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Published 22 Jul 20

How to follow guidelines for temple, synagogue, mosque or church social distancing

  • Written by Simon Worlding
  • Tagged as social distancing

Places of worship across many religions, denominations and locations are embracing technological solutions to navigate government guidelines on church social distancing. One of the most commonly touted solutions is an online booking system, but how exactly does this kind of automation help?

Bookwhen provides a flexible and affordable booking solution and, in recent months, we have started working with more and more churches, mosques, synagogues and temples as they strive to implement social distancing worship practises. Read on to discover the different ways that we have been able to empower prayer leaders to welcome back their flock, balance their budget and contain coronavirus!

This post addresses UK guidance specifically.

Managing queues and arrival times

What the guidelines say:

“Even if it is possible to safely seat a number of people inside a venue, it may not be safe for them all to travel to and from, or enter and exit the venue … stagger entry times with other local venues and take steps to avoid queues building up in surrounding areas.”

“Queue management is important so the flow of groups in and out of the premises can be carefully controlled in a socially distanced way, reducing the risk of congestion or contact”

How a booking system can help:

The most obvious application for a booking system is in assisting in church social distancing, by controlling how many people arrive at your premises, and when. There is a lot of guidance available to assist with performing a risk assessment and determining the number of people that you can safely welcome at any time (such as this document from the Church of England). Enforcing social distancing worship processes is only part of the task; as guidelines also call for you to make sure that people don’t gather in reception areas, directly outside the premises, and on travel routes.

Bookwhen has a simple system that allows you to set up single events or multiple time slots across days, weeks or months with little effort. Many of our customers employ staggered time slots to ensure that congregations don’t all arrive at the same time, even if services will only begin once everyone has arrived.

A maximum attendance in each time slot is easy to apply and some even employ reminder emails on the morning of the service to ensure that worshippers know exactly when to attend.

In their essential guide to reopening, Christian blog Outreach points out that the need to minister to communities is more vital than ever in troubled times, extolling Facebook ads and social media as two methods that can be used to send invitations to your community (we would add email contact to that list). Faithlife's free church reopening report backs up this assertion, with their survey identifying that 96% of respondents say "website, email, and social media are pivotal to communicating how their churches will reopen"

An online booking presence can easily be shared, via email or social media, and offers an invitation alongside vital information about new processes that can reassure your flock about the measures being taken to keep them safe.

social distancing

Communicating with your community

What the guidelines say:

“Places of worship and faith leaders should consider how guidance can be communicated to visitors, including before they visit, in a way that is accessible and appropriate for the cultures, languages and reading levels of communities served by the place of worship.”

“Set days or times when places of worship are open solely for those particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, such as those over 70 or clinically vulnerable.”

How a booking system can help: has produced guidelines that discuss the importance of spiritual first aid for your community, and pastoral self-care and strong communication is a big part of making this happen.

Rather than explaining new processes as people arrive (and you try to keep entrances clear), or sending information on new procedures in emails that may not be opened, a booking system allows you to present information about church social distancing before your congregants have confirmed their attendance. It’s even possible to set up a booking form that requires congregants to indicate that they have read and understood what is required before they are able to secure their space (more on that later).

Documents can be attached to events, booking forms and post-booking emails so, if you have sections of your community who would be better served by instructions in a different language, you can make sure that these are easily accessible too.

Vulnerable groups need more protection than ever and a booking system makes it easy to set up designated visiting periods for these people with minimal additional effort. Some events can even be password protected to ensure that social distancing prayer periods can only be booked by those intended at that time.

social distancing worship

Preventing the spread of the virus

What the guidelines say:

“Anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 (a new continuous cough, a high temperature or a loss of, or change in, their normal sense of taste or smell) should not attend the place of worship due to the risk that they pose to others.”

How a booking system can help:

As mentioned above, you can create mandatory booking form fields, which won't let a booking be completed unless the required answer can be provided. In this way, you can require that people confirm that they are symptom-free (and will contact you if the situation changes) before they have confirmed their space.

“People are also encouraged to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces where there are people they do not normally meet, such as a place of worship.”

Need people to confirm that they will wear a face covering? This can be arranged too and it’s very easy to include, or link to, the relevant government guidance if you want to communicate the necessity of these measures to bookers.

church social distancing

Recording track and trace information

What the guidelines say:

“In line with other government guidance for other venues you should assist this service by keeping an accurate temporary record of visitors for 21 days, in a way that is manageable for your place of worship, and assist NHS Test and Trace with requests for that data if needed for contact tracing and the investigation of local outbreaks.”

