Coronavirus shut down the physical children’s and youth ministries of churches overnight. While marked by loss God has blessed many families, churches, and organisations throughout the country with new opportunities. In this blog post I aim to give an outline of what this ministry has looked like, how God has blessed this important area of church life and some lessons from lockdown that the church needs to consider as we restart our physical ministries.
Children’s and Youth Ministry in Lockdown
During lockdown there has been a mixed picture in terms of levels of engagement with parents and families. From my own discussions with other children’s and youth workers there have been varying levels of engagement and even disengagement. Parents and carers have had so much to juggle at home – online schooling, working from home, and all the other ‘normal’ things that need to happen in family life. By Sunday morning everyone is exhausted and logging onto an online service has just been too much for some families. Zoom fatigue is real, there is only so much video conferencing a person can take! Things don’t look as if they will change for a while, online church may be here for a while longer.
Coronavirus has caused much loss and bereavement. Our churches may have lost faithful members of our congregations, families may have lost close relatives and friends. The normal processes of grieving have been lost, we cannot physically comfort those who are mourning, and church services that help to comfort the bereaved are not possible. There is the real possibility that families are navigating bereavement in a set of circumstances that compound the grief they feel. As we start to reopen our buildings it is worthwhile reflecting upon how we can support our families, children and young people who are grieving the loss of relatives and friends.
Our children and young people have also lost all their normal structure and milestones. Young people who had been working hard for their A-levels and GCSEs suddenly had their exams taken away. Those about to start their GCSEs or A-levels may not be able to take all the subjects they had planned to study. Primary school children who had been working hard for their SATs and other assessments had those tests taken away. While these tests can be stressful, they are a right of passage for children. The rewards for their hard work were taken away too such as, the residential trips, the parties, the sports days, and all the other end of school year activities. Our children and young people have also had all their usual activities cancelled such as sports, holidays, camps, church getaways, church conventions, Sunday schools, and youth groups. These are huge losses for them, the markers and milestones of life were whipped away from them in an instant. Moreover, they don’t even know if they can look forward to anything in the future as everything is being postponed or cancelled.
While there has been loss, confusion, and anxiety God has been faithful. God has continued to grow His church and kingdom. He has inspired churches to think of new ways to minister to families, children, and young people. Individuals and organisations have worked hard to provide Biblically sound resources to help churches and families to teach children and young people to know and trust their Heavenly Father. There have been online family Bible and worship times been livestreamed for free. Zoom and virtual Sunday schools have been formed and packs of resources have been delivered to families. God has equipped his people with energy, ideas, and stamina to share the gospel with families in their homes. I am truly thankful for those who made these resources available for the families in our churches. God is so good. Many children and young people will walk away from this time of lockdown having spent more time reading God’s word, glorifying Him and enjoying Him!
Godly Lessons from Lockdown
The lockdown has brought church, Sunday school, and youth group into the home for perhaps the first time in many families. Parents are now seeing and hearing what their children are being taught when they go to their groups during Sunday services. Children are seeing their parents worship during online services. Lockdown has highlighted that the religious upbringing of children is the responsibility of parents and carers. Moses on several occasions instructed fathers to teach their children about what they were doing and why. (Exodus 12:26-27 and 13:8) Likewise, Paul instructs the Ephesians ‘Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.’ (Ephesians 6:4) The lockdown has perhaps reminded those leading children’s and youth ministry that our programmes shouldn’t interfere or undervalue the work of parents and carers in the home. Churches should partner and support our parents and carers as they bring their children to know and grow in Christ.
Another lesson that God has taught me in lockdown is simplicity. It is God building and growing his church – do we need to complicate it with lots of activities and programmes? This is not an argument to end all groups but a plea to seek God’s direction when we are thinking of restarting or even starting new activities. Another element of this lesson is that you don’t have to have the flashy and super attractive programme of activities. The simplest video or online group with the technology going wrong has grown God’s kingdom. God can use our shaky videos and terrible microphones for His glory. During lockdown children and young people have valued the personal contact with their leaders and friends. It’s those personal relationships that money can’t buy that God has worked through. God asks us to teach his Word to our children and young people, He will do the rest.
The ‘New Normal’?
So, what should children’s and youth ministry look like in the ‘new normal’?
