With three campuses and more than 40,000 members, Prestonwood Baptist Church in north Texas is taking the plunge, reopening its sanctuary for services at the end of May, as coronavirus-induced restrictions begin to ease in the Lone Star State.
“I didn’t want to come back looking like a MASH unit,” Jack Graham, senior pastor of Prestonwood, told Faithwire. “When people come back, we want it to be a Prestonwood experience, a true worship experience.”
The megachurch pastor, who praised Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for his handling of the virus in Texas, explained he and other leaders at his church have been gauging their decision-making process on three things: how they believe God is leading them, what the state government permits, and the safety and desires of the Prestonwood congregation as well as those in the community.
Graham said the church has had to, in some ways, “hold people off just a little bit,” because, in his words, “You’ve got some people here in Texas — I don’t know about the rest of the country — they’re ready to do a cannonball in the deep end to get back into life.”
Starting out, the church will hold seven services over the last weekend of the month, which marks Pentecost Sunday, a significant day on the Christian calendar. Prestonwood will also be hosting an outdoor service, which was entirely booked in less than 10 minutes.
To attend a service, churchgoers will be required to make reservations. Within 24 hours, nearly every seat for all the services next weekend was accounted for. The main sanctuary in Plano seats around 7,000 people, but due to social distancing measures, only about 1,200 attenders will be in the church at a time.
“It’ll be checkerboard-style,” Graham explained. “Everyone will be safely distanced. We’ll move people in and out of the building in the same directions. We’re not gonna congregate in hallways. We will not have childcare initially, so if you have small babies or infants, you’re gonna want to stay online. If you have elementary-aged kids, bring ’em on with your family, with a reservation, of course.”
The Texas preacher was careful to acknowledge the contagiousness of the coronavirus, noting Prestonwood established a 20-member task force, resulting in a lengthy document on how to implement best practices as the church begins hosting worship services once again.
While Life Church in Oklahoma City — a large church on par with Prestonwood — has reopened without any major issues, some smaller congregations in Georgia and Texas have seen minor outbreaks of the virus among their attenders.
Should there be any hints of a resurgence of the virus as a result of Prestonwood’s reopening, Graham said the church has a medical team of physicians who would assist in containing “any exposure of any kind.”
“We have all the protocols and all the precautions in to take care of people,” he said.
On a spiritual level, Graham said it’s critical for church leaders to see the pandemic not as something to “get” through, but something to “grow” through. Seeing greater levels of compassion, Graham encouraged believers to look for the “signals in this that some very good things are going to come out of this reset of the church in this year.”