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Reopening churches: Leading children and family ministry after COVID-19

Children and family ministries have been disrupted with the onset of COVID-19. Instead of rushing back to our old norms, now is the time to determine what values and processes will remain consistent, what innovative strategies you've uncovered in the past weeks that need to be further integrated into your church, and what needs to be completely restructured for our family ministries to experience God to the fullest capacity when your church doors open again. I spoke with a panel of church leaders as they discussed common questions regarding this and the path forward after COVID-19.

William Vanderbloemen is the CEO of Vanderbloemen.
William Vanderbloemen is the CEO of Vanderbloemen. | (Courtesy of William Vanderbloemen)

The panelists included:

•  Jana MagruderDirector of LifeWay Kids, LifeWay

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- 4 VBS Strategies For This Summer

•  Jessica Bealer, Director of Family Ministry Services, Generis

- Don't Quit Workshop: Grow Your Children's Ministry Leadership

•  Sam Luce, Global Family Pastor, Redeemer Church

•  John HuberFamily Ministry Pastor, Westside Family

•  Julia Tucker, NextGen Pastor, Transformation Church

•  Justin Edge, Central Ministry Leader of LifeKids, Life.Church

       - Over 5,000 free resources including a Kids Bible App and kids bible school lessons

•  William Vanderbloemen, CEO and Founder, Vanderbloemen Search Group

8 Practical Preparations for Reopening Children’s Ministries

1. Over-communicate with parents on plans and precautions that leaders are taking. Keeping parents in the loop when they're feeling uncertain will help ensure that they're aware that their children’s safety is your first priority.

2. Place orders now for hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies to disinfect children’s ministry areas.

3. Begin to design a strong curriculum plan, check-in, and check-out systems for reopening again that account for social distancing precautions. Some churches are having one designated check-in volunteer to prevent multiple people from picking up pens or touching check-in screens.

4. Begin to decide if you'll be reopening church and children’s ministries at the same time. Another option churches are exploring is allowing families to sit together in their services while maintaining social distancing regulations.

5. Establish plans to reopen that align with state guidelines. Leaders can also take into account what is best for the church community by checking in with members to gauge their comfort levels.

6.  One option is to take a 3-tiered approach on reopening:

  • Step 1: Acknowledge that volunteers may not feel comfortable returning immediately and plan ways to walk with them through this. Consider recruiting volunteers to replace any typical helpers that are at-risk and may not feel comfortable working for a while.
  • Step 2: Have worship services so everyone is together first to evaluate the number of families and volunteers that are returning.
  • Step 3: Downsize in room size and the number of kids in a room for children’s ministry. You can even hold children's ministry outdoors to offer more space.

7. Include family-friendly elements in Sunday services.

  • Some churches are handing out fun kits to keep children engaged with activity during the sermon. Kits can include checklists for words they hear during the sermon, snacks, coloring pages, or other creative activities that work best for your church.

8. Leverage the relationships with the parents in your community by engaging them to lead children & family ministry. Getting parents involved will ease their minds and help fill any gaps in staff that you might have.

Train Volunteers for Children’s Ministry Post COVID-19

  • Training volunteers is inevitably going to begin with assessing new roles that can help attribute to the success of the transition back into children’s ministry for parents and children.
  • Start training and including volunteers now. This is a good time to include them in any online videos, newsletters, and resources for children so a new rhythm and structure can already be established when you reopen.
  • Implement wellness checks. Today’s panelists shared a few ways they are restructuring their wellness checks for volunteers and children:
    • Implementing temperature checks with hand-held thermometers for volunteers
    • Requiring leaders to wear masks
      • If you're concerned with how children might respond to seeing their leaders in masks, you can even hang photos of your staff and volunteers on the door so the kids have a friendly reminder and a sense of normalcy as they walk in.
    • Ask volunteers questions like, “Have you been sick in the past 14 days?” or “Have you been around someone sick recently?”
    • Assigning one leader to manage the check-in and check-out systems to limit the amount of times devices or pens are touched.
    • Having multiple hand-sanitizing stations.
    • Clean and sanitize toys while kids are watching the sermon and write on the door the date and time that toys were cleaned so parents are aware of the frequency of cleanings. Another option to sanitize toys is to separate toys in "clean" and "used" bins.
  • Assign volunteers who can help disinfect classrooms in between services. This is something that requires all of the kids to be out of the classroom and may require service times to be adjusted as well.

4 Ways Leaders Can Address Separation Anxiety After COVID-19

  1. Communicate a narrative of hope, comfort, and truth through the Word of God by assuring them that he is in control of all things. Also, being intentional about discipling parents during this time to equip them to disciple their children from home.
  2. Affirm parents that their children are safe and cared about in order to ease their worries and help give them a sense of peace. The precautions you take will send parents a strong message, so again, be intentional about over-communicating your strategies.
  3. Take a slow and phased-in approach to reopen children’s ministry so kids have time to effectively process and acclimate to the transition.
  4. Pastors can take time to rethink and restructure sermons that lead with a question rather than an answer. This strategy mirrors the way Jesus taught, probing the congregation to work in their hearts with God to find answers and peace, rather than depending on a pastor's sermon.

Advice and Encouragement for Parents

Parents are faced with many challenges during this COVID-19 pandemic and today’s panelists shared encouragement, advice, and hope for parents. A common strategy they mentioned was to establish a consistent routine with your children and remember that as parents, you are graced for this season. Taking time to set daily rhythms and activities for your days helps to create structure and a sense of normalcy for children.

Fostering a safe and nurturing space for children to have an open and honest dialogue about how they feel is very important during these challenging times. We are all wired for connection, and many children may find it difficult to be without their friends, teachers, and extended family members. Though it’s not the same as seeing someone in person, parents can use FaceTime or other video software to help their children connect with their friends and family. Designating a specific time for game nights or family Bible studies can be helpful during this time as well.

Lastly, it’s good for parents to remember that as they are parenting and caring for their children, it’s important to take time to care for themselves and their spouse. They can be encouraged and know that they have everything they need to accomplish what needs to be done in this season. Taking some "me" time will help clear your mind and allow you to be a more patient, loving parent.

The Future of Vacation Bible School

  • Many churches are considering a VBS hybrid, over a number of weeks, where they bring groups of kids in for an opening session and have outdoor games, then send them home with kits to participate in backyard clubs with 3 or 4 families or by themselves.
  • 4 Strategies for Vacation Bible School:

○     Stick to having traditional Vacation Bible School, if it's possible. This might only work for smaller churches.

○     Neighborhood backyard strategy: Mobilizing families in a backyard that way you can have smaller groups and still abide by the rules of local authorities.

○     Find an alternative way to accomplish VBS by spacing it out over time, or postponing it as a back to school bash.

○     At-home virtual Vacation Bible School: Provide virtual learning guides and video resources for families to lead it for their children.

We may not return to the way children's ministry operated in the past, but there's an incredible opportunity for leaders and parents to depend on God more and bond with their children in stronger ways than before. Pray as you consider the best path moving forward for your church, and work with other churches in your community to build on each other's strategy and creativity.

William Vanderbloemen is the CEO of Vanderbloemen, which serves teams with a greater purpose by aligning their people solutions for growth: hiring, compensation, succession and culture. Through its retained executive search and consulting services, Vanderbloemen serves churches, schools, nonprofits, family offices, and Christian businesses in all parts of the United States and internationally. Follow him on Twitter @wvanderbloemen.

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