree with most of the content. I was so willing to suspend our rights to gather for the sake of “flattening the curve.” But the reality is that it has not been anywhere near as bad as the media warned. Nor as bad as church leaders like Ed Stetzer warned when he insisted that the real crisis we were sure to face was caring for all the sick and dying and their families. That never happened where I live. Not even close. We lost more to the flu last year than people who have died of Covid. So this is my struggle. I feel like when we go along with all the extreme precautions, we are buying into this whole false narrative. A narrative that has cost millions their livelihood.
    So I have a serious question… is there any place for us as pastors to push back against this narrative? It’s seems like a whole new form of political correctness and if we don’t jump through the hoops, it means we are uncaring, reckless and… idiotic. Is it foolish for us to show concern when liberties and freedoms are suspended for reasons that don’t seem justified?
    The document that you linked to regarding our rights and responsibilities begins with this statement… “Citizenship is the common thread that connects all Americans. We are a nation bound not by race or religion, but by the shared values of freedom, liberty, and equality.” It is our freedom, liberty and equality (some people have been allowed to continue making a living while others have been forced to close with no way to provide for their families – talk about inequality!) that concerns me. It seems like there is some role that we have is speaking against government overreach and fear mongering.
    I feel a real tension over these issues.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 5:24 pm

      Hey Tim…thanks. I sense you’re sincerely struggling with this. I have a lot of medical friends, and from the best information I can gather is that unabated, we would have had far more deaths and overwhelmed the system. That has in most cases been avoided. A lot of the disease remains mysterious, and not everyone will get this right. But already churches that reopened and followed guidelines and making headlines and closing down again because they’ve been the source of outbreaks. Doing a new post soon with fresh questions to ask that can aid decision making. I’m usually a risk taker, but in this case, with lives hanging in the balance, I’m favoring a more cautious approach.

      • LWR on May 25, 2020 at 10:07 pm

        If you live in a high density state or city such as; NY, Detroit, Boston area, or places where you have a high number of elderly, then there are certainly issues. The fact still is, covid is ‘still mostly’ a high age or risk factor killer. States with fewer population centers have remained relatively unscathed. People with lower ages, are less prone as well as those who do not have high risk diseases like COPD.

        We can keep people away from a virus for only so long and even WITH a ‘good’ vaccination, 40-80K die each year. Most of those folks are over the age of 65 and/or in poor health as well. If there’s a 2nd wave as predicted, without a vaccination it won’t matter when you open. You could stay closed until Christ comes again, and you’re going to have lots of people die.

        Being smart is prudent. Understanding you can’t be closed forever even if there is NOT a vaccination is also prudent. We don’t live in an agrarian society where eveyone makes their own bread, butter, milk, hunt their own food, nor do you make electricity without people working.

    • Herb Buwalda on May 26, 2020 at 5:27 am

      61,000 died in the entire flu season 2018-2019 flu season. Nearly 100,000 have already died of Cov-19 since February WITH MITIGATION.

    • Michael Bulkley on May 26, 2020 at 8:11 am

      It is a very real tension too Tim. Let me add a little complexity to the conversation. Some of the directives are geographically more sensitive than others. As I talk to some of my ministry colleagues around the country they are seeing/feeling very different perspectives from their congregations based on their experiences. Where you may not have not had COVID-19 cases in your church or near you, our congregation has definitely been affected with numerous families losing family members and a number of members positive WITH severe symptoms, and let me tell you, from caring for them, this is no flu. So, the challenge is on one hand the numbers overall may not seem different than the flu when spread our over a flu season timeline, but on a compressed timeline is is much worse than the flu, especially since I have never lost a church member to the flu or have been called to visit someone in the hospital for the flu. Even then it still is almost a sideline issue because if the people of the church are uncomfortable in coming back to the church I have to a. find a way to bring the hope of the Gospel and the ongoing need for discipleship to them wherever they are, and/or b. create conditions that cause them to feel safe in returning while still balancing our need as a church to be a witness to our community. Ironically, we have not made any reopening announcements yet as we are still praying and brainstorming and yet yesterday morning someone dropped hundreds of nails in our church driveways because they thought we were opening as they saw the 15 cars from our worship team and tech team on Sunday morning who were there to set up our livestream service. And finally the balance of being aware of the inclination of the “government” opening retail stores but uncomfortable with churches opening is a challenge. We have responded by proactively staying in close contact with our local health department and mayor’s office and offering assistance to the city wherever we can which has gained us quite a bit of favor in the conversation as they see the need for our church, and now the rest of our city’s churches, to be at the very least brought into the conversation in a positive light. I recognize that again this is going to vary from region to region but I just thought I would give you perspective from CT. God’s wisdom and blessing on you and your church as you navigate these tricky waters my friend.

