Prime tricks to make your church reopening accessible to everybody
Even church live streams can be made more accessible(Photo: Unsplash / Jesus Loves Austin)
The world of the Church has changed a lot in the past few months, and changes keep coming as the government twirls around virus hotspots. For those who are not in a hotspot and can go to church in a building, everything seems so foreign – like going to a foreign country and not knowing the customs.
For some who cannot return with others due to illness or disability, it might feel like one of the biblical exiles. For larger churches that only a few members of their congregation can have in the building, it may feel like a lottery – your number is displayed and you're allowed to enter!
In the run-up to the churches opening their doors for worship, many churches have asked for advice as to whether they will be accessible to return to the building. Most have already talked about online and church building. Some seek a mixed church approach (live streaming of the service from the building). Others do separate services; one for those who can come into the building and a separate online for those who cannot physically meet. In other words, doing what best suits your church family.
Then there is what I like to refer to as a "hybrid church" that carries over not "from the" building "but" to the "building. It means that everyone has a similar experience. This also means that those who are familiar with technology too because they have been given priority access to the building, this method allows those who cannot come to participate – preach, lead, read publicly, or take part – without having to wait for a CD on Monday morning pray with their contributions recorded or broadcast live on screen.
As amazing as online church has been to many of us with illnesses and disabilities – there have been opportunities to participate in ways that some have not been able to in the past – there have been some in our communities who have not had or used the Internet They have the technology, and they must attend a physical church when they feel safe and able.
From the discussions I've had, I've put together a very simple five-point list of things to think about when I open it.
Talk to the medically vulnerable and disabled in your communities without forgetting about people with hidden disabilities like autism. These coworkers will be your best resource in making sure things work out for everyone. For many this has been normal for years and they are already experts. Some will have the skills to get things right, including the technical stuff that is required for a hybrid approach to work.
Get advice from specialist organizations – most of them are listed on the partner page "Churches for All". Find people who specialize in technologies such as adding closed captions (subtitles) to online and livestream materials. Find out what is possible to make the online element available to as many people as possible. This ensures that what is happening in the building is also accessible, which makes it a better experience for everyone.
Take videos or photos of the changes in the Church and how things will work out. Put them on your website. Explain in clear language what has changed and why. Provide a number and email address for people who need more information.
For those known to your church as learning disabled or autistic, package the photos and go on a socially distant visit to explain the changes. You may need help from family members or caregivers to create a social story that you can explain. Just ask them for help. Then check for any difficulties and make the necessary changes.
Talk to other churches and see what you can learn from each other about accessibility. Can you share resources and work together? You may have experts that you don't. The joy of the hybrid approach is that you can stream the same service in two buildings! When leadership teams are exhausted and overworked, sharing teaching and preparation responsibilities can be very welcome.
Don't forget those with less obvious disabilities and mental illnesses who are struggling with change on many levels. Think of children and teenagers with additional needs, especially those who may have to hike. Find ways they can do this safely.
If masks are now mandatory, remember those who rely on reading – something many of our older friends do. You may need to invest in the clear masks for your welcome team so that everyone can get instructions clearly without any misunderstandings.
Many have found that sermons need to be shorter and simpler so that people can watch them when they are streamed. If we can remember that it stays that way, it will facilitate the services in the building for people with learning difficulties and for those whose illness affects concentration.
The Church has never been about preferences, although it can easily be. Today's church will not be able to accommodate many of our preferences. First and foremost, God should be at the center of everything we do – He is greater than our preferred style of worship. Second, because it is a biblical imperative, we must protect and care for our most vulnerable. If that means wearing a mask and not singing, so be it.
Kay Morgan-Gurr is Chair of Child Affairs and co-founder of the Additional Needs Alliance, which is part of the Evangelical Alliance Council. More information is available at www.kaymorgangurr.com and on Twitter at @kaymorgan_gurr
Views and opinions published on Christian Today are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the website.