Social Skills and Church Regathering Policies
As churches across the nation begin to navigate the challenges of regathering congregation members for worship, here are a few questions every church should ask:
Is your church’s reopening plan based on how to build up the body of Christ, including the weaker members who are challenged trying to navigate daily life now?
Even in the midst of a pandemic, church should not be a place where only the socially put together people can come. We must make every effort not to restrict anyone, especially families who lack the abilities needed to navigate our new normal. Consider 1 Corinthians 12:21-22:
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable . . .
Does your church’s reopening plan and policies welcome individuals and families impacted by disability and account for their differences?
New policies for safety and cleanliness are doubtless essential for regathering the body of Christ. But the heart of any written policies should be to serve and support the entire body of Christ.
Families living with disability are keenly aware of their differences, but many church members are not aware of their challenges. Many of those families are now home wondering if they will ever be able to navigate church under new restrictions.
Foremost on their minds is when will it be safe to return due to underlying medical conditions that accompany most disabilities. But the nagging question (and fear) is whether their children, teens, or adults with disabilities will be able to comply with new policies.
Does your church’s reopening plan restrict access to those who lack social skills?
Many of our friends with disabilities lack the needed social skills to remain six feet apart, wear masks, or tolerate others wearing masks. Changes to routine are difficult. They may balk at using only certain entry and exit doors. They may still want to give hugs because that is how they communicate love for the body of Christ. They may not appreciate the denial of your weekly high five.
Some may loudly protest when familiar practices are now missing: the collection plate not being passed, hymns not sung due to mask wearing, being told to sit in a place that isn’t “their spot,” or hymnals and Bibles missing from the pews.
Most of us easily accept these as necessary changes. But others who greatly value routine and predictability as an essential part of worship may be confounded, and their anxiety will be palpable.
What will your policies say to support those who lack the skills to comply with social distancing rules?
Some churches are choosing to include phrases such as, “If you are unable to abide by the social distancing policies, we ask that you remain at home for now.” They are likely ensuring that families impacted by disability will be among the last to return. Families who may never be able to fully comply feel discouraged and wonder, “Did they remember us?”
Consider adding some exceptions or qualifiers to your policies, such as:
We welcome and embrace our families who are impacted by disability. We know that changes to the regular church routines might cause extra anxiety and challenges for you. We have missed these invaluable members of our church body and want you at church when it is safe to return.
Our policies are designed to promote the health and safety of the congregation. However, we don’t want to restrict access to worship to anyone who desires to come.
If someone in your family lacks the skills needed to comply with the policies, we still want to support, love, and welcome your family back to church. Please help us learn how we may help your family thrive in these new circumstances. Please reach out to ____ and we will start the conversation to support your family’s unique needs during this re-entry process.
If your church hasn’t yet written reopening policies, we encourage you to make a phone call to every family impacted by disability beforehand. Ask how you can best accommodate their unique needs so that they can thrive. You may find that solutions for them will benefit many others in the congregation!
How will your policies address supporting those with disabilities who may have difficulty navigating the new rules of social interaction?
It would be easy to take a wait-and-see approach and handle disruptions if they occur. But engaging disability means stepping toward, entering in, and willingly offering to embrace what is uncomfortable as an opportunity to grow in the gospel.
Instead of waiting to see how our friends with disabilities handle returning, seize the initiative and proactively consider:
How can we best prepare our congregation that there may be children, teens, and adults impacted by disability who are not able to adhere to social distancing policies?
How can we best support our friends with disabilities and help them understand what is now appropriate social interaction?
How can we reduce everyone’s fears and help all members of the congregation thrive together?
Engaging Disability with You
If you are unsure of how to support families returning to church who need additional supports, we are here to help. We can help you adapt to new guidelines while still maintaining the supports families need like buddies, break areas, and predictable routines.
If you are a family desiring to return to church but find policies are difficult for the skills, fixed interests, routine needs, etc. of your loved ones, we are also here to help your family thrive as you return to church.
We can help answer your questions, walk through your church’s reopening policies and plans, and help you best support ALL members of the body of Christ. Contact us to begin the conversation.
© 2020 Engaging Disability With The Gospel. All rights reserved.