Aside from the practical differences there are things we have gained during the lockdown which I believe are worth keeping. Reopening presents all churches with a blank canvas and a new start. It gives us an opportunity to pray and ask what God’s will is for the children, youth, and families in our churches. Is God asking you to start up the same programmes or is he asking the church to start something new and different? The current guidance for churches look like they will be here to stay for a while. It may be frustrating that we can’t do things as we have always done them – this is a great opportunity to teach our children and young people to seek God’s guidance in all we do and that ultimately our joy is found in Him alone.
The lockdown has highlighted the importance of the church equipping and supporting parents and carers as they raise their children to trust Christ. Children’s and youth ministry involves the whole church. Throughout the Bible there are many examples where children are very much involved and included in the covenantal community. Joel in his call for Israel to repent included children and infants to assemble as part of a covenantal people before their God:
“Blow the trumpet in Zion;
consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
gather the people.
Consecrate the congregation;
assemble the elders;
gather the children,
even nursing infants.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
and the bride her chamber.”
Joel 2:15-16 (ESV)
This is not saying that every church member should be working with children and young people. The lockdown has rightly reminded us that the spiritual upbringing of children is the responsibility of parents and carers. They are not, however, asked to do it on their own but as part of a covenantal community of believers. As one of the songs by Awesome Cutlery reminds us “We are the Church, we’re family.” I pray that as we go back into our church buildings that we would become the spiritual aunts, uncles, grandads, and grandmas of our younger members.
To do this, we need to ensure that we are discipling, equipping, and training parents and carers to raise their children and young people to trust Christ. This comes from first ensuring that the Word is allowed to do its work – through the preaching and teaching of the Word. We as a church need to ensure the Word is at the centre of all we do. There is also the need for us corporately and individually to come before God on our knees in prayer. Encouraging, building up, and discipling parents will help them as they raise their children to know Christ. If they are not being nourished and fed spiritually, they cannot fully serve their children as God intended.
It appears that for many churches, separate children’s and youth ministry will be difficult for the foreseeable future and services will have to be ‘All-Aged’. For many those words will either fill you with a sense of fear or dread. When I write ‘All-Aged’ I do not mean those services that become so child focused they exclude everyone else. Actually, that’s counterproductive for everyone, including the children. As my minister says ‘there is no Junior Holy Spirit’, God works in the hearts of children in adult services. As a child of a local preacher I do remember that I wasn’t always thrilled to attend the ‘adult’ service but looking back as an adult I can see how God used those services to warm my heart to Him. So let’s not water down our services but include some elements which help children and young people to engage. This could be as simple as having a family come and do the Bible reading together or having some questions at the end for families to discuss. Let’s be prepared for fidgeting and the occasional noises – God is using even those moments to grow his Church.
Let’s also as a church help equip and train parents and carers to share and teach their children to trust Christ in their homes. This will look different for every family and we should encourage parents and carers to do what is right for their families as they know their children best. Some families may want some more training and support to start studying the Bible together. Others may want to know how to teach their children in those everyday moments like meal times, school walks, in the car, and at bedtime. Let’s equip our parents and carers to share the difference Jesus makes to all aspects of their lives both at work and at home. There are so many wonderful resources to share with our families such as music, books, videos, and other resources to help them teach their children to trust Christ. Can we as churches find creative ways to share them such as using Pinterest, Facebook Groups, Whats App, Google Drives, and other Apps? Could there be packs for families to borrow to try out materials and resources?
Most importantly as a church let’s commit to a period of prayer and fasting. Let’s thank God for all he has done in the lives of our families during lockdown and seek His will in our next steps.
Further Reading and Resources
- Ed Drew, ‘For Church Leaders: Engaging children and young people in online church’ – https://faithinkids.org/blog/app/archive/2020-07/title/for-church-leaders-engaging-children-and-young-people-in-online-church
- Amy Smith, ‘Saturate their Day’ – https://faithinkids.org/blog/app/archive/2020-07/title/saturate-their-day
- Resources from ‘Faith in Kids’ including materials for Sunday school, an online holiday club, toddler groups, and leader training – https://faithinkids.org/resources
- Faith in Kids Podcast for Families – https://www.buzzsprout.com/877489
- Faith in Parent’s Podcast – https://www.buzzsprout.com/237067
- Tim Gough’s Youth Worker Hacks Blog – https://youthworkhacks.com/blog/
- Centre for Parent/Youth Understanding – https://cpyu.org/
- Excellent children’s and youth books, music, and materials can be found on https://www.10ofthose.com/uk/products/children-youth and https://www.thegoodbook.co.uk/children/ or https://www.thegoodbook.co.uk/youth/