By Caleb Mynatt
When the COVID-19 pandemic sent the world into lockdown, it was an unprecedented and often chaotic transition for churches to make. And while figuring out the logistics of virtual business meetings and livestreaming worship services certainly wasn’t easy, there is one group of church leaders that perhaps had the toughest transition of them all: children’s ministers.
Just as schoolteachers were forced to learn how to teach and engage with children online, so too were children’s ministers. Weeks, if not months, of planning went by the wayside as children’s ministers had to rapidly rethink their approach to ministry. Many, if not all, of the members of the CBF Children’s Ministry Network found themselves grasping at straws trying to figure out how to bring church to children through a computer.
“We pretty quickly realized that all of us, pastors everywhere, had no idea what to do for ministry and church a year ago,” explained Kristen Koger, president of CBF’s Children’s Ministry Network and pastor for children and families at First Baptist Church of Decatur GA. “So, at the very beginning, we simply had a weekly call on Zoom for anyone who wanted to come and share their ideas and experiences.”
The CBF Children’s Ministry Network, which is now approaching 700 members on Facebook, had been around for more than a decade before the pandemic hit in March 2020. The group was primarily a hub for sharing resources and lesson plans. But after the pandemic hit, it became a lifeline for many children’s ministers looking for advice and answers. No one knows this better than Koger, who had assumed leadership of the network only weeks before the lockdown began.
“We were all exhausted and burned out and overwhelmed,” Koger said. “To be able to have a group of people that you can just throw out ideas and have access to a ton of information was really the main factor in all of us getting through the pandemic.”
Collaboration emerged as the ultimate tool at the beginning of the pandemic, and it initially produced extremely positive results. Using the creative minds available in the group, the children’s ministers were able to share virtual lesson plans, fun activities and games and crafts that could be done using common household items. Some were even able to collaboratively plan virtual Vacation Bible School. But once it became clear that the pandemic would last longer than a couple of months, the group again had to rethink how they would do children’s ministry.
“We realized we couldn’t keep up the pace at which we were working when the pandemic started,” Koger noted. “There were multiple periods of readjustment as we realized this situation was going to be with us awhile.”
When the novelty of Zoom wore off and kids began to disengage as the pandemic continued, children’s ministers were once again forced to find other ways to do their jobs. So, for many of them, they decided to bring children’s ministry to kids and families in their homes. From curbside drop-offs of supplies, to outdoor picnics in front yards, to socially-distanced playdates in parks, members of the group found ways to engage with their children in safe ways.
This strategy, according to Koger, was one of the silver linings of the pandemic for her and for many others who did the same things. By changing the dynamic and having the ministers go to the family homes, the nature of the relationship changed. Most found their relationships with the kids to whom they ministered strengthened with the hope that that relationship would continue as things returned to normal.
“I think, in some ways, the pandemic made our relationships change in a positive way because of the setting,” Koger said. “We got to be with the kids and their families on their turf where they’re more comfortable. We got an insight into families that we don’t typically get to have because they typically come to us. It’s something I won’t take for granted.”
As the country reopens, members of the Children’s Ministry Network are rejoicing that things can start to return to normal. But with such varied reopening standards based on different state ordinances, local jurisdiction and decisions made by churches, the group now has an entirely different situation to navigate. Still, strengthened by their struggles during the pandemic, the group is stronger than ever. And, with its potential unlocked during the pandemic, it’s likely to become more helpful than ever before.
“It’s a very generous group of people who are willing to share resources and ideas with one another and support each other,” said Koger. “We’re happy to let people in. We want it to be a place that anyone feels welcome to join.”
If you would like to join the Children’s Ministry Network on Facebook, click here.