In-Person Community Gatherings Guide
This is a unique season where God’s growing our communities to be adaptable and creative in pursuit of intimate and joyful connection. As humans, we need to look people in the eyes and be happy to see one another! At the same time, we must be safe and diligent during a pandemic. In this guide, we offer recommendations for how our church can creatively connect in person, safely abide by city guidelines, and considerately honor the unique needs of those in our community.
Why We Recommend Gathering In Person
In Genesis 2:18, God says of Adam, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” While this passage is often applied only to marriage, the deeper truth resounds that it is not good for any of us to be alone, regardless of marital status (more on this in Dave Lomas’ teaching “Community in COVID.”).
While we are grateful for the modern technology of video calls, Zoom and FaceTime cannot compare to the look in a person’s eyes. Reflecting on the technology of his own day, the Apostle John wrote, “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 1:12). Dr. Jim Wilder, a clinical psychologist and theologian, elaborates on this completeness of joy when he states, “God designed facial recognition circuitry into our brains and linked it to our joy center… God designed our brains to seek joy through eyes and facial expressions, through being with people who are glad to be with us.”*
Gathering in person is more than a “nice-to-have” for followers of Jesus. It is essential for our health, growth, and joy. And given that San Francisco now permits outdoor gatherings of up to 12 (6 if there’s food), this is a joyful moment as a church to again press into gathering in person, albeit safely and according to all city guidelines.
When you gather on Sundays, do what is spiritually encouraging, edifying, and joyful for your community, exercising your gifts to serve one another in love. Here are some ideas of how to spend the time, and we encourage your community to get creative with your own ideas:
- Participate in the online Sunday service by using a laptop or watching together on separate devices.
- Gather after having participated in the Sunday service separately and reflect on the teaching together by following this simple guide.
- Take communion at the same Communion Pop-Up location and then space out in the park with your group.
- Discuss what God has taught you from the previous week’s daily Bible readings in BREAD.
To hear how one community in our church has got creative in gathering in person, listen to this episode of The Reality Daily podcast.
The renewal and flourishing of our city is core to our values and purpose as a church. So while we deeply believe that gathering in person is vital for our spiritual and emotional health, the health of our neighbors — especially the most vulnerable — is crucial. Therefore, we strongly encourage you to follow all city guidelines for safe outdoor gatherings and use wisdom in connecting.
Before gathering, please read the city’s abbreviated rules and the SF Department of Health’s expanded rules. While there is much to be aware of and practice for the safety of all involved, here are some of the main guidelines that your community must adhere to:
Where and How Long?
- Plan for your event to be entirely outdoors, except for the use of bathrooms.
- Keep your event to 2 hours or less.
- Stay 6 feet away from people who don’t live with you, as much as you can.
Who and How Many People?
- If people will be eating or drinking, do not have more than 6 people total. Have guests bring their own food and drink. For larger communities who will be eating, this may mean that you split into two groups and do not go back and forth between groups.
- If there will be no food or drink, do not have more than 12 people.
- Include children if you are confident they can stay 6 feet away from people who don’t live with them.
How About Other Precautions?
- Provide hand sanitizer or have guests bring their own.
- Wear a face covering at all times, unless you are currently eating. Face coverings must completely cover your mouth and nose.
- Tell your guests to bring everything they need. Avoid sharing items between households.
- Avoid shaking hands or hugging.
- Avoid singing, chanting, or shouting.
What About Getting Sick?
- Make a list of who is at your event. If someone tests positive for COVID-19 later, inform one another, and the city can help everyone get tested.
- If you or any members feel sick on the day of the gathering, do not go.
These are strange times and being cautious makes sense. Some may not be interested in connecting in person, and this gives us an opportunity to practice Paul’s instructions to the church in Philippi: “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Here’s how we suggest considerately accommodating different levels of comfort and caution.
Commit to local safety guidelines as a given. Some more risky types might want to discard the guidelines while some more cautious people depend on them to be able to connect at all. Simplify the negotiation by simply abiding by these common standards in a spirit of humility and love for one another. This means masks on, keeping distance, gathering number limits, and so on. (See Gathering Safely above.)
Avoid downplaying or making presumptions about cautiousness by asking and sharing. Cautions about connecting in-person make sense—sometimes for reasons we couldn’t know without asking and sharing. Maybe people are caring for an elderly parent or have an immune disorder. The group can’t know unless we share. Practice asking and sharing the reasons for your caution and see this as a pathway to intimacy.
Explore hybrid in-person/digital options. Some in our community have found success with some in the group meeting in person while others phone or video call in. This allows us to value connecting face-to-face while also including others who won’t be present.
* Wilder, Jim. The Other Half of Church: Christian Community, Brain Science, and Overcoming Spiritual Stagnation. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2020), 56.