With the number of coronavirus cases across the country, fall and winter holiday celebrations are likely to look very different this year.
Adjust your church plans now for fall festivals, Halloween and Christmas. With a little creativity you can create celebrations that are fun and safe. Here are a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing.
Host your event outdoors, which is generally considered safer and easier.
Consider drive-by events. For Halloween, ask staff and volunteers to dress up and stand in the church parking lot as cars of costumed children drive by. Staff members can drop candy into bags or buckets extended from the windows of vehicles, or churches can opt to give each guest a single bag of goodies upon entry or exit. Instead of a Christmas service, host a live outdoor nativity scene or Christmas pageant in an area that can be viewed from vehicles.
Participate in a mobile parade. Ask members to watch from their windows, lawns or porches as your church parade drives through their neighborhoods.
Host a BYOF picnic. As much as the church loves a potluck picnic, families should host a bring your own food (BYOF) gathering to avoid a crowded serving line. If your church wants to provide food for the event, have prepackaged take-out/boxed lunch already set at each place.
Observe local recommendations for the maximum number of people allowed for in-person gatherings. Ask families or groups to RSVP and, if needed, sign up for a time block to assure that you don’t go over the maximum allowed attendance. Set picnic tables (preferably with built-in benches that can’t be moved) or blankets on the lawn at a safe distance. If using tables, encourage children to participate in a contest to see who creates the best table decoration.
Entry and dismissal can be regulated for the event. The pastor or another church leader can lead a communal prayer and carefully distanced singing.
Take a note from the big box stores and restaurants
For an in-person indoor gathering, enforce social distancing with signs and floor stickers. Sites such as ping and signs.com and many others offer signs that can be downloaded and printed for free.
Regulate the flow and number of people entering the building. Like restaurants, use online forms for electronic check-ins or set up a drive up check-in. Take the name of the guests and a cell number where they can be reached. When it’s their turn to enter the event, text them. If the guests don’t have a phone, ask them to park in a designated waiting area until someone directs them to enter.
Make sure that entrances and exits are clearly marked and separated to minimize contact. Doors in use should be propped open (but monitored) with the other doors locked. Designate a clear one-way flow. Use signs, arrows and a simple map to clearly indicate where each guest should enter and in what order.
For trunk-or-treat, this may mean having cars parked in a U-shape where guests enter from one side, go to each car around the U and then exit at the last car. For an inside event, clearly number doors or booths that should be visited sequentially. A volunteer can monitor guests as they exit and alert the check-in volunteers when it’s safe to send in more.
Think small and intimate
Encourage small groups and Sunday school classes to host individual parties and dinners instead of a large church gathering.
If the church wants to maintain a standardized gathering, divide it into smaller time frames. Instead of hosting an event from 5 pm to 7 pm for everyone, break the time into four 30-minute slots. Encourage guests to register or give specific times for entry and departure. For example, guests with the last names starting with A-H would come from 5:00 to 5:30, I-P from 5:30-6:00, etc. If your church is very large, consider doing this over more hours and days to thin the crowd even more.
Know the guidelines
- Keep cleanliness, minimal contact and social-distancing top of mind.
- Follow CDC recommendations for keeping your facilities clean.
- Avoid having to hand things to guests by using grab-and-go containers prefilled with candy, toys or presents laid out with separation on a table. (Wipe the table before restocking.)
- Assign monitors whose sole job is to frequently clean the bathrooms during the event.
- Provide appropriate personal protective equipment for volunteers, including face masks, hand sanitizer and gloves.
- Create inexpensive shields or barriers between guests and volunteers with clear shower curtains or plastic.
- Give volunteers sanitizing wipes or spray to regularly clean multi-use equipment.
Charitable traditions with a new twist
Arrange for parents to take their children to a nursing home or senior care facility to walk past outside windows while the residents watch.
Set up a covered trailer and designate drop-off times for holiday donations for the needy, or arrange for congregants to leave their donations on their porches. Have a staff member or volunteer honk and wave when packages are retrieved.
Create Thanksgiving or Christmas food baskets via an assembly line where social distancing is marked and mandated.
Continue to encourage volunteer service and donations. Many nonprofit organizations such as food pantries and homeless services are still in operation.
Be especially creative for the kids
Ask congregants to help organize vehicle holiday scavenger hunts for the children or teens in your congregation. You can ask volunteers to prominently display a particular item (a cross, teddy bear, turkey, etc.) or give a list of specific items to participants. Families then drive around the designated area (town/community/neighborhood) to see how many items they find.
Since teenagers may have a particularly hard time social distancing, consider hosting a virtual gaming party. Participants can meet online to play everything from Scrabble to Fortnite.
When scheduling children’s activities, play games that naturally enforce social distance or recreate traditional games with social distancing in mind. (Think about how a cake walk works).
Host an online karaoke or dance party on Zoom or another group app. Designate a DJ, and ask participants to request songs. You can even create a theme, and ask everyone to dress up.
Set up a screen (or sheet) and a movie projector with speakers. Invite families to bring their own snacks and watch movies from their vehicles.
Research new alternatives
Remember, technology is your friend during this pandemic. Continue to use broadcast services and other events on Facebook, Youtube and your church website.
Host candlelighting services on Zoom or another group app. Ask families to prepare by gathering any needed supplies and then join together online at a designated day and time.
Encourage Sunday school teachers to continue to connect with their class members.
Create take-home Advent and children’s videos so families can watch and celebrate together.
When responding to the virus and planning a celebration in spite of it, you still need to consult resources about your latest local policies. Consider the health and well-being of your members and community.
The remaining celebrations of 2020, like much of this year, will be different from how we ever imagined. The coronavirus has changed our churches and our world. However, with faith and a little ingenuity, church celebrations can still be meaningful, fun and safe.
Tricia K. Brown is a writer, editor, keynote speaker and Bible teacher. In addition to being a wife and mother of four sons, she is the sole proprietor of The Girls Get Together, where she and her team provide women's event programs for churches and other organizations.