Lately, I am being asked a question on a regular basis: When can we start having our church worship service in our building again?
Before answering this question, let’s back up a second. Attending church has never been banned in the state of Georgia. We are blessed to have a governor like Brian Kemp, who understands a proper balance between religious liberty, health, and public safety. But our Governor has advised on several occasions that he would prefer that churches not congregate and choose to do online or drive in church.
Since the State Emergency Order began back in March – even with the addition of the Stay-at-Home order in April – churches are technically allowed to have more than 10 people present as long as proper social distancing measures are followed. A distance of six feet has to be maintained between persons and the Governor’s 20 rules of safety need to be kept when meeting. You can see the list of rules here on page 20 here.
To answer the original question, we should consider a few things.
First of all, the Governor’s emergency order (generally speaking) has been extended through May 13. This date is an extension of the original emergency order that was approved by the Georgia General Assembly on March 16. This order has the potential to be extended again, depending upon the circumstances.
Secondly, bear in mind that the Shelter-in-Place Order has been extended until April 30. This part of the emergency order can also be extended based on need.
Lastly, remember that Governor Kemp mentioned last Monday (April 13) in his Capitol Briefing that the peak for the coronavirus infection numbers were expected to take place on April 26. However, after talking with the Governor’s staff since then, that date has now been moved to May 1 (and could change again). This date is based off of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) model. This projection is primarily based off of the death rate and hospital bed usage.
Keeping these facts in mind. We have to realize that the potential of some type of “normal” return to church attendance will not be until sometime after April 30. Also, with the general state of emergency order still in place, there’s a good possibility it won’t be until after May 13.
All of these dates are dependent upon the rates of the infection and whether or not the curve has begun to flatten.
With all that being said, I hope and pray that sometime after June 1 there will be greater opportunities for churches to begin meeting again on some improved level. We don’t know exactly what this will look like. I’m sure there will still need to be social distancing precautions taken even after some sense of normalcy is restored. Concern for those 65 and older, as well as those with high risk medical conditions, will still need to be protected.
Basically, we are still in a sit and wait mode. The good news is that online services, social ministry opportunities, and drive-in church services will still keep going until we have the ability to hold regular worship services again.
I can’t guarantee you a date, but two things I can guarantee you moving forward: The Lord will be guiding us through this difficult time and the Georgia Baptist Mission Board staff will be with you to help!