A Plan to Reopen

A Plan to Reopen First Baptist Church of Hightstown

Produced by the Pastoral Ministry Team and Reviewed and Approved by the Board of Deacons, in consultation with local, county, and state officials (where necessary).


COVID-19 has dramatically shifted the landscape of ministry throughout the world. It has forced advancements in technology as well as changing the way we relate to one another and how we view the purpose and place of our buildings in the life of the fellowship. While we recognize and affirm that the church is NOT the buildings or meeting spaces, but rather the gathered believers committed to fellowship in Jesus Christ, we also recognize that these spaces of common meeting are important to us in facilitating the goals of a shared life, a common purpose, and an ability to reach out to our community in need.

The following represents a plan for the reopening of the campus of the First Baptist Church of Hightstown. This plan will consider all relevant scientific and medical data and recommendations. This plan will also take into account the wisdom of national, regional, and associational denomination resources. Finally, this plan will follow the advice of our local governmental leaders who we affirm are looking out for the health and safety of all people in this often-confusing time.

Finally, we are aware that the ever-changing nature of information about this virus and our need to combat it will result in this plan needing to be flexible in its timelines and phases. We have faith that God will ultimately restore us to physical ministry within the Hightstown community and beyond, but we are ever mindful of our duty as church leadership to properly care for all people under our family roof.

The Basic Outline (AKA The 50-Thousand Foot View)

A return to full operations of our church campus will occur in a series of carefully choregraphed stages. The first stages of our reopening will focus on the restart of normal church office operations and extend to the restart of our worship gathering. These early stages will determine the timing of reopening other spaces on the campus and resuming outside ministry partner use. The timing for all of these stages will be dependent upon a series of core ideals:

  • First, the determination of the Pastoral Team and Board of Deacons that early phases are being implemented correctly and without deviation.
  • Second, the determinations of medical experts that the course of the virus is moving in a positive direction based on decreasing numbers of new infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.
  • Third, the determination of local officials that it is safe to continue with more fulsome gatherings and activities.

These three considerations will be a pivotal part of all decision-making as we consider reopening the campus not just to ourselves but to those who have also enjoyed entry privileges in the past (WIC, City of Angels, iCare, etc.). IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE that we must make accommodation for all members of our church family (including members of the Ministry Team and Staff) who have made the calculation that leaving home continues to be a greater risk than benefit. We must be ever mindful that until a safe and effective vaccine is produced, our elderly and immunocompromised members continue to be at risk to this virus.

The Phases & The Seasons

PHASE ONE: Campus Assessment, Cleaning, and Preparation

  • An assessment of our facilities will be made with the Commission on Property and Grounds prior to reopening of the campus. This assessment will look at all the spaces on property and make priority lists of the spaces that need to be cleaned and prepared before the return of people.
  • A plan to implement this cleaning and preparation will be shared with all relevant commissions and transmitted to Ms. Faith Archer (our church sexton). The plan will include any volunteer help to be given to our sexton or any outside services that will be employed to help her with the accomplishment of the cleaning and preparatory tasks.
  • A second plan will be devised and shared with all relevant commissions and transmitted to Ms. Faith Archer (our church sexton) that will include disinfecting tasks for the ongoing operation of ministry spaces during this health emergency and going forward into the future.

PHASE TWO: Restricted Reopening of Church Offices

  • The Church Office and the Pastor’s Office will be reopened once all facilities have received the proper cleaning and preparation for return.
  • Upon opening, visitors to the office will not be permitted entry into the church office. They will be received outside the church building, provided that steps are taken to ensure health and safety (the use of masks and physical distancing).
  • The primary focus of a return to normal office operations is to establish early contact with members of the church and with ministry partners, to ensure that future phases have a strong foundation to lean on and to train staff on how disinfecting procedures will work going forward.

PHASE THREE: Worship Only

  • Once a plan to effectively clean and disinfect the building is in place and in regular use, and when local officials lift the stay-at-home order preventing gatherings over 10 persons, we will move to resume worship in-person in the sanctuary.
  • Our worship gathering will follow all protocols included in the CDC’s recommended guidelines for gatherings:
    • Everyone must keep a physical distance of 6-feet including when sitting in the pews. The pews will be staggered (every other one open) and only groups of people who have been sheltering together will be permitted to sit next to each other.
    • All recommended PPE will be necessary for entry into the building. This includes masks. As stock is available, we will provide PPE to those needing it.
    • One greeter will be at the Main St. door (the only door which will be accessible other than the door for those with disabilities) with a thermometer. Any person (adult or child) exhibiting a fever or illness will not be permitted to stay. A second greeter will be assigned to the handicapped entrance.
  • Communion (The LORD’s Supper) will be altered in two ways:
    • First, until PHASE TEN is implemented, worshippers will be encouraged to bring their own elements with them (bread, cracker, juice, water, etc.).
    • We will also ensure that the bread and the juice provided to those who cannot provide their own are individually packaged. Worshippers will come forward to receive it instead of having it passed.
  • A locked offering drop box will be placed at the entrance to the sanctuary so that offerings may be dropped off instead of passing a plate. We will also continue to heavily advertise the use of our online giving system as an alternative to physical donations.
  • For each service there will only be ONE worship leader who will also act as the liturgist who handles scripture reading or other prayers.
  • We will continue to offer a livestream of our gathering through our Facebook page. Going forward we will need to focus more on the fusion of physical and digital ministry to our church family and friends.
  • At this phase no other regular worship day elements will be included (coffee hour, bible study, etc.).
  • At this phase the Sunday School will operate at the discretion of the Sunday School staff, but according to the same principles of physical distancing and proper hygiene practices.
  • NOTE: At this phase, we will permit the New Hights Christian Church to resume their normal worship gathering subject to agreement to follow the same guidelines for PHASE THREE as First Baptist.

