I am excited to give you an update on our working plans for coming back together for in person gatherings as a church. These plans are an ongoing work in progress as we respond to the seemingly constant moving target of “what’s open but now it's closed and maybe it will be allowed to reopen, but wait and see because it could all change next week”. Trying to make any plans right now can feel a lot like sitting at a broken stop light that’s got a finicky mind of its own!
As you know, we have not been able to meet indoors as a church since last spring due to the ongoing purple tier status that Sonoma County has been in. This is the most restricted tier status in our state, not just for churches, but also for most industries deemed as non-essential. As we are progressing through the winter months we added our Patio Services to help supplement our weekly online Sunday digital services. For those of you who have been able to join us you know that it has been a great opportunity for us to meet together safely in person in the New Life parking lot.
As we approach spring, we have been working on plans to shift our Sunday services from an online only service to a weekly outdoor service on Sunday mornings. We are planning to both live stream and record this service for those who cannot join us in person each week. In the midst of our planning we learned this past weekend of the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn California’s ban on indoor church gatherings.
As grateful as I am for the Supreme Court’s ruling, there are still significant limitations in the existing California guidelines for indoor church gatherings.
Here are a few of the limitations on an indoor service:
We are limited to a maximum of 100 people who can attend an indoor service.
We will not be able to have indoor programming for our kids.
We are not allowed to sing together indoors.
These limitations make it less than desirable for us to move to indoor services at this time as they significantly inhibit our ability to create a meaningful experience of being church together.
As a leadership team we have weighed the pros and cons between having indoor or outdoor services. In considering the benefits of meeting together outdoors once we reach spring there are several advantages that make our current plans of moving to a weekly outdoor gathering a better experience than moving indoors under the existing state guidelines.
Here are the advantages of an outdoor service:
First, this is by far a safer option for everyone at this time* versus returning to an indoor gathering. (*We do anticipate that the California guidelines will be adjusted at some point as the vaccine distribution continues, thus making it safer to return to indoor gatherings at a future date. When this will happen is unknown at this time.)
Second, we can accommodate more people outdoors in a single service versus being limited to 100 people at an indoor service. The current numerical limitations on indoor gatherings would require us to have at least two services if not more to accommodate all of us who are ready to meet together in person.
Third, an outdoor service also allows more people to attend who are not yet ready to return to an indoor service. This allows us to create a more inclusive experience for more people.
Fourth, a single outdoor service is more considerate of our teams who will help put these services together each week. This is an important factor as we consider not only the sustainability of weekly outdoor services but also the necessary rebuilding of our Sunday volunteer teams.
Fifth, we will be able to offer modified kids programming in an outdoor setting. Not all families will choose this option, but it is great that we can offer it for those who are ready. Investing in our next generation is a core value of our church and we want to continue to do this the best we can as we keep moving forward.
Finally, we will be able to sing together at an outdoor service. Let me say that again: We will be able to sing together. This is such an important part of our gatherings that we have missed being able to do for a long time now. There is something profoundly powerful that happens when we engage together in a shared worship experience. It is time that we begin to recapture this in our weekly rhythm as a church.
Our working plan in light of all the information we have at this time is to launch these outdoor services on Easter Sunday. That is 7 weeks away on April 4. By then we will be in more moderate weather that will make meeting outdoors on Sunday mornings a better experience. Between now and then there is a lot to get in place. We will be forming the different teams needed to create these outdoor services. We will also be working on getting our tech requirements in place so we can both film and live stream these services each week for those who cannot be with us in person.
For those of you who have been a part of New Life for a long time this will feel sort of like the old days of ‘setting up shop’ at the Lucchesi Center. It will be kind of like doing church from a box, only the box isn’t a cargo truck, it’s literally the box of our building that we will be rolling our equipment in and out of each week.
As we continue to work toward our spring launch I would like to ask you to partner with us in a few ways:
First, consider how you can help serve on a team to help put these services together. If you would like to join a team please contact Christy Enyart at email@example.com
Second, continue to pray for our leadership to have the wisdom we need to know how to move forward in the ever changing landscape.
Third, let’s all adopt a posture of grace and mercy toward each other as we move forward. We are in different places on the continuum of getting back together - some of us are ready right now and others of us are not. Let’s choose to be for each other as we walk into this time of reentry.
This will take a lot of work from a lot of us to do this each week. And it will be so worth it. It will be worth it because we have the greatest message our world could ever hope to hear: God loves us and has offered us a whole new life in Jesus. We need to fan the hope of this message in ourselves as we gather together as a church family. We need to share this message with our friends and family who are ready to lean in to the possibility of God doing something new in their lives.
I am excited and grateful to be in this season with you!