COVID-19 has kiboshed in-person children’s ministry. But this isn’t a tragedy, it’s an opportunity. Online children’s ministry enables us to equip parents in their role as primary disciple-makers, and engage families in new ways with the services and activities of the local church.
Online children’s ministry is here to stay. Digital communications and connectivity will increase moving forward. Adapt or die. If we don’t learn how to do it well, we’ll not be able to use it as an open door to invite this generation of children to meet Jesus. So here’s to harnessing technology to reach, rescue, root and release children to love and live for Jesus. Consider these 20 best practices for effective online children’s ministry:
- Speak to your parents. Before you do any online ministry, ask families how you can help them connect with Jesus and His Story. What kind of challenges are they trying to navigate? Are they looking for resources? Do parents need training in how to lead family devotions? Do they want guidance in developing age-appropriate Bible lessons? How do they envision their children connecting online?
- Provide children and their parents with multiple invitations and reminders through more than one communication medium (phone calls, email, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) for when and how you’re going to meet online with their children. If parents don’t know how to connect, their children can’t show up.
- Be outreach-oriented. Offer practical training to help parents and children invite and link their friends into online meetings. Take advantage of the fact that some of the barriers that exist with ministry in physical environments don’t exist in online environments.
- Once your online ministry is up and running, keep parents in the loop. Send emails or texts explaining what you’re doing. Provide guidance for how they can support the ministry, as well as how they can link it into what they’re doing @ home.
- Don’t try to replicate in-person ministry online. Change your mindset. Physical environments are not like digital environments. You can’t take an in-person approach and just move it to digital.
- Keep it short. Less is more when you’re online. As a rule of thumb, what you do online shouldn’t be longer than the age of the child doubled (e.g. 6 years old = 12 minutes) and shouldn’t be longer than 20 minutes for older children. Ideally, aim for 10-12 minutes when working with children of different ages.
- Make relationships a priority. The quality of your platform, presentation, or production is less important than the quality of your relationship building. Provide opportunities for conversations and prayer. If you’re using Zoom, invite children to make comments in Chat.
- Just like in-person ministry uses volunteers, online ministry also requires volunteers in supportive roles, e.g. someone interacting with the children who are making comments in Chat while you (and others) are doing the screen-to-screen presentation.
- Your physical presence (facial expressions, gestures, stance, eye contact) are a significant part of how you communicate in-person. Online, your body language is limited. Your use of words and intonation is therefore even more critical in screen-to-screen presentations.
- While children are in the process of connecting (entering a meeting), ask them to say hello and let everyone know where they’re watching from. You could also ask a fun question that’s easy to answer and will generate conversations.
- When it’s time to start, be decisive. The first 10 seconds of an online presentation or gathering is critical. Be creative. Provide a visual or verbal hook that captures the children’s attention. Don’t use countdowns – they’re not effective online.
- Incorporate children as much as possible. A kid’s team could lead a section of the live stream, or a child could share a testimony. Live singing doesn’t work well due to variations in download speeds (using pre-recorded songs for worship can also be challenging).
- Employ strategies to help children stay focused. Children are more easily distracted in front of a screen. Background noises can be very disruptive. Parents need to know they can’t be listening to music or making a noise when their child is using the family computer. Children must learn that the microphone must remain muted until you invite them to converse.
- Plan your content. Lessons, activities, or interactions are best done in smaller chunks. What was taught in one Sunday School class needs to be portioned into 4-5 shorter lessons if it’s taught online.
- One way to plan your ministry presentation is to think of it as a succession of audiovisual bites (short clips strung together). Each clip should be pithy and interesting. Transitions between clips should be quick and seamless. Clips should connect together around a clearly articulated simple theme.
- Help parents feel more confident and capable as disciple-makers. Use online meetings as opportunities to provide parents and children with links to online tools and resources that will equip them to go deeper and further in their spiritual development.
- Curate memes or short videos that are posted weekly to help children stay in touch with your faith community and keep their eyes on Jesus. Parents of younger children are more active on Instagram (Linktree allows you to have multiple links with your profile) and WhatsApp. Texting is also preferable for everyday communications.
- Occasionally host a video conference or live stream for parents to ask questions, address concerns, provide advice, share how Jesus is working in their lives and the lives of their children, and pray together. Livestream meetings can also be used to teach parents how to impress the Scriptures on their children (Deuteronomy 6:7-9).
- While there are differences between in-person and online ministry, some things never change. Jesus should always be the focus of everything we do in online ministry. God’s Word and prayer should also be prioritized.
- Remember children with special needs. Technology makes it easier to include children and families living with disabilities. So make sure that everything you do online is fully inclusive.
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© Scripture Union, 2020