As churches navigate COVID realities and fears, what’s happened to the kids who, before, experienced God’s love through various church ministries?
In the general population, children have become a central focus for adapting to the new realities of coronavirus time. Most agree that, somehow, children must be allowed to continue their learning and nurturing in the school year. Schools need to be adapted for safety, or effective on-line learning systems need to be created, or something. But it’s simply not an option to ignore the kids during the pandemic.
But, for many churches, that priority on kids has not been embraced with similar passion. In those churches, ministries with children and youth have been de-emphasized or completely cancelled. Other things have commanded the attention of many church leaders. Surveys from The Billy Graham Center and Leadership Network asked pastors and leaders to name their top ministry priorities. Youth/children/family ministries ranked at the bottom of their priorities. What was the top priority? The weekend worship service.
Now, as more churches plan for returning to in-person church activities, the worship service is again the main concern. However, a recent Lifeway poll found that the majority (57 percent) of churches do not have any estimate of when they’ll resume children’s ministry activities.
Downplaying children and youth does not bode well for the American church. Increasingly, pastors predict their church attendance will not return to pre-COVID levels, according to Barna Research. And if churches fail to connect well with families with children, these parents may stay away, permanently.
Fortunately, some churches recognize the crucial importance of children’s ministry, especially during COVID times. For example, this summer many churches found ways to offer vacation Bible school. With can-do determination, they practiced social distancing, or moved their programs outdoors, or created drive-through VBS experiences, or adapted to smaller groupings in backyards, or offered online at-home VBS programming. These churches maintained close connections with their families and generated lots of heartwarming success stories.
For example, a Minnesota mom said, “We are so thankful for the relevant Bible points and how this VBS (Group’s Rocky Railway VBS) rejuvenated and refocused our families during the pandemic. Jesus’ power is pulling us through six hard months.”
Those families will likely stay engaged in the months ahead as their churches pay good attention to children. For Sunday school and other ministries, this may require adaptations, sensible safety precautions, different program settings, and continuing support for at-home interaction.
This unique time presents a good opportunity for churches to re-think how to include and involve children in all facets of church life, including the main worship services. So far, most churches have shown reluctance to make kid-friendly adaptations. According to Group Publishing research, most churches aren’t incorporating elements such as brief kids’ messages or kids’ music in main worship.
It’s time to show a Jesus-style welcome and inclusion of children. Especially now, as children and their families feel disoriented and isolated during the pandemic. More than ever, they need the hope and love that our kid-friendly Lord has to offer.