How the COVID Shutdown Changed our Church
Sundays during the pandemic shutdown were dramatically different. Children’s ministry leaders were trying to figure out how to minister to kids without being in the room. Parents truly realized their role as spiritual leaders when they couldn’t drop kids off in a classroom. We all quickly began to see what had worked in our discipleship of families and what had not been working.
I’ve served in family ministry for over twenty years. Returning from the pandemic shutdown caused me to ask some challenging questions. What if the industry of family ministry has gotten so good at providing kid and youth experiences that we have hurt the church as a whole? That thought hit me when I heard friends saying their churches would not reopen if kids ministry would not reopen. Churches were stuck because the model we had always depended on had to change, even if it was temporary.
Most churches, whether megachurches, church plants, established churches, or revitalizing churches, do the same model of ministry. We have experiences for kids. We have experiences for students. We have service and classes for adults. Functionally, that model has served us pretty well in the church for a long time. For the past few generations we have siloed ministry, we have entertained, and we have spent millions of dollars trying to out-do the world and serve kids’ preferences. Yet research tells us that 70% of students eventually walk away from the church.
What if this post-pandemic season was an opportunity to try something different?
When our church returned to meeting in person, God brought about some changes that none of us saw coming. We didn’t start kids ministry right away. We, like all of you, were navigating what our congregation was ready for and we needed time to re-staff our volunteer teams.
As we planned, we realized we had a decision to make. Kids were going to be in our worship services. We needed to decide what that experience looked like for them. I challenged our staff to create a worship experience that kids and teens didn’t just survive, but rather one in which they could engage in worship.
Our staff jumped on board. We completely recreated our worship service. We moved most of the worship to the end to accommodate when kids start to get wiggly. We included a “Family Minute” in the middle of the sermon. This portion involved a game or an object lesson that illustrated the sermon, but gave kids (and adults) a brain break. We sang songs that kids and teens knew and also became intentional about teaching kids songs the adults knew. We created sermon notes that went right along with the sermon for kids to draw on and fill in blanks.
We made these changes anticipating them to be short term. Our church responded so well. Our kids engaged. Our teenagers were actively involved. Our adults welcomed them and enjoyed having all generations together.
We loved it so much that even when we restarted groups for kids ministry we changed our structure so that they could still be in the worship service. We kept the changes we made.
Our worship pastor built more on this idea. He restarted choir, but he started it with students and young adults. Once every few weeks our worship services are led with thirty young people leading in worship. Their energy has been contagious and has had an incredibly positive impact on our church.
These changes may sound like dramatic changes for you. They may not fit your church. I’m not suggesting this is the right solution for every church. But it has been for us. We are genuinely experiencing multi-generational worship week in and week out. It is a beautiful thing.
The big picture question for you to consider is: how is your church going to function because of what you learned during this pandemic? This season has been extremely challenging, but it has also opened up new opportunities to minister to families. We have the chance to reset our philosophies and our methods. Take time to pause, evaluate, and pray about what God wants to do in this season in your families and through your church.