For children’s ministry to thrive after COVID-19, it must progress into a new reality. We’re going to have to develop new paradigms and strategies for church life and faith formation in order to flourish in a post-pandemic world. Hoping to return to normal is a pipedream. If we think we can go back to what we did pre-pandemic, research suggests we’ve misjudged the circumstances (cf. Multi-National Children’s Ministry Report 2021 and the Canadian Children’s Ministry Report 2021). The evidence speaks for itself. Communities and congregations have been unsettled in substantial and permanent ways. Embracing change is the only sustainable option.
So how might children’s ministry thrive after C-19? Before we look forward, let’s look back.
C-19 amplified significant problems, accelerating the need for change, disrupting the status quo, making us work online, forcing innovation, and demanding adaptation. As we struggled to regroup or reposition what we did, we realized the church is poorly equipped for ministry outside of the box. At the risk of over-generalization, children’s ministry for many of us became a burden, not a blessing. With volunteers bowing out, programs curtailed, and parents scrambling to be de facto teachers and pastors, words like ‘unwanted’ and ‘disagreeable’ defined how we felt.
Even though ministry during the pandemic was unwelcome and overwhelming, we knuckled down to do what we could do. Most of us refused to accept failure as an option; instead, challenges became seeds for new ideas. Though not immediately apparent, some of us recognized C-19 as a gift to children’s ministry. Attentive prayer and discernment helped us pivot. Seeing new opportunities, intrepid leaders tried new things. Remarkably, we discovered alternate ways to connect, communicate, and care for children despite the circumstances.
The big question is, what’s next? Do we need to scrap what we did pre-pandemic or revitalize it? What methodologies and activities will serve children’s ministry in a post-pandemic era? Are there new developments we need to implement? How will we integrate technology? Moreover, now that C-19 exposed the limits of Sunday Schools, what do we do with traditional programs?
We should wrestle with these questions, but before we do, we ought to know that the success of children’s ministry isn’t contingent on ditching present trends or getting up to speed with new trends. Nor is it dependent on fully understanding the principles and practices that will shape what’s next. Our strategies are not reliant on knowing what’s next but on placing our trust in Jesus. As David Guretzki aptly says, “If there is a next on which to pin our hope, let it be Him and Him only.”
King Solomon said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” Ecclesiastes 1:9. That’s not to say that we should continue using pre-pandemic models of ministry in a post-pandemic world. There’s a time to continue doing what we’re doing and a time to stop (Ecclesiastes 3:6). This raises a collective query. Should children’s ministry carry on as before, or should we “forget the former things” (Isaiah 43:18) and embrace something new? To answer this question adequately, we need to do four things:
1. Call the past to account.
An essential first step in figuring out what’s next is calling the past to account. To renew children’s ministry, we must “review the past” Isaiah 43:26a. Robust dialogue is required. With respect and humility, “let us argue the matter together” (Isaiah 43:26b). As we “review the past,” we must critically evaluate pre-pandemic ministry situations and strategies in the light of God’s Word and our cultural contexts. When we grasp a clear understanding of what’s been, we’re better equipped to consider what will be.
2. Remove barriers.
A vital second step is removing barriers to progress. Before rebuilding children’s ministry, we must “remove the obstacles out of the way” Isaiah 57:14. C-19 has been a journey through a long dark valley. Most of us have struggled with loss and grief. We’ve grappled with the suspension of the familiar, muddled through confusion, and dealt with ambiguity. Rapid change has shocked and sometimes overwhelmed us. Left unresolved, existing problems, misaligned priorities, sinful attitudes, or unholy feelings could impede our capacity to journey into the future.
We’ve been given a significant opening to be creative and take risks. Don’t stay neutral when you should move forward. Develop more resilient, flexible, and transferable approaches to nurturing children’s faith formation. Whenever possible, these approaches should be suitable for online or in-person settings. Unlike pre-pandemic approaches that were mainly provider and program-centred, post-pandemic approaches should be mainly interpersonal and family-centred, i.e. equipping and supporting parents and children to cultivate faith @ home (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
4. Seek the Lord.
Children’s ministry will thrive when it’s in step with Jesus. The aim shouldn’t be to ask Jesus to help us do what we’re doing, but to join Him in what He’s doing! God is constantly creating. He’s preparing the way ahead. You must “Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways” Proverbs 4:26. How do you do this? By pressing into the Lord, asking Him to help you see and perceive the new thing He’s doing (Isaiah 43:19a) and relying on Him to reveal the way in the wilderness (Isaiah 43:19c).
Here’s how children’s ministry can thrive after COVID-19: We must look back, look forward, and look to Jesus. These are the prerequisites for fruitful post-pandemic ministry. When you call the past to account, remove barriers, innovate and seek the Lord, everything else will begin to fall into place.
Don’t get discombobulated. How we use digital forms of communication, utilize buildings, develop resources, choose curriculum, build relationships, manage programs or train volunteers aren’t the keys to flourishing children’s ministries. Hold these things lightly. To thrive and not just survive after C-19, be laser-focused on Jesus.
© Scripture Union, 2022