  22. Andy Taylor on May 25, 2020 at 2:44 pm

    Good job on interpreting the future church service.

  23. Addie prosper makuyana on May 25, 2020 at 2:42 pm

    Thank you Carry for the post on reopening. When our time to reopen churches in Mozambique comes I will not reopen following the idiot guidelines. We recently started online streaming we are still growing and we have decided to continue online till jesus comes. We will reopen the physical location as well. Your posts have helped us navigate this shift and we a
    Will forever be grateful to you. Thank you so much

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 2:45 pm

      So great to hear!

  24. Nik on May 25, 2020 at 2:28 pm

    I cannot tell you how much looking from a vantage point like this helps me process. I’m watching many who lead in churches—or who seem to think they should—fall prey to these very mistakes. Once again, you’ve helped me sort out the mental fog of these days. I’ve LOVED Screwtape Letters for this same reason. Thank you, Carey.

  25. Robin G Jordan on May 25, 2020 at 1:55 pm

    Spot on, Carey. I would add to this list of mistakes, listening to members of your congregation who are agitating for your church to reopen, who have not been observing the public health measures that the state and local authorities and businesses have implemented to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and who have been attending the in-person services and gatherings of another church which is located in a different community in which the infection rate is much lower than in your community and whose pastor dismisses the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic and views the implemented public health measures as an infringement upon the free practice of religion in the United States. Or listening to occasional attendees of your services or gatherings which live in another state but have a second vacation home in your state and whose state where they normally live has not been as stringent as your own state in implementing public health measures to mitigate the virus’ spread , where churches have remained open during the pandemic, where large numbers of people tend to ignore or flout what public health measures may have been implemented, and where the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths is on the rise.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 2:01 pm

      You know, I hadn’t thought of that. Not always, but perhaps the first back will be the least cautious, not just the most excited. Wow. Thank you. Sincerely hope that isn’t true, but we have to be wise. Strong, steady, measured leadership is needed.

      • Robin G Jordan on May 25, 2020 at 3:34 pm

        Carey, it is a real problem in the region where I live. The population is divided over the seriousness of the COVID-19 and what steps, if any, should be taken in response to the outbreak. For some people the reopening of their church is vindication of their view of the pandemic.

    • Michael Bulkley on May 26, 2020 at 8:15 am

      Yep Robin! I feel this same challenge too.

  26. Tim on May 25, 2020 at 1:29 pm


    I so appreciate your comments in this post. I live in Illinois near what used to be the big gorilla of churches that has stayed largely silent throughout this entire time. I remember when they were the standard for leading and advising other churches. Continued sin has diminished a significant ministry. I also live near another church that made almost all of your “Idiots Guide” standard operating procedure. The part that rings so clear to me is rights and responsibilities. We don’t need the right to worship because everything we do should be done with a spirit of worship. Doing that should help us understand our responsibilities to our neighbor. How the relationship between my family and the family that lives next door to us has deepened over the past couple of months. We have maintained distance but have also offered help to each other. We had tried to encourage and support and understand when differences have arisen and they with us. Let’s wash our hands, wear our masks and be praying for those who are only looking at themselves.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 2:03 pm

      Tim, love your heart and focus on your neighbor. Thank you for sharing. Our relationship with our neighbours has deepened too. And with family. I can’t wait to host a BBQ again. Might sadly be a while, but when it’s safe, there will be a new depth.

  27. Kevin Livingston on May 25, 2020 at 12:44 pm

    Carey, wise and thoughtful words. C. S. Lewis would be proud; Dwight Shrute, not so much. Blessings in your ministry.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 1:17 pm

      Thanks Kevin. Dwight’s never happy.

  28. Olatutu Aiyegoro on May 25, 2020 at 12:32 pm

    Thanks for the sharing your thoughts on church reopening. I would say the lessons are well taken and would definitely guide vertiginous decisions in reopening. The just shall live by faith .

