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Why COVID-19 Has Impacted Children & Family Ministry

Disruption is a word that some might use to describe the COVID-19 pandemic. Historians tell us past pandemics not only disrupted life but also caused change in health care, economics, socialization, and work environments. We find ourselves asking, “How will COVID-19 change the landscape of preschool and children’s ministry?” No one truly knows the outcome but it is time to consider adjustments and reevaluate current protocols and practices with the understanding that change is still occurring. 

Churches canceled all gatherings as COVID-19 spread through the nation. After many weeks of closures churches began to slowly reopen as the virus started to plateau and local governments allowed groups to carefully regather. However, the initial regathering did not include preschool or children’s programming. In most churches, if children attended they accompanied their parents to worship services. The careful consideration of bringing children into the church building causes us to rethink all aspects of preschool and children’s ministry. This requires preschool and children’s leaders to look to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), local government, and national government for guidelines in gathering children. 

Why are there concerns for regathering children? According to the CDC, it is believed that the virus spreads easily from person-to-person. This happens through respiratory droplets when the infected person talks, coughs, sneezes, spits or somehow passes these droplets from person to person. Also, like other illnesses, the infected people are not always aware they have COVID-19. Social distancing (staying at least six feet away from another person) is said to be one of the most effective ways of stopping the spread of the virus. Why the concern of gathering children? Infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and children do not necessarily understand the importance of social distancing. The landscape has changed for preschool and children’s ministry. In order to regather in a safe way, many things will need to change. Among the many components of preschool and children’s ministry, three particularly disrupted areas are: modes of communication, protocols for health and safety, and the ways of building community through in-reach and outreach.

Practical Guidance

There are three areas that moving forward you will likely want to keep in view as you regather, regroup, and rethink. During your time away from meeting together you have no doubt had to make many adjustments to how you communicate, plan for the safety and health of your families and leaders, and have an ongoing outreach and in-reach ministry to guests and members. 

Communication

In addition to the public at large, there are three major groups you have needed to communicate with on a regular basis before regathering. As you move past the initial regathering stages, you will want to evaluate the communication you have had with parents, teachers, and children, and continue to find ways to communicate with them in multiple ways. 

Health and Safety 

Many of your teachers and parents may have a heightened interest in how you are keeping your classrooms and public spaces clean and sanitized on a regular basis. You may want to consider making copies of the cleaning protocols available to parents and guests. Before COVID-19, many parents simply trusted you to keep classrooms and check-in areas sanitized on a regular basis. Moving forward, some parents may ask about specific products and how they are used in the preschool and children’s areas. You will need to increase the frequency of cleaning and post reminders for teachers and parents if there are specific steps they need them to take while in the preschool and children’s areas. 

Outreach/ In-Reach

It was already challenging for busy volunteers to keep up with absences, birthdays, illnesses, etc., for boys and girls in their classrooms. The COVID-19 crisis amplified the need to stay in touch in meaningful ways with parents and children. Evaluate what worked best for you during the crisis and consider keeping some of those methods of outreach and in reach for continual use. Some parents may enjoy the option of receiving copies of the Bible story via email or video even when their child has not been absent. This will encourage them to not only reinforce what the children were taught at church but also to lead out from home to guide their children in Bible learning and Bible activities that reinforce learning. 

You’ve had to find what ways work best to talk with your teachers and regular attenders to find out what needs they may have had during your time apart. Maybe some of your leaders have had more contact with their students and parents by phone, mail, or email than ever before. Maybe a few front porch visits have been made and your teachers have discovered that they can make meaningful connections even with a brief visit. Talk with your leaders about what was meaningful to them and their parents and children during the crisis time. Select a few ways of ministering to members and prospects that you could continue in the days ahead. The crisis amplified the need for personal calls, notes, and visits. Work as a team to keep those contacts meaningful and ongoing. 

Creating Movement

Preschool and children’s ministers will be remiss if they do not consider some principles that will help in the shifting of the landscape following the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most overwhelming aspects of this pandemic is the frequency of change in health standards. The world is simply trying to figure out the new normal. Yet, parents and others expect—as they should—preschool and children’s ministers to keep up with the constant changes, while staying on top of their other responsibilities. At some point the frequency of change will slow down, but no one knows when this will happen. Preschool and children’s ministers should consider creating a health and safety team for their ministries to help keep track of these changes. This team could help by staying abreast of health and safety changes and updates related to infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and children. The team might consist of a parent, a police officer and/or a fire fighter, a medical professional, or others who could contribute with information concerning the health and safety of children. 

