How will the continuing COVID-19 pandemic affect children’s ministry in the months ahead? How should we prepare now?
There’s still a lot we don’t know. But we certainly know much more than we did when the pandemic first appeared. In those early days, fear paralyzed many churches and children’s ministries. Some churches shut their doors and scrambled to broadcast their Sunday services online, while abandoning children’s ministries entirely.
When summer came last year, many churches decided to offer nothing to the children in their communities, fearing the worst from the lingering pandemic. But other churches found creative ways to offer summer VBS experiences. Some gathered in-person at the church, taking extra safety measures with social distancing, masks, and increased sanitation. Others created outdoor VBS experiences, some with drive-through options. Other churches provided their VBS online, and delivered hands-on packets for kids to use at home during the sessions. Churches using Group’s highly interactive online VBS adaptations discovered that even those kids who had experienced screen fatigue from the school year raved about their VBS experience.
So, after the past year, what can we expect this year? Here are some emerging trends to watch.
7 TRENDS TO WATCH
- URGENT NEED. Children’s ministry is more important now than ever. Though we hear a lot about our senior citizens right now, our children are silently suffering in ways we did not imagine a couple of years ago. After months of closed schools and stay-at-home orders, today’s kids feel unprecedented mental and spiritual suffocation. They feel isolated, abandoned, and hopeless. They desperately need the hope and love that is found in Jesus and his people.
- HIGH DEMAND. Though some churches have lost a focus on children since COVID, families with children have felt a heightened desire for support from their churches. Many parents have stepped up to bolster their spiritual guidance for their kids, but they’re exhausted. They want help. They want the quality, energetic, child-friendly, Jesus-centered touch that a good children’s ministry brings.
- IN-PERSON EXPERIENCE. Parents, and society in general, are showing a growing acceptance—and demand—for in-person learning for children. Meanwhile the deficits of confining children are mounting. Everyone from psychologists to the Centers for Disease Control confirm that in-person learning is much better for children, and it can be conducted safely. So, it’s time for Sunday schools and vacation Bible schools to do what’s best for kids, while following recommended safety protocols.
- KIDS’ SAFETY. Even as the vaccines are rolling out, health officials advise that the population needs to continue to take precautions. For many months to come, we can expect to see mask-wearing, social distancing, and frequent hand-washing. Even though last year some people predicted that children will never comply with these safety measures, kids generally adapted very well. In fact, children often complied better than many adults. So, prepared children’s ministries will stock hand cleaner and kid-sized masks, and will adapt activities to enhance social distancing.
- FASTER RETURN. The kids will come back to your children’s ministries. And they’ll return faster than the adults will return to church services. Researchers report that between 25 and 50 percent of former church-going adults will not return after the pandemic passes. Over the past year they’ve formed different weekend habits that will become indelible. But as children return to school and re-connect with their friends and teachers, they will also yearn to return to your children’s ministries. And their parents will expect churches to follow the example of the local schools. As they find comfort in sending their kids to school, they will do likewise with church.
- GROWING NUMBERS. Since the beginning of the pandemic, some churches have closed altogether. Some have curtailed their children’s ministries. And some will continue to resist restoring critical programs, such as children’s ministry. This will cause those churches’ families to look elsewhere for the kids’ best interests. They’ll migrate to the churches that are ready to meet their kids’ needs. This will lead to growing participation at the churches that open their doors. So, a proactive church that offers VBS every year may see increased attendance this summer if other churches in the community hold back.
- UN-CROWDING. The COVID quarantine mentality has elevated the desire and need for human interaction, fellowship, and participation. Passively sitting and watching others has lost its patina. And wedging into a crowd to passively watch the person at the microphone has really lost favor during these contagious times. Plus, kids today want to be noticed, named, and known, according to research. If you’re primarily a spectator show, expect steady decline. Churches and children’s ministries that rely on stage performances will weaken. Hands-on, participatory experiences will reign, along with breaking crowds into smaller relational groups. Even children’s ministries that continue to offer online sessions will need to incorporate active, participatory, relational, hands-on elements.
We’re at the beginning of a new era for children’s ministry. And a new era for the church at large. It may just be that children’s ministry will lead the way for how the church will look in the days ahead. The churches that prioritize effective children’s ministries will be the first to regain families and overall vitality.