“Stephanie, it’s September. I thought I’d be able to go back to normal programming for our church kids. But with this darn pandemic, I can’t. No one wants it…so now what do I do?” A real lament from a children’s director in the Midwest.
It’s 2020, the year that won’t seem to end. Six months ago, I thought, “Surely we’ll be back to ‘normal’ by September.” Yet, here we are trying to figure out just how long we’ll have to keep pivoting on weekly children’s and youth ministry programming. Some families want it all back to normal NOW while other families are feeling the overwhelming sense of back-to-school safety concerns. So, what’s a children’s or youth ministry leader to do?
This is what I see trending around the country: A majority of families aren’t quite ready to return to in-person church yet. Volunteers are also cautious and waiting to see what happens. Safety practices for combating the pandemic are here to stay for a bit. Smart churches are recognizing that virtual offerings and congregants are here to stay.
Here’s a plan that might check all the boxes: Rather than pile on (for now) the added stress of all the programming you had pre-Covid, how about you dial down the pressure at least through the end of the year? “But Stephanie, we still want to gather, build relationships, connect? What about all the holiday traditions our church enjoys so much?”
I get it and I think we can check all the necessary-for-now boxes by offering several well-done special event gatherings, one or two a month. Offer a little less, yet what your ministry does do, make it spectacular. Rather than trying to recruit weekly volunteers who just aren’t ready to come back yet, how about you cross-pollinate between ministries to host a handful of really well-done, engaging gatherings? All Covid-safe, of course!
Here are a few major event ideas for children’s and youth ministry:
Give it an apple theme. Set up stations around the church parking lot with make-your-own backpack tags, create-a-craft for the teacher, the pastor praying for each backpack, fried apple pies, apple tossing for prizes, etc.
Reverse Trunk or Treat
1) Families are assigned a parking space and stay at their cars.
2) Parking spaces are every other space.
3) Everyone’s masked because they’re dressed up!
4) The youth ministry goes up and down the aisles (in costume, masks, and small groups for safety) passing out candy, doing skits, reading stories, juggling, unicycling, skateboard tricks, balloon animals, dog tricks, etc.
5) Show “The Great Pumpkin.”
6) A missional component is added by collecting food for Thanksgiving baskets, coats/gloves/hats for winter, etc.
7) Santa/Elf (something Christmassy) comes around with invites to your December event.
Family Thanksgiving Basket Food/Photo Scavenger Hunt
Families participate together safely in their own cars. Everyone jumps on a Zoom at the designated time, where they’re given the scavenger hunt list for food items that will go in Thanksgiving baskets. Families jump in the car and go! Canned items = 5 points, boxed items = 10, pies = 50, turkeys/hams = 100 points! PLUS, you have each family take fun pictures at certain points or in certain poses. Families are given a set time, everyone comes back to the Zoom, uploads the pictures to the host, counts their points up, a winner is declared, and the host shows the pictures to one and all. Fun, right?
Annual Nativity Pageant
There’s one of two ways you can go to pull off this holiday favorite event, but keep it safely distanced: 1) An outdoor drive-by Nativity pageant or 2) A recorded pageant. This idea could check several boxes by assigning families a portion of the story to act out, tell, and record. They send in their clips and you edit them together. Invite everyone to the world premiere of the recording; maybe the youth could deliver cookies/hot chocolate packets to members’ homes and everyone enjoys it all together by Zoom.
A closing thought: our holiday traditions are important and may mean more than they ever have before. So, my advice is to look for the ways to honor the traditions; there’s always a version to keep everyone safe. It just takes a little determination. I have faith in you.
Could you use a non-anxious presence in your life to discuss the major events for your children’s or youth ministry? You can sign up for a free 30 minute consultation to discuss events for your ministry here.
Stephanie Caro has been involved in ministry to children, youth, and adults in the local church (both large and small) for a long, long time (35+ years). Her humorous, straightforward style keeps her busy presenting and coaching at conferences, training events, camps, mission trips, retreats, churches, etc. She is now Senior Consultant for Ministry Architects, which allows her to help churches assess, vision, and formulate their ministry game plans.