PHASE ONE, PHASE TWO, and PHASE THREE represent what will be known as SEASON ONE of our phased reopening. At the conclusion of each phase we will perform an assessment of the effectiveness of our plan and make recommendations for future change. At the conclusion of SEASON ONE, all assessments will be reviewed and either SEASON ONE will be altered and repeated, or we will continue to SEASON TWO.

PHASE FOUR: Unrestricted Opening of Church Offices.

  • After sufficient time and preparation, phase four will include the unrestricted opening of the church offices.
  • Office Hours for the Church Secretary and for the Pastor will once again include in-person meetings inside the building during the course of the week.
  • All PPE measures recommended by medical professionals during this time WILL BE OBSERVED.

PHASE FIVE: Resuming Bible Studies, Prayer Meetings, Rehearsals, and Small Groups.

  • PHASE FIVE represents a move forward in gathering in the church building for our church members. At this phase we will begin having our group gatherings including the Tuesday Night Bible Study, any prayer meetings, rehearsals for the Choir and the Praise Team, and any small groups in the church.
  • All gatherings will be required to follow PPE and physical distancing recommendations.
  • During this phase, no food or drink or other fellowship-related activities will take place. After our Worship Service Bible Study will not have refreshments.

PHASE SIX: Resuming Coffee Fellowship After the Worship Gathering.

  • This phase will resume refreshments after the Worship Gathering. Prior to the start of this phase, the Commission on Worship will provide a detailed plan for the setup and clean-up of all food and drink and how such items will be served in keeping with recommendations from health professionals.

PHASE SEVEN: Resuming Other Fellowship Activities with the Church Family.

  • This phase represents a greater expansion of our ability to gather for social events like potlucks and celebrations. Each gathering will need a detailed plan by the event coordinator or the Commission on Fellowship. AT THIS TIME, PHASE SEVEN IS RESTRICTED TO CHURCH MEMBERSHIP ONLY.
  • All gatherings will continue to follow CDC and Health Recommendations.

PHASES FOUR, FIVE, SIX, and SEVEN represent SEASON TWO of the phased reopening plan.

PHASE EIGHT: Resuming the Activities of Ministry Partners.

  • This phase represents an evolutionary leap forward in our opening up the church facilities for use. In this phase we will begin allowing our ministry partners to resume their normal operations on campus.
  • This phase will require that each of our partners present us with a plan of action detailing how they will return to normal operations and how they will mitigate the risk of virus in their respective areas, detailing their cleaning regimes (including any outside services they may employ for this) as well as following all PPE requirements set by health professionals.
  • Failure to present a plan will result in the partner not being allowed to continue normal operations.
  • No new ministry partners will be allowed to come on board until after PHASE TEN.

PHASE NINE: Resuming Outside Activities.

  • This phase will see the return of outside groups to “event usage.” For example, the Historical Society of Hightstown-East Windsor wanted to hold an anniversary dinner at the church to celebrate the anniversary of the church and to share the history of the church in the community. These kinds of activities would return to the church provided that approved event coordinators provide the church with plans similar to the ones required by ministry partners in PHASE EIGHT.
  • All recommendations by health professionals will remain in place.

PHASE TEN: All Clear

  • This phase represents the final phase of the pandemic. This phase can only be reached once a safe and effective vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 is identified and widely available. Once this treatment is in place and medical professionals have given the “all clear” to us, then we will lift all restrictions on use of the building especially as it relates to the use of physical distancing and PPE.
  • All nine phases previous to PHASE TEN will remain in place until such time as PHASE TEN is a reality. This means that all PPE restrictions and recommendations from health professionals will remain IN PLACE throughout the duration of our recovery.

PHASES EIGHT, NINE, and TEN represent SEASON THREE of our phased plan. At any time, we reserve the right to review the progress of any individual phase or season and make necessary adjustments to ensure the safety of our worshipping community and the community at large.

Final Note: This plan is subject to the stay-at-home orders of our local government. If, at any time, those orders are reinstated we will restart the reopening process from the first phase.