Keeping a record of your attendees each Sunday was once straight forward. You could ask visitors and parishioners to sign in as they entered the building or from the pew. But things are much more complicated these days, such as compliance to NHS Test and Trace.

Counting attendance today involves a combination of online and in person. In addition, there is the matter of following the guidelines from the NHS, which is a necessary measure for the ongoing response to COVID-19. 

Guidance for NHS Test and Trace

Places of worship are among the sectors the NHS requests tracking of individual data. There is a potentially higher risk of transmitting COVID-19 from longer periods of time spent together. The following is the specific information NHS asks you to collect:

  • Your staff
    • Names of staff who work at the premises
    • Contact phone number for each member of staff
    • Dates and times that staff are at work
  • Visitors
    • Name of the visitor. Groups can record the name of the ‘lead member’ and the number of people 
    • Contact phone number for each visitor, or for the lead member of a group 
    • Date of visit, arrival time and departure time if known
    • If a visitor interacts with only one member of staff, record the name of that staff member with the name of the customer

This last point is more likely in businesses where a staff member is assigned to a guest. This would be more common in a salon or restaurant, for instance. However, if a volunteer or member of your staff provides direct assistance to anyone, it is worth keeping this record. 

Check-in Your Congregation

As a place of worship, you can host gatherings of more than 30 people. Keep in mind you may need to cap this number, depending on your venue. When considering the maximum attendance that you can safely host while adhering to social distancing guidelines, take into account your total floor space, ventilation system, and the width of busy areas, such as entrances and exits. 

Activities where it is advisable to restrict numbers to 30 within a place of worship for public health reasons include marriage ceremonies, funerals, and other life cycle ceremonies.

Introduce a Booking System to Manage Attendance

By introducing a booking system, you can facilitate attendance and enable accurate record keeping for contact tracing. An advanced booking tools can help you manage the number of people on your premises. Booking systems meet two important needs: recording the information of your attendees for your personal attendance measurement and meeting the NHS criteria of digital record-keeping. 

Faith Online has released a free booking feature to help as you track attendance. This tool allows you to create the following for each event:

  1. Details: the time, date, and description
  2. Destinations: the ways your congregation can attend, such as in-person, online, and by phone
  3. Attendees: add your regular members and reach out to them directly to invite them to your event

Setting up an event for your church in three simple steps to capturer your event details, capping in person attendance, and providing alternative means for virtual attendance.

Once you create an event, you can make updates directly on your public profile page. Helpful features include registering attendees and setting capacity limits. You can also provide multiple means of access for parishioners to join you in live streaming or in person for the same event.

You can create as many events as you like and maintain an events calendar on your website. This allows your parishioners to register, even if they were not on your original email list. 

Calendar view of the event booking system developed by Faith.Online

On site you can check guests in and out from the church building from a phone and even add additional guests if someone unexpected turns up. 

Maintaining Records for NHS Test and Trace and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

Regardless of the tool you use, you will need to maintain your records of onsite attendance for 21 days for the NHS. Since maintaining attendance is already a part of your regular attendance practice, you need not dispose of the data after 21 days. That said, you need to clarify that the information you collect may be shared with NHS Test and Trace. 

You can do this by placing a written statement on your premises and on your website so that any use of data is clearly defined in accordance with GDPR. You may also need to offer some individuals additional support in accessing or understanding this information, for example, if they have a visual impairment or cannot read English.

How NHS Uses this Data

NHS Test and Trace will only ask for these records in two main circumstances. The first is someone has tested positive for COVID-19 and has listed your premises as a place they recently visited. The second is if they identify your premise as the location for a potential outbreak. 

Because the data you collect is potentially sensitive, make it clear that giving contact details is optional and not a condition of attending your place of worship. And you must ensure individuals can exercise their data protection rights, such as the right of erasure or the right to rectification (where applicable).

Using technology to connect with your church community after a recent Sunday service.Building Community with Your Parishioners

Whether your attendees were in your physical space on Sunday or online, you can use your tracking list to build a stronger community with your parishioners. Families and individuals who attend your services want and even expect churches to keep in touch with them.

Following up with families in the weeks and months after the service has a positive impact on church growth according to research from the Church of England.

Timely contact with a personal touch is especially important with visitors or regular parishioners who have been absent in your online services. Using the registration details each visitor provides, you can send a personalized welcoming message by email. If you are reaching out to an older parishioner, phone may be a better option. 

Take this opportunity in the beginning of the week to welcome new attendees. A simple “Thank you for coming!” is all that you need to start the conversation. Later in the week, you can follow up with a longer message where you can provide details about upcoming services and offer to connect over a phone call. 

Similarly, regular parishioners you have not seen in person because of social distancing would appreciate the kind of personal welcome you cannot give at this time. Build on these relationships with a tailored contact email, call, or text message after the service. 

Maintaining the community feel among your congregation when most people must remain remote is undoubtedly harder. Yet checking in on new visitors and supporting long-time members is central to building community in your church no matter where or how they attend your services.