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 1:17 pm

      It’s going to take a lot of faith. And sometimes faith looks like restraint. Thanks!

  29. David Del Rosario on May 25, 2020 at 12:17 pm

    Great piece Carey. I attend a 2500 member church that has decided not to open yet until we have a solid plan in place. I trust our church leadership for this decision. Here in Hawaii we have the lowest rate of death and cases for Covid. We started online streaming services as soon as they shut down our churches. We are not sure of the numbers watching but amazingly our tithes and offerings have increased significantly. God is doing some amazing in our community. These are unprecedented times that take unprecedented ideas and plans. Thank you for all your wisdom in this time .

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 1:18 pm

      David…thank you. I’ve heard from numerous church leaders who are reporting what you are…actual growth. Exciting.

  30. Mark Smith on May 25, 2020 at 12:15 pm

    This was a great way to start my day!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 1:18 pm

      Thanks Mark!

  31. Aaron Bartlett on May 25, 2020 at 12:03 pm

    Glad I’m Canadian, I can’t imagine dealing with even more pressure to re-open in a rushed way, praying for much wisdom for American brothers and sisters. Looking forward to “watching y’all” south of the border to glean some wisdom and find out what works best.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 1:20 pm

      How do you get 50 Canadians out of a pool? Ask them to get out of the pool. Except at Trinity Bellwods Park in Toronto on Sunday….

      • Aaron Bartlett on May 25, 2020 at 1:38 pm

        Just ask.. haha! Was there a memo that went out to say let’s all gather at THIS park?.. I really don’t get it. I’m sure everything is nice and cordial in Barrie though?

    • Amy on May 28, 2020 at 8:15 am

      Keep in mind that not all of America is densely populated. Many areas have seen very little impact, and staying closed just doesn’t make sense.

  32. Dr. Cristy on May 25, 2020 at 12:00 pm

    Thanks for a really great post. Our leadership has been having similar discussions as I’m sure we all have.
    BUT – As an MD- Master of Public Health who is also an associate Pastor, I have a really big “please don’t do this” to add and in the spirit of your post, I’ll even play along with the perspective:
    “Don’t make any hand sanitizer available and for certain make sure you run out of hand soap in every restroom. Just tell people to spit on their hands and wipe them clean on your pews. That’s how Jesus healed a blind man, right?”
    While masks and social distancing are part of the fight against this virus for us as a community, good hand hygiene is being shown as even more important to an individual’s health and something we should help people be able to do when we responsibly re-open. Hand sanitizer stations and more than usual amounts of soap available in bathrooms (people are washing hands more often so be ready) go a long way toward communicating your care and concern for people.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 1:20 pm

      Such a great point. You’re right. I’ve always washed my hands a ton but 10x since COVID. And I’ve run into no soap and no towel/dryer the few times I’ve been out. Supply is an issue in reopening.

  33. Heather Dawn on May 25, 2020 at 11:56 am

    Thank you for this post. I’m not in religious ministry, but I think #1-5 is broadly applicable to other sectors now facing re-opening, and we can all relate to the stressors of how to do this safely and responsibly. It makes me very happy when the church emerges as a leader in a community, providing ideas and examples to others of how to do this well, because you can bet everyone is taking notice. Thank you.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 11:58 am

      Heather…thank you. I agree. I think all sectors have to think through these issues. I was in a convenience store Saturday…the only customer wearing a mask and it was like a human petri dish. I would love it for the church to lead on this one. I think we can.

    • David Cline on May 25, 2020 at 1:54 pm

      I’m also reading this through the lens of being both a volunteer community group leader at church and also a small business owner and consultant to other small businesses.

      Respectfully, I think 6-7 also apply to business leaders who have adapted to survive, but would now prefer to return to normal. I know of restaurants that stayed engaged by enhancing their online presence, some adding electronic gift cards to keep revenue flowing. But with restaurants here reopening, they now have to balance serving customers who are comfortable returning, but also continuing to accommodate and engage those who do not want to dine in yet in other ways.

      Many churches and businesses have been forced to develop new skills in this season, and the best will leverage those to be even better for it as we move forward!

  34. Doyle Eldridge on May 25, 2020 at 11:19 am

    Hey Carey,great article! We, Pastors at our church feel the pressure of starting church by so many who feel we just don’t have enough faith. We have even had one family leave our church because of that. But thank you for putting this in perspective in this way.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 11:26 am

      Thanks Doyle. It’s a really complex issue for sure, but I would keep focusing on the mission and who you’re trying to reach, not who you’re trying to keep. Thanks for leading in these strange times.

