In the spirit of collaboration and modeling vulnerability, I am offering you a glimpse of the first iteration of our plan, designed in the shape of a teeter totter, able to pivot smoothly between gathered and online as needed. Here are the steps we took to get to our first iteration from which we will learn, adapt, and grow.
FYI, I’m part of two upcoming planning webinars that will delve deeper into planning in these unpredictable times:
- Faithful Planning with Virginia Theological Seminary
- Re-imagining Faith Formation with the Children’s Initiative of the Michigan Annual Conference of the UMC).
Remember your why. While just about everything has changed over the last few months, your ministry purpose has not. There are many ways to say it, but our purpose has always been to nurture disciples who know, love and serve God and in so doing transform our hearts, minds, and communities. I like to say, nurture people who imagine and participate in God’s purpose for all creation.
For us, this meant reviewing our ministry purpose, mission, and values that we articulated over the last two years. We keep these in mind in all of our planning.
Listen. Listen to your families. Listen to other Christian educators. Listen to the research. Listening will help you name the shifts and assumptions that will guide your ministry forward.
Tip: Make a running google doc of emails, conversations, and other communications with parents. Reading back over the responses helps to identify commonalities in what parents are thinking, feeling, and doing. For research, I recommend being curious about these aspects of ministry.
Identify the safety guidelines for in person gatherings in a COVID-19 world. These come from your denomination, state and federal government, and your local church task force. They inform what you will be able to do safely in person.
The gathered side of ministry is primarily a technical challenge rather than an adaptive one. Expect that planning in person events will take extra time as you think through all the nitty gritty safety details: entry and exit, sanitation, protocols, etc.
Design the first iteration of innovative online and/or gathered ministry informed by step 2. Be curious, be adaptive, engage a start-up mindset.
We identified 2 pages of questions that we need to answer as we plan. Will parents feel safe bringing kids to church? Is it possible to engage tweens online? We are making some research based assumptions about what might work for fall: shifting from grade levels to family ministry so that parents and volunteers feel safer, shifting from teaching information to teaching faith practices, from larger groups to smaller groups, and from year long lesson planning to month long modules. I’ll let you in on a little secret – some of these were shifts we were already making because research tells us that family is the primary influence on a child’s faith.
Do small experiments to test your design and assumptions. Pay attention to what works. Be vulnerable and courageous as some things fail. Pay attention to why something didn’t work. Learn and grow from that. Listen again to your children and families.
A Glimpse of Fall:
So, what are we doing in July? Two things – both of which have been done before:
- We’ve created a Children and Family Ministry Catalog with online, asynchronous (or at your own pace), and hybrid online and asynchronous options. I did a quick screencast video to share with parents.
- We are building out and beta testing an online learning community platform as a digital space where church families can connect, class information and materials will be housed, and where we will curate playlists of resources for parents. Vibrant Faith Catalyst has a clear cut list of technology you will need to do online ministry well that begins on page 9 of this document. If you aren’t yet a member of Catalyst, I recommend joining for two reasons: you’ll be connected with other ministry leaders from around the country and you will see a real live example of a learning community that exists entirely online.
Our July and August ministry will help us test our questions and assumptions as we fine tune our fall plans. I’d love to hear your fall plans. Drop a note in the comments.
Grace and peace,