Around late summer, most churches start looking towards fall and what events to host that time of year. Obviously, 2020 is anything but a typical year. Even planning weekly services is influx based on the spread of COVID-19 in your region. How do you prepare for an event two to three months out when you don’t even know what next week will bring?
Here are a few tips for fall event planning amidst COVID-19:
#1 – Be Nimble When Planning
Any plans your team makes could get squashed if your state or region sees a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases. With that in mind, plan events with options. If you usually host a trunk-or-treat event at the end of October, consider how you can do that with social distancing. Outdoor activities seem to be safer than indoors, which works in your favor on this type of event. If your church likes to provide Thanksgiving meals to those in need, consider offering it as a drive-up service instead of a sit-down meal. You could give people the groceries needed to cook the meal at home instead of preparing it at the church. The key here is to look at what you originally had in mind and come up with options that could work based on what COVID-19 restrictions might be in place at the time of the event.
#2 – Focus on the Main Thing
This pandemic has had taken a considerable toll both in lives lost and economic damage. However, some positive things can come from this challenging situation. I recently spoke with Executive Pastor Scott Baker about his church’s experience reopening amid COVID-19. He commented that,
Our experience has been, we as a church, as an effective ministry for the kingdom of God, are so much better today because of this. We’re more effective, we’re more efficient. We’re hitting the most important things, really, really, really well. The things we didn’t need to be wasting time on, we’ve let Fall off. So, it’s made us better at what we’re doing, and I think everybody else can have that same experience.”
Use this time to rethink what you do as a church and why you do it. If the church calendar is typically jam-packed with events, this might be a good time to take a hard look at each event. Is this the best use of limited time, money, and effort? What is the purpose of this event? How does this event support the vision and mission of our church? Get ruthless with the calendar and focus on what matters.
#3 – Implement Risk Management Strategies
Any in-person event comes with the risk of spreading COVID-19. With that in mind, you’re likely already using some risk mitigation strategies for in-person worship services. Things like seating people six feet apart, disinfecting seats and high-touch surfaces, and reducing the number of people who can attend at a given time are a few examples. You’ll need to carry these into any event you plan as well. Talk with your church’s insurance provider to get their recommendations and to determine if you need special insurance coverage for a particular event.
#4 – Use a Planning Process
Planning under normal circumstances requires a great deal of coordination, communication, and effort. We’re definitely NOT planning under normal circumstances right now. This situation makes planning that much more difficult. If you’re not already using a standard process for planning events, now is a great time to start. Here’s a simple process that works well for any event:
Step 1: Clarify the Vision
If you don’t have a clear vision for why your church should host an event, you won’t know if it was a success or worth the time and effort involved. That’s problematic anytime, but even more so in our current situation. Make sure everyone involved knows the purpose of the event and what success looks like.
Step 2: Develop a Plan (or Two)
Normally, I’d recommend creating a project plan with all the tasks, due dates, and assignments. That still applies here. However, I’d add a backup plan in case you need to do the event online-only or outside instead of indoors. If you don’t have the time or resources to create two plans, consider planning for the worst-case scenario from the start. Also, develop criteria for the team to use in deciding whether to cancel an event (a certain increase in COVID cases in your area, specific changes in local regulations, etc.).
Step 3: Assemble the Team
This is where you pull together a team to plan and pull off the event. Ensure each person knows what aspects of the event he/she is responsible for and what authority they have to make decisions. Documented role descriptions help prevent confusion.
Step 4: Execute the Plan
During this step, the team starts working on the tasks needed to make the event happen. Since many people are still working from home, using an online project management tool such as Asana, Monday, or Basecamp will help you coordinate tasks more efficiently.
Step 5: Track and Report Progress
When you pulled together the team, you should have one person designated as the event planner. This person is responsible for creating the plan (with the team’s input), coordinating due dates and communication, and reporting progress to church leadership. The pastor or department leader overseeing the event will want periodic updates on the team’s progress. If the event planner pulls this information together weekly, it is easy to provide regular updates.
Step 6: Event Day
This is the moment where all the planning and hard work come to fruition. Whether it ends up being a virtual event or in-person, this where it all comes together.
Step 7: Lead Post-Event Activities
Whew! You made it. Even though the event is over, there are a few things left to do. First, celebrate your success. You might have to do that over a video conference but still take time to share testimonies and positive feedback with the team. Next, discuss what went well and what could’ve gone better. Document those lessons learned and use that information for the next event. Finally, gather up any documents or plans used for this event and archive them to be utilized later. It’s always helpful to start with a draft versus a blank screen.
With so much uncertainty, planning right now may feel like an exercise in futility. It isn’t…I promise. Planning is even more critical in times of uncertainty. These plans must include ways to serve your community safely and effectively. It’s vital that the church gets this right (or as “right” as possible, given the information available at the time). Continue to ask God for wisdom, seek out wise counsel, and plan accordingly.