This article originally appeared on OurChurch.Com

No matter how much time and thought you put into your church reopen plan, some people are going to disagree with it – probably strongly.

You may get phone calls, texts, emails, and social media comments accusing you of recklessly endangering the lives of your congregation and your community for opening up too quickly without enough protection and social distancing.

You may get phone calls, texts, email, and social media comments accusing you of fearfully cowering to anti-Christian government officials who are violating the first amendment rights to assembly and freedom of religion.

If you’re doing things right, you’ll probably get both.

Expect criticism and prepare in advance how you will respond.

While we all hope that everyone in our congregations will act in a Christ-like way even when they disagree, the reality is that’s not likely to happen.

There are a very wide range of opinions about how, when and at what pace to reopen, because there is still so much we don’t know about COVID-19. Additionally, the politicians and news networks have chosen sides, and spend all day criticizing, insulting and name-calling everyone they disagree with. And keep in mind, people have been isolated for more than 2 months. Many are anxious, fearful, depressed or angry, about their lives being drastically disrupted and reacting from their flesh rather than acting by the Spirit.

So, decide now you will accept criticism and do your best to diffuse tension. Here are five suggestions for how to do that.

5 Ways to Reduce Conflict and Increase Unity as Your Church Reopens

1) Survey your congregation and listen.

If you haven’t already done so, create an online survey and email it out to your congregation to get people’s input on reopening. You can use these 12 Questions to Ask Your Congregation Before you Reopen. People usually respond much better when they’ve been given a voice and feel like they’ve been heard.

2) Give people options.

Everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to gathering with others in person. Allow people the freedom to come back when they feel comfortable. This is only possible if you continue to offer online options – like online giving, live streaming church services, and online bible studies and small groups – as you start to meet in person again.

3) Over communicate.

People get anxious when they don’t know what’s going on. Communicate frequently with your congregation about plans to reopen, the issues you’re weighing out, feedback you’ve received. Be transparent. You really can’t communicate too much or too often.

4) Explain why.

People often criticize what they don’t understand. Therefore, as much as possible explain your decisions. If your church has decided to gather for worship but not offer children’s ministry, explain why. If your church has decided to worship outside but not inside, explain why. If you church has decided not to restart some ministries because many of the volunteers are older, explain that.

5) Respond with love.

When you receive criticism, take it to the Lord. Pray for the person. Pray about your response. If you think it might help to explain a decision in greater detail, do that but DON’T make it your goal to win an argument or get everyone to agree with you. In some cases, the best response may be simply to thank the person for their feedback and tell them you will take it into consideration as you make adjustments in the future.

By doing these things, you and your church can unified in a world that is currently so divided, and a light in the midst of darkness.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. -Romans 12:12

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