Church Law & Tax Advantage Members get a front-row seat to a recent panel discussion exploring 10 questions that church leaders face right now when it comes to reopening their buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Matthew Branaugh, content editor for Church Law & Tax, hosted the breakout session, which occurred immediately following a leadership roundtable discussion on June 30, 2020, titled, “Reopening Your Church.” Branaugh was joined by:
- Vonna Laue, a CPA and Church Law & Tax Senior Editorial Advisor
- Nathan Adams, an attorney and Church Law & Tax Advisor-at-Large
- Holly Hammar Lear, a PhD-prepared nurse and local church leader (and author of “How to Safely Reopen Your Church and Reduce Legal Liability,” a Church Law & Tax article)
Don’t miss these highlights from their conversation, outlined by starting time as an exclusive courtesy to Advantage Members:
1:07: Vonna Laue introduction
1:49: Nathan Adams introduction
2:46: Holly Hammar Lear introduction
3:38: Lear discusses how her church decided to reopen its building, including:
- the factors contributing to the decision, such as health department recommendations and case counts; and,
- the steps her church has taken as a part of reopening, including adding an additional service and determining a policy for mask-wearing.
6:20: Should church leaders listen to local, state, or federal officials—or all of the above—when it comes to public-gathering directives? Adams provides an answer, including:
- an explanation on the hierarchy of government rules, laws, and ordinances; and,
- common ways churches fall under that hierarchy.
8:57: The pandemic forced many churches to add digital giving options for congregants. As congregations reconvene face to face, will the traditional passing of the plate re-emerge? And will those recently added digital options fade away? Laue explores both of those questions, plus takes a big-picture view on the internal controls needed to ensure new ways of taking physical collections—as well as those of the digital variety—don’t create new vulnerabilities for churches.
12:21: Lear describes the precautions her church took before, during, and after restarting in-person services, drawing upon her experience in the medical field to shape the church’s communications, traffic flows, building signs, offering collections, the administration of communion, and more.
15:41: What happens if someone attends a church service and becomes ill with COVID-19 soon after? Adams explains the legal duties and the privacy concerns that may arise for church leaders under such a scenario.
18:50: Regarding a possible COVID-19 case within a church, Lear addresses the ways leaders will need to think through who may have been exposed, and what needs to be monitored and communicated going forward.
21:41: Should churches facing significant budgetary challenges begin making big expense cuts now? Laue discusses the giving fluctuations some—but not all—congregations have experienced since the pandemic hit. She also encourages leaders not only to take a cautious, thoughtful approach before making dramatic cuts, but also to evaluate ways to reinforce their cash situations before instituting those changes, such as talking with lenders and vendors about flexibility with payment due dates.
26:59: Adams provides a quick overview of employment law issues that churches must bear in mind if there is a point in time when they need to lay off pastors or staff. He briefly describes considerations related to protected classes of workers, the meaning of “employment at will,” and the role of severance agreements.
31:09: What should churches do about toddlers, children, and youth? Lear describes the steps her church took to account for the unpredictability that comes with the congregation’s youngest participants, making certain precautions were taken while remaining as inclusive as possible.
34:06: Temperature-taking has become a common step used by many businesses and organizations as a way to minimize the possibility of sick individuals from entering their buildings. But what privacy concerns and other legal issues arise because of such a practice? Lear talks about the temperature-taking measures, based on her medical experience, as well as other questions churches will want to ask congregants before allowing them to enter. Adams tackles the privacy concerns and reminds leaders of the obligations that can arise when they find out in advance that someone may be ill.
40:45: Concluding thoughts
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