In my location it is far too early to reopen, but not too early to start thinking about what this will look like in children’s ministry. Certainly there is no certainty and things will change as the days go by. I am also a person who is very able to adapt as long as there is a road map or framework to start from. I find that planning for contingencies while remaining rooted in purpose and values avoids unnecessary scrambling. Here are the four things I have identified that will guide our planning:
A starting set of phases for reopening from your
local, state or federal government.
These will certainly change over time, but right now the few preliminary documents out there tell us something we didn’t know when we began shelter in place: there will be phases of reopening based on group size and gathering type. There is the potential to both ease and tighten restrictions over the months ahead- meaning we need to have a plan that can quickly pivot as needed.
I created a grid with phases of reopening as rows and ministry activities as the columns. Nursery, Sunday school, VBS, offering basket, and chapel singing are potential starting columns for your setting. For each phase, think about what would be possible. Remember, young children are not developmentally able to maintain a measured distance from one another.
Your “Why” and your “How”
I am thankful for my colleague Kathy Pittenger who reminded me of this important principle. Make the decision of what to move online, adapt, or cancel based on your “why.” If your main “why” for VBS is to provide childcare for families who work and you are not able to have VBS in person, then an online option might not be your best use of energy.
Likewise, pull out your values and philosophies statements. Our focus is on creating community, nurturing children’s curiosity and critical thinking, and offering choice. Whenever we change the format of a ministry (from online to in person or vice versa) we make sure that the new format is still rooted in our priorities and best practices.
A Map of Online-Blended-Gathered Faith Formation
I find that it is easy to offer information online, but harder to provide transformative, faith forming experiences. This tool is helpful in creating online faith formation that is both wide and deep. I predict it will be a helpful tool if we end up easing and then re-tightening shelter at home in the months ahead.
Rethink Your Reach
The good news is that many churches are reaching people they never have before with virtual worship and faith formation. The challenging part is that those people will not move from online to in person worship without an invitation and a path. Many may never move from online to in person. As we move toward in person gatherings, let’s not leave our online worshipers behind!
Now is a time to think about a segmented audience for communication during the transition. Below is a sample of how that grid might look. The blue box represents your leaders and potential leaders – the people whose presence you can count on however you gather. The orange boxes are people you are already checking on and reaching out to now as you have noticed they are missing from your online gathering. The green boxes represent the people that will need intentional communication in the transition and beyond to remain part of your community. The yellow squares are those infrequent attenders in any form who are often hard to reach.
Spend some time picturing people in each of these groups and imaging what they might think, feel, need, and want. Plan specific communication to these different groups.
Lastly, I offer these resources that I’ve found online. They go into a great deal of detail about what to consider when reopening. I am sure more will be coming from leadership in the coming days. I hope the above helps you to structure your thinking. A flood of information is likely on its way. Stay well, friends.
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Online Faith Formation with Discipleship Ministries