How a booking system can help:

Collecting personal information from congregations, and ensuring that it is stored in a manner that complies with GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) can be intimidating for institutions with no experience of doing so. Bookwhen’s solution is GDPR compliant, with data stored on secure servers. All the data you need can be collected at the point of booking and is easily accessible through customisable attendee lists.

church social distancing

Making sure that communal resources are clean and available

What the guidelines say:

“Reusable and communal resources such as prayer mats, service sheets, religious texts or devotional material should be removed from use. Single-use alternatives should be provided as long as they are removed and disposed of by the worshipper.”

“In circumstances where worshippers cannot bring their own books, places of worship should keep a selection of clean books for individuals to use. Clean books should be quarantined for 48 hours since their previous use and should be quarantined for 48 hours again after use. Items which cannot be easily cleaned should also be subject to the 48 hour quarantine after use.”

How a booking system can help:

When prayer mats, books, or other resources need to be disinfected, or quarantined in time for their next users; accurate accounting of how many people are coming, what they need, and when, can be essential.

Different ticket types can be employed to ensure that you don’t promise more resources than you can afford. Only have 10 Bibles to share? Set up a ‘Bible’ option with that limit. You can also set up a booking form field to ask visitors to confirm if they will be bringing their own from home.

Accepting donations safely

What the guidelines say:

“Where possible faith leaders should discourage cash donations and continue to use online or contactless giving and resources.”

How a booking system can help:

Bookwhen easily integrates with several payment platforms (including Stripe and Paypal), which can be used to accept donations in advance of arrival. Ensuring staff and volunteer safety is obviously critical to a successful reopening (lots more guidance about this in the NCVO's blog) and eliminating the need for them to handle, potentially contaminated, cash is an important step towards this.

Different pricing options can be set up so people can choose to give what they can afford, meaning congregants can do their part to support their faith and supplement other grants designed to help you get through this difficult period (such as those offered by the National Church Trust).

church social distancing

Livestreaming services

What the guidelines say:

“It is recommended that, where possible, places of worship continue to stream worship or other events to avoid large gatherings and to continue to reach those individuals who are self-isolating or particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.”

How a booking system can help:

If your services are oversubscribed for safe attendance or you wish to concurrently stream to vulnerable groups then you may have considered the possibility of employing a service such as Zoom, YouTube live or Vimeo to circumvent church social distancing entirely. It's an approach which has been embraced by the Church of England as well as remote communities were containing the virus is especially important (as you can read in LSE's excellent post on the Faroe Islands). It's probably easier to achieve, both technologically and administratively, than you think (read more about this in our blog post on live streaming events).

There is also an argument for continuing with online delivery of services beyond the pandemic, most likely alongside more traditional face to face worship. This mode of delivery offers a more inclusive and accessible option for those with social needs and anxiety as this Gospel Coalition's posts author can attest from personal experience.

Bookwhen has integrations with all 3 of the services listed above and features that allow you to include joining details for almost any other streaming service too. Our Zoom integration, for example, automatically creates a Zoom meeting and shares details on how to attend for anyone who books, meaning that additional admin is almost eliminated and that virtual attendance is easy for even the most technologically limited of the faithful!

Expressing your faith is a fundamental and irrefutable right but recent government guidelines have added worrying complications for many. In strange new times, new solutions are needed to reconcile these, often contradictory, forces. An online booking system is the simplest, and the most cost/resource effective way to implement temple, mosque, synagogue or church social distancing while keeping all involved safe and healthy.

Bookwhen offers a free 2-week trial which you can sign up for here.

Our trial grants access to all of our features, including:

  • Online bookings completed through a customisable booking page which is hosted by us (or embedded on your website).
  • Secure online payments that are quick and simple to set up.
  • Customisable booking forms that let you ask any questions you need in a variety of formats (and store data in GDPR compliant fashion).
  • Multiple ticket types per event with defined ticket and attendee limits.
  • On-screen attendance logging to keep track of arrivals and no-shows with important information (i.e. responses to booking form questions) displayed on arrival.

Our friendly support team is happy to discuss how our system can best meet your requirements so get in touch via our website chat or email. if you have any questions at all.