Did you hear?! We may be able to start gathering again next month! This is what we have been waiting for.
There still a lot of things to think about and consider when looking at the possibility of gathering again in-person. There are restrictions and guidelines that we have to follow. And when we think about kids ministry we have to really think through how we are going to do it. Here are 3 options for gathering in-person in these early stages of reopening:
I have this as option 1 because I think it needs the most consideration. And I mean this for both adult and kids services. Just because we can gather together in-person again doesn't mean that opening your doors is the default answer.
First off, you cannot assume that families are coming back when you open your doors. A church in Utah did a survey of their families and only 33% said, "yes, I will come back right away". As pastors and church leaders, we have a Sunday-at-church mindset. We don't know any different than going to church on a Sunday. Even when on vacation, many pastors will still find a church to attend on a Sunday. The reality is, most people don't think like that. Most people have a Sunday-at-home mindset and they need to have a convincing reason to get to church.
Consider putting out a survey to your church asking what their thoughts are on going to church in each phase and what precaution would they want to see in place.
When you think about what your service would look like after you follow all the government guidelines, put yourself in the minds of the people (especially the Sunday-at-home people) and ask,
"Is this experience worth putting pants on for?"
Attending your church in pajamas while sitting on their couch has become pretty comfortable. When thinking about families with kids ask, "Is this experience worth the struggle of getting my kids out of the house?" And remember that your default answer is yes, but theirs probably isn't.
Consider these three points from Larry Osborne when you are considering moving to in-person gatherings.
After watching Larry's video and you are still not convinced of option 1 there is another option.
Isn't that going to be boring for kids? No. No. No. You are thinking about this backwards. The questions is, Isn't that going to be boring for parents?
The default is to cancel kids ministry and have the kids sit with their parents. You might provide an activity book to keep them "occupied". If you are lucky, the preacher will throw in a Disney reference and try for a 3 minute "kids moment" between the music and the message.
However, It is easier for parents to interact with the kids at the kids level than for the parent to interact with the parents at the parents level. Kids are important! They are just as much part of the church as the parents. We don't want people coming to church just to be occupied, we want them to come to church to engage with the living God. If you are thinking of having adult services and not kids services until further notice, I would suggest doing it the other way around.
I am a big fan of Walt Disney. Disney's inspiration for Disneyland came when Walt would take his girls to the merry-go-round and while he sat on a bench eating peanuts; he dreamed of a place where parents and kids could have fun together. I don't know if you have heard of Disneyland, but Disney's dream was realized. You can create an experience that both kids and parents can enjoy together. Even take a Disney movie for example; they are loved by kids and adults alike.
Collaborate with your kids and/or youth pastor. Get them involved. Even let them take the lead. Create inter-generational services. (if you do them well you may even end up doing them for years to come)
"But Austin, we have people in our church that don't have kids? What about them?"
Don't worry, you can give them an activity book to keep them occupied.
The best tip for inter-generational services is the words you use and how you communicate it: Don't say, "Well since we have to cancel kids ministry we HAVE to meet all together, but don't worry kids, you will get to be back to your service as soon as the restriction lift." Language is key!
Share the vision. Be excited. "I LOVE that we get to do this. I don't know why we haven't done this before and I think we should do this more often. Kids, I am so excited that you are here. Grandparents, I am so excited that you are here. Teenagers, I am so excited you are here. I am so excited that we all get to meet together. We are all part of the body of the church and we are going to have an amazing time all here together."
Jonathan Puddle, a Canadian Pastor and leader, wrote an excellent article on how to run an intergenerational service.
Maybe you want to run a midweek (or extra Sunday) service that is just for parents and kids. You can check out Orange 252 Kids curriculum. You can try a month free and it comes with a family experience (they call FX) for each week of the month. Also, consider doing your typical kids service but have the parents accompany their kids.
Objections from parents? Need some ways to encourage them and sell your vision? Check out these great points
Is your pastor concerned about preaching with kids in the room? Share this blog post with them.
I'm going to talk about Kids services here. If you are wondering about adult services you can head to our BCYD post.
There is still much that is unclear when it comes to guidelines for gathering in-person and things are changing every day. From my understanding, the bottom line we are to reduce the risk of COVID-19 as much as we can with the understanding that mental health is a big priority. Kids interacting with other kids and adults is critical for their mental health.
First know that you should only consider having kids ministry once things like daycares, summer camps and kids programs have started in your community.
Even once these things have started the questions you need to ask is, "With the protocols in place is our kids ministry going to be a positive experience for the kids?"
Ensure that your rollout will be a comprehensive plan that accomplishes the following objectives:
Can kids gather together? Yes. Will kids keep 6 feet away from each other? No.
The idea is to create spaces for kids to have fun and interact with other kids and role models while being responsible to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in every way you can.
Should you sit in a tight circle with everyone holding hand while you share a Bible story? Probably not. Can you do your best to space kids further apart and share the story from a distance? That would be better.
First off, assess your room size. How many kids can you comfortably have with them staying 6 feet apart? I would suggest no more than 8 preschoolers or 15 elementary at a time and increase the ratio of volunteer per kids to help manage the safety guidelines.
Next, take a look at the guidelines for daycares and schools from the province of BC:
Yes, these guidelines cannot be enforced 100% but the goal is to do your best. If you feel like you are unable to follow these guidelines most of the time, then you are not ready to have kids ministry quite yet.
Something to consider the possibility of meeting outside. This typically gives more space and will help reduce the spread.
Kids walking into a room with all the volunteers wearing face masks can be scary. Get "fun" face masks for your volunteers. Use markers, iron-on images or buys some like these.
Be open and honest about how you will conduct your programs. Some parents might not be as comfortable as others.
Now, what will your program look like?
Talk to your Lead Pastor about keep your services no more than 1 hour. And keep to the agreed-upon end time.
Keep having lesson videos to post online and use for the kids that are coming in person. You cannot neglect the families that are not in your service but you don't want to burn out yourself and volunteers buy producing a difference online lesson and in-person lesson.
One thing that you can't do without is activities that get the "wiggles" out of the kids. Here are some ideas to get kids moving.
Following the guidelines (especially distancing) can be even harder when leading preschoolers, however, try to follow the same principle of doing the best you can. Set kids further apart and watch a video lesson. Play games like Simon says. Do crafts that you don't need to share supplies.
Use "leap pads" to help kids travel from one location to another in lieu of a hand holding chain or a rope. (leap pads can be as simple as pieces of paper that you put in a path that kids have to jump from one to another. Think the "Floor is Lava game"
A phenomenal preschool video-based curriculum for preschoolers is Life.Church's Bible App for Kids Curriculum. It is free and comes with all the downloads you need. The lesson video, group questions and activity, service outline and more.
We need to shift our thinking from "how we can modify what we used to do to fit the current guidelines" to "how can we totally reimagine doing ministry."
You could always buy giant hamster balls for all the kids in your ministry.