It’s mid-February 2020, and my family and I are excitedly boarding a cruise ship to celebrate our oldest son’s 13th birthday. We don’t really watch the news, but we were beginning to hear the rumblings about an illness coming our way. It was too early for me to pay attention to the name of this mysterious illness.
Fast forward one month to March and suddenly this illness, COVID-19, has reared its ugly head and churches all over are now forced to discover how to minister to their congregations. Some churches were much further along than others. They already had online ministries, while many churches had to discover what it meant. For children’s ministries, it was a brand-new day.
Children’s ministry with the absence of children is one of the strangest concepts many of us have faced in our careers. For years we’ve tried to tell parents that they should be the primary disciple makers of their children, but when we were forced to let them, we discovered our own fear of letting ministry go. COVID-19 forced children’s ministries to refocus their efforts from in person experiences to online experiences. What have we learned that will carry us into this new era of ministry to children?
1. Parents are busy and tired.
They need our support, not our guilt trips. In the beginning of our quarantine, I challenged my team to post five posts a day on social media. I really wanted us to resource parents well. Then I realized that parents can only do so much. They were tired. They were still working but now were in charge of schooling their children. We dialed it back greatly and tried to post more meaningful posts less frequently to encourage and give ideas for quick and easy God-talks in the home.
2. Not everyone has social media.
I’m a one-hit wonder when it comes to social media and my chosen platform is Facebook. Thankfully, I have some great staff members who are really into Instagram and they manage our feed there. But I started hearing from families who either didn’t have social media or due to analytics never saw the things we posted. This caused me to double down on our efforts to communicate with our families. Sure, we have posts that are exclusively on social media, but when it is really important, like our weekly lessons and activities, we try to communicate with families through a variety of methods. We use social media, emails and texting for any high-level communication that our parents need to receive.
3. Learning what to measure.
Each week we post videos of kids’ worship and age-group lessons. After a few weeks we looked at the analytics and started getting down on ourselves. I had to encourage our team to know that we didn’t need to focus on how many “likes” we received or how many views we had, but focus on sharing the word of Christ. We also learned that five minutes is preferable to 10 minutes when it comes to videos.
4. Value creativity.
We have begun making lots of creative videos to help kids understand different things happening in the world. Our newest series, “A Beautiful Day,” is a play on Mr. Rogers and is fun for kids to watch and learn about the world we live in today. We’ve found huge connection in sending out a cartoon version of me on a postcard that can travel with families as they go throughout their daily activities. Having drive-thru parades to let the kids come by the church and see us has also been an effective way to reconnect. As we move to the next phase of COVID-19, we will continue thinking of new and creative ways to connect to our families.
Like it or not, this new way of doing children’s ministry is here. As we move back to regathering, we must not forget that there are still many families who are taking precautions. As ministry leaders, we have to resource both groups well. Our ministry is now in-person and virtual at the same time.