Friday, April 17, 2020

Meeting the Children's Ministry Challenge

                                   -Stephanie Burley

One of the most influential ministries of any lively church is its children's ministry.  Countless stories have been written detailing the impact of a praying Sunday School teacher, a concerned bus captain, a passionate kids' club director, or some other caring individual who was willing to give of themselves to touch young lives. 

An important part of any children's ministry is its ability to connect personally with the most vulnerable: the children.  Today we are faced with a new challenge.  Without any warning or time to plan, most churches find themselves disconnected from the children they usually serve.  Social distancing hasn't just taken a week from us.  For most it has been four weeks and counting.  We aren't sure what the future holds.  Many are fearful that summer vacation Bible schools will be held virtually or not at all.  With the uncertainty comes frustration and confusion. What next?

Disadvantaged children from your church's bus ministry may be the most at risk of all during this time.  Child advocacy services are not able to be as involved in their assigned cases during a quarantine.  Parents who are already struggling with drugs and/or alcohol, or are prone to domestic abuse may have an escalation in negative behaviors, leaving children who find church and school to be their "safe place" feeling anxious and alone.

On the other hand, there are children who find themselves in a different set of circumstances.  They may come from a middle class family and have no obvious material or emotional needs.    However, they too have unique disappointments and fears.  Some have watched their parents be laid off from work and have sensed tension in the home due to impending financial pressures.  Some are experiencing difficulty with transitioning from the classroom and not having the teacher as accessible and able to meet their needs.  On and on the list could go, as uncertainty looms.

We know that God is able to give us direction in meeting the needs of the children in our communities and in our churches.  And it isn't really a matter of  "if" we should, rather "how" we will respond when our usual methods are unavailable.  

If you're struggling to decide how to approach this challenge, ask yourself this question - "What message do I need to convey to the children?"  I believe there are three important facts we need to share:

  • God loves you and He is in control.   
  • I am here for you and have not forgotten you.
  • Life will not be like this forever.  
Allison, a 6th grader in Ohio, has received a special envelope in the mail every Friday for the last month.  Her Sunday School teacher has included a handwritten letter and a copy of that week's Sunday School leaflet.  I'm guessing that all the other children in Allison's SS class have received the same communication.  
A Children's Minister's wife in Indiana has been delivering goody bags to the children in the church as a way to connect with them on a personal level.
A Jr. Worship co-teacher, also in Indiana, is using Zoom to visit individually with the children who would normally be in her Sunday services.
Joana Stratton, Children's Ministries Director at Hobe Sound Bible Church, shares that on the Saturday before Easter, they hosted a drive through Easter Egg Hunt for the children.  Additionally, they have created an easily accessible You Tube channel.  Several missionary families join online, and some of the missionary children were able to give a greeting during a recent video!  Another member of the team put together "smile bags" for the children to let them know they are missed, and an online talent show is in the works.  

Whether large or small, each church has a tremendous opportunity to minister to children.  Rather than  allowing this time to pass without any real connection, consider looking over the list of names of the children who are on your church's attendance roster.  Ask God to direct you to the specific need of each home.  Don't be afraid to branch out and try something new.  And don't be afraid to adjust if that new thing doesn't fill the need.  One children's worker attempted a Zoom meeting with her group, and it was challenging.  There were more effective ways for her to connect, and it was beneficial for her to recognize that and change course.  

Decades from now, our church's children will remember these days as defining moments in their lives.  Be bold, be engaged, and be a part of the new thing God is doing!

If you or your church is providing an alternative ministry to children during this time of social distancing, would you take a moment to share in the comments?  Your idea may be a blessing to someone who is looking for an outreach opportunity.
Children's ministry is ministering to a person at the most critical time in their life.                  -Dale Hudson

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