HomeDigital MinistryCommunicationWhat 'Shelter in Place' Means for Churches

What ‘Shelter in Place’ Means for Churches


Updated 3/23/20

The past week has brought with it monumental change for church leadership in regards to the COVID-19 crisis. No one has ever prepared for this scenario, and it is ever-evolving. I reside in the State of California, the first state in the Union to issue a ‘Shelter in Place’ order for the entire state. Other states are sure to follow with similar orders. In order to help churches adapt to the changing requirements, we are here to offer practical advice for church operations.

Many churches who were not previously live streaming have only one or two weeks of experience under their belts at this point. In the span of just a few short days, most churches here in California, and many around the country, canceled in-person gatherings and moved to 100% online or virtual services. Church staff gathered to film their services with no audience.

I first reported on March 20 under state and local guidelines that pastors could no longer meet to live stream with a small church team. Yesterday, the State of California added faith-based live streaming into the list of “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers” under “Other Community-Based Government Operations and Essential Functions:”

  • Faith based services that are provided through streaming or other technology – NOW ALLOWED

New Provisions for Faith-Based Streaming Under ‘Shelter in Place’

I interviewed Placer County’s director of communications and public affairs, Wendy Williams, to get further clarification. (Placer County of California is the country in which I live):

Pastors are not allowed to move house to house. They are only able to meet with members over the phone, online–only virtually,” however, the State of California added that faith leaders can meet on a small scale to live stream or record church services.

Each state must issue its own directive. Then, each county follows suit with nearly identical guidelines. It’s the county’s job to enforce the directive.

For a complete list of activities and businesses considered “essential,” please see the full directive from the State of California, updated March 22, 2020.

Get Prepared for Your State to ‘Shelter in Place’

If you don’t live in California, please get ready for the real possibility of your state declaring a ‘Shelter in Place’ directive. We will continue to develop suggestions as many more states make decisions to shelter in place. Here’s what this will look like:

  • All staff work from home when possible
  • Small group of pastors/staff meet to record service or live stream

If your church has been live streaming or recording services, you can consider republishing something that has previously been recorded to save yourself time. Many will find that video editing a Sunday service is more time consuming that producing a service live.

We are working on a more extensive list detailing how to produce new services 90-100% digitally without the church staff meeting in person, or with a very small group.

New Opportunities to Connect

This season will go down in history as a time when Americans and fellow citizens of Earth can all come together in the name of Jesus Christ to bless one another.

[There are] opportunities to reach out by phone or Facetime to give each other support, but not in the same room,” adds Williams. Pastors are not provided protective gear, so they would not fall under the healthcare provision as ‘essential.’”

She adds, “I’m hoping that we can use virtual software programs that can lead the way into the future.”

Gov. Newsom said today in his press conference that he was working with NextDoor, the social network, to encourage people to connect and show love to one another. One suggestion is to call five people daily to check up on them. More tips on connecting are to follow from the State of California.

Pastors are well-versed in the care of their members. Most have already begun to reach out daily, if not hourly, to support the people they serve. While it will be difficult to not meet in person, God understands and knows of our needs. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

Churches, please start wrapping your mind around these new protocols as the ‘Shelter in Place’ directives for other states will be coming soon.

Please reference these COVID-19 Church Resources, which are continually updated to provide relevant information for churches during this time of uncertainty.

Lauren Hunter
Lauren Hunterhttps://laurenhunter.net
Lauren Hunter is a writer who loves the big picture of God’s journey we are all on together. In 2007, she founded ChurchTechToday, a website for pastors and church leaders to harness technology to improve ministry. Married to her high school sweetheart, Lauren lives in Northern California with her husband and their four children. Her latest book is Leaving Christian Science: 10 Stories of New Faith in Jesus Christ. She can be found online at https://laurenhunter.net.


    • Thanks, Alex. ‘Shelter in place’ and ‘stay at home’ mean virtually the same thing. In California, the ‘Shelter in Place’ order takes the edict to stay at home up a level meaning non-essential workers such as pastors, hairdressers, and many others cannot leave their homes for work. Please consult your own state and county for its directives. Sincerely, Lauren


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