Is COVID-19 shifting children’s ministry?
The origin of the phrase “Every cloud has a silver lining” seems to be John Milton’s poem “Comus.” It means we can find something positive in even the worst events or situations. So is COVID-19 shifting children’s ministry in positive ways? I believe it is.
Learning and innovating.
To begin, despite being where we don’t want to be, we’ve learned to adapt to new realities. We’ve moved from in-person meetings to screen-to-screen meetings, from programs at church to activities online, and in some situations from larger generational to smaller intergenerational gatherings. For most people, it’s been gruelling, but as we’ve persevered, we’ve been learning new communication skills, novel techniques to interact, and innovative ways to worship together. Well done!
Pivoting to @ home.
COVID-19 lockdowns have also made us pivot from faith development that’s centred @church to faith development that’s centred @home. It’s been a helpful shift because it’s reminded us that the family, not the church, is primarily responsible for connecting children with Jesus and His Story. A return to being faithful with faith formation in the home has begun. We’re more aware than we’ve been in the past that nurturing healthy marriages and faithfully raising children are the kingdom things God wants us to do. In the future, we’ll pay more attention to the family.
Social distancing really upsets us. When we can’t meet in person, we experience a tremendous sense of loss. Physical separation has caused us to rethink, evolve, and scale ministry differently. While what is may not be as good as what was, we’ve been reminded that God’s grace is sufficient and His power is evident in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). When we meet in church buildings and see children face to face, we have a greater appreciation for communal gatherings.
COVID-19 has shaken us up by upsetting our rhythms and taking us out of our comfort zones. Churches have had to simplify their ecclesiology (the church’s ministry, mission, and worship). In the process, we’ve discovered we can still do church without buildings, that some things we thought were significant in the past are really trivial, that parents can be pastors to their children, and we can creatively and effectively harness online technology for evangelism and disciple-making.
The intellectual giant, C. S. Lewis said, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” COVID-19 has awakened us. We’re asking questions and looking for answers. The two big children’s ministry questions are, “What does God want to teach us about how we’re doing ministry?” and “Did God allow COVID-19 for us to simply go back to doing what we were doing before the pandemic?” As we answer these questions, we’re re-evaluating our theology, rethinking our strategies, and making methodological changes.
Important things are being clarified. Pushed into the margins, we’ve found ourselves with God. We’re praying, listening, and learning more. We’re also more likely to appreciate today and not take tomorrow for granted. Ministry-wise, we’re resourcing parents better than we’ve ever done before, are more relationally agile, are using more social media platforms to share and connect, and are creating more opportunities to engage with children digitally. In some cases, one on one connections are being elevated to new levels.
How should we respond to the shifting of children’s ministry?
Stay in step with the Spirit.
As the seasons change, we must keep on keeping on. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” Galatians 6:9. Put one foot in front of the other. Plan to move your children’s ministry forward. Evaluate what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. What will you do next? What can you do now that will multiply your ministry potential in the years to come? Ask and remind yourself why it matters. Concentrate on disciple-making, not programs. Don’t try to recreate, revive, or restore what you used to do before COVID-19. Bringing children back to church isn’t the mission (the mission is to connect children with Jesus and His Story). Stay in step with the Spirit. Do something different, and trust the One who knows what’s best for you and your children.
Elevate the Lord.
Come what may, there’s a huge difference between turning to God and returning to church. Elevate the Lord in all you say and do. Don’t be limited by institutional thinking, don’t be tied to familiar surroundings, and don’t get bogged down trying to please people. COVID-19 has freed us to live for Jesus. Beware of comfortable buildings, habitual perceptions, and predictable outcomes; they breed reality-distorting assumptions. Cultivate a “singleness of heart and action” Jeremiah 32:39. Don’t allow the superfluous to squeeze out what’s essential. Being with someone (the Lord) is more important than being somewhere (Luke 10:38-42). When everything is considered, make sure the shifts in children’s ministry draw you closer, not further away from Jesus!
© Scripture Union, 2021