  35. Dinah Simmons on May 25, 2020 at 11:14 am

    Well said, Carey. A breath of fresh air, common sense – and concern for the common good. Way to go! Thank you.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 11:26 am

      Dinah thank you. Glad it felt that way.

  36. D Kees on May 25, 2020 at 11:09 am

    What made me sad about this article is the several paragraphs you spent asking people not to flip out. The Church has become so sensitive that we must guard against one another’s offense before we even attempt to get any work done.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 11:27 am

      D. 100%. I suspected some people might. And this was an unusual voice for me so I wanted to frame it well, but I hear you. Thanks!

  37. Kirby Kennedy on May 25, 2020 at 10:23 am

    Thank you, Carey. I loved the humor and the truth each statement. I pastor a senior adult church in a planned senior adult community. We are all high-risk. Striving to seek wisdom through prayer, research and discussion is critical for us. We are charged to protect, provide a safe environment and keep our folks as healthy as possible. Putting our re-opening plan in place was a challenge. When to re-open has been even a greater challenge. But, we have a very wise leadership team who are giving sage advice every step along the way. Our congregation trusts the team because the team is made up of the congregation. We will make final decisions tomorrow. Your posts not only brought smiles but, excellent cautionary wisdom. Thank you.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 10:32 am

      Kirby…so encouraged to hear this. Sounds like you’re heading in a strong direction. Just having great people around you can help so much!

  38. Mike Gibson on May 25, 2020 at 10:09 am

    Well done, my friend

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 10:32 am

      Thanks Mike!

  39. John Greig on May 25, 2020 at 10:03 am

    Awesome article and so timely. I know it was tongue in cheek, but unfortunately I’ve been hearing some of this nonsense being put forward as legitimate in my circles, and it is such an affront to the name of Jesus. Thank You!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 10:33 am

      Perhaps I did too. Thanks John.

  40. Luke Gordon on May 25, 2020 at 10:02 am

    I’m about to go into a provincial meeting to determine direction for evangelical churches in Saskatchewan. This came at the perfect time. Thank you for your insights and for the Schrute quotes – they cut to the heart of the issue 😛

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 10:33 am

      Luke so grateful! Thanks for influencing influencers.

  41. Justin Klatt on May 25, 2020 at 9:58 am

    Love love love this post Carey. So good. You have been sticking up for online attenders from the beginning. Thank you! They are not second class citizens. Real face to face Discipleship and salvations (real ones even) can happen online even from across the country!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 10:33 am

      Thank you Justin.

  42. Del on May 25, 2020 at 9:49 am

    The concepts of this post could just as easily be applied to An Idiot’s Guide to Not Reopening. The headings could be aligned and say:

    In all things regardless of the side we take, Romans 12:3.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 10:34 am

      You could. I wouldn’t, but you could.

      • kevin denlinger on May 25, 2020 at 11:23 am


      • Del on May 25, 2020 at 3:43 pm

        My post was not meant to criticize or promote an agenda. Pray for my church and others where those following The Idiot’s Guide to Reopening and others following The Idiot’s Guide to Not Reopening are sowing discord.

    • Lorne Bostwick on May 25, 2020 at 12:50 pm

      Nice Response Carey

    • Addie prosper makuyana on May 25, 2020 at 2:42 pm

      Thank you Carry for the post on reopening. When our time to reopen churches in Mozambique comes I will not reopen following the idiot guidelines. We recently started online streaming we are still growing and we have decided to continue online till jesus comes. We will reopen the physical location as well. Your posts have helped us navigate this shift and we a
      Will forever be grateful to you. Thank you so much

    • Josh on May 26, 2020 at 4:09 pm

      THIS is “GOLD” Del. Satire always cuts both ways and stings all around. Usually not very helpful towards truly humble, unifying, and helpful dialogue. Thanks for adding this list that so aptly illustrates that!

  43. Stephanie on May 25, 2020 at 9:42 am

    This was great ! Thank you for sharing the truth in a light hearted way. ❤️

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 10:47 am

      Thanks for hearing the heart behind it Stephanie!