Another disruption caused by the pandemic was the need for parents to become their children’s education teachers and Bible study teachers. Many parents were thrust into roles for which they might have felt ill-prepared. Perhaps the pandemic has changed the landscape of preschool and children’s ministry to develop a closer partnership between the church and parents in the spiritual nurturing of their children. Ministers, volunteers, Bible study leaders, and others have become very creative in helping parents teach the Bible to their children during the closure of churches. Perhaps COVID-19 has pushed churches to find new and creative ways to equip parents as the spiritual leaders in the home. Strengthening the partnership between the church and parents does nothing but help parents disciple their children.

Personalizing

As noted above, Communication, Health & Safety, and Outreach/In-Reach are three areas of preschool and children’s ministry that, although disrupted during COVID-19, do not need to return to “business as usual.”  Let’s take a closer look at how the disruption and adaptations in communication might look moving forward.  As you consider the different frequencies and methods of communication, think of how your communication to each group can include providing resources, providing updates, and offering encouragement and support. 

Communication with Parents

So much changed quickly during COVID-19 that many parents felt overwhelmed with the amount of communication they were receiving from their children’s schools, church, and other social organizations. Moving forward, as boys and girls rejoin extracurricular activities, communication will need to increase again. It will be important in the days ahead to maintain a predictable and easy-to-follow format of communication with parents. Consider sending just one notification or update each week or month and sticking to that schedule, only sending out additional information in case of emergencies. If a parent or teacher receives numerous communications on the same topic each week then it is confusing as to which communication is the most important.  The information can be made available across multiple platforms depending on the preferences of your parents, but keep it to a regular schedule in short form. 

Consider providing the basics of what needs to be communicated upfront in a bold, large font or with major bullet points, then providing details for those who need or want more information. You can do all of this visually or you can provide the high points in a video format and make a document with the details available. Just be sure to draw attention to what they need to know. Once the crisis subsides, the information you are sending might be more Bible story content related, so you might want to differentiate between communication related to their helping their child with the Bible story and activities at home versus communication related to updated protocols for sign-in, health and safety, medical information, etc.

Communication with Leaders

Just as with parents, your leaders have been asked to make many adjustments throughout the COVID-19 crisis.  What did you discover during the crisis that your teachers appreciated about your communication with them? Are they more informed because you sent emails or videos on a regular basis? Did you find that a monthly Zoom meeting for prayer and brief updates was more convenient for your teachers than meeting on campus? Did you get a higher level of participation from meeting online than in-person? What worked best for you? Did you find yourself expressing appreciation more during the challenging days of asking your leaders to help with cleaning and safety protocols? You will not need to abandon all the ways you communicated with your teachers before the pandemic, but you may need to maintain some of your newer habits. You can keep some of the previous ways and add in some new formats without adding a lot to your own schedule. 

Communication with Girls and Boys

Think of how many phone calls, emails, visits, and gifts were shared with children during your time apart. Imagine how special they felt when they received small gifts or personal notes from their leaders. During the COVID-19 crisis, lots of children who attend on a regular basis probably received more communication than ever before. What are some of those things that you can maintain moving forward? Did you find yourself asking boys and girls how you could pray for them more during this crisis? Did you make a special effort to acknowledge special events in their lives or look for ways to make Bible stories relevant to their lives? 

Childhood is challenging for many kids, so continue to provide personal correspondence and encourage your leaders to do the same.

Connect With Us

The SBTC provides help and support for churches with preschool and children’s ministries. We provide networking opportunities for preschool and children’s ministers through monthly Zoom meetings, in-person trainings, and conferences. The convention offers VBS regional trainings for leaders, as well as regional, state, and national Bible Drills for children and students. We have a special needs consultant who can assist churches with developing a special needs ministry, addressing problems and concerns while growing this vital ministry. It is our pleasure to walk beside you as you minister to children and their families.

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