  44. Joseph Siju on May 25, 2020 at 9:42 am

    This is a great opportunity for me to be better in leading my people. Thanks

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 10:46 am

      Thanks Joseph! Keep going!

  45. Clayton on May 25, 2020 at 9:40 am

    I was unaware Canadians could get so spicy. This is fantastic! You are 1000% right!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 10:45 am

      We can bring the salsa. Borrowed salsa of course…

  46. Dave H on May 25, 2020 at 9:18 am

    Such a great way to frame the tension that many pastors and leaders are living in. As a 35 yr old church planter of a church that is only 1.5 yrs old, I greatly appreciate your honesty with the nuances involved with serving your church family AND reaching those that don’t know Jesus. I’m not so sure there is a right answer but I’m convinced that you must be honest about the motivations that are moving you/your team. Thank you for always provided thoughtful content Carey. This is one church planter that has been greatly served by it during this time.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 10:46 am

      Dave your comment is so encouraging. So glad the team and I have been able to help!

  47. David Cline on May 25, 2020 at 8:56 am

    I really love the tongue-in-cheek approach here, it makes some hard truths that I need to be reminded of (and held accountable for falling short on) much easier to hear without getting defensive. Thanks for the content in this post, and also for modeling a very effective way to communicate to a polarized audience on a divisive topic!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 8:58 am

      Thanks David. Hopefully the humor can make us all relax, take a breath and think and pray through this deeply.

  48. John DuPrey on May 25, 2020 at 8:53 am

    Thanks you for sharing I need this type of information, I pastor a small church of about 100. This information is really guiding me through this difficult time Thanks.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 8:55 am

      John…thanks for leading your people. I can only imagine the pressure you’re feeling. As I wrote it, I imagined a board meeting where we worked through the worst case scenarios of bad decisions. Hence the post….

    • Paul Hallam on May 25, 2020 at 10:07 am

      Great posts but we ALL need to realise this is new territory so it had to be slow but sure.

  49. Ethan on May 25, 2020 at 8:48 am

    About as tasteful an article as can be written on this subject. Sometimes outlining what NOT to do is the best way to help people see what to do.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 8:49 am

      Thanks Ethan! I’ll take tasteful. Thanks for your leadership!

  50. Kevin on May 25, 2020 at 8:47 am

    You are very brave Carey! I can see how this post will attract the negative energies and comments of those who disagree. Or perhaps those that fall into the camp you have described. Thanks for being honest and brave enough to share this. All our churches are struggling with the “right time and way” to reopen. One of the biggest mistakes we can make right now is opening too soon! May we all exercise caution, discernment, and most of all an abundance of care for our the health and well-being of our people as we make these decisions.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 8:50 am

      So appreciate your comments Kevin. Thank you!

  51. Leah on May 25, 2020 at 8:44 am

    Bravo, Carey! It is always difficult as leaders to balance truth and love. You do that beautifully. This post probably speaks more truth than your normal posts, but it is so true that knowing the wrong things are sometimes easier than figuring out the right way to reopen. There is a lot of stress and anxiety for us knowing the right thing to do for our congregation. We have prayed a lot about the “right” thing to do. Thank you for helping us to eliminate the “idiot moves” and for speaking truth into our daily struggles. My prayer is that others will hear your heart and this will help us all discern and lean into God’s calling for our future.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 8:49 am

      Hi Leah. Thanks. These are really difficult decisions with no easy answers or clear precedents. I think eliminating the dumb moves takes us closer to the better ones. Sometimes stating things in the extreme makes us pull back and realize we were about to mis-step. Thanks for the encouragement!

  52. John Adams on May 25, 2020 at 8:40 am

    Oh, my, did I need to read this! So much pressure from church folks to do all of the above. It had me second-guessing. Thanks!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 8:41 am

      Keep going John…wisdom needs reflection. You’re going to make some great decisions.

  53. Cameron Truett on May 25, 2020 at 8:39 am

    This is gold 😂

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2020 at 8:40 am

      Thanks for playing along Cameron. I’m hoping people will appreciate the intent. 🙂

      • Graham Purkis on May 25, 2020 at 5:18 pm

        Thank you Carey
        Here in New Zealand due to the early action of our govt we find ourselves returning to worship services this Sunday as we have a congregation of under 100.
        The challenge for us is to avoid complacency,keep everyone safe and develop our online presence.
        Your encouragement in this area has been a great help thank you.
        God bless

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