On one hand, “Geez, it’s been so long since we did Easter.” But on the other hand, “How is it already almost Easter?!” You know what I mean? It goes without saying that 2020 was crazy. In 2020, I was determined that we would still do Easter, but all my Easter traditions went out the window. The virtual activity pages were uploaded, the kid’s message was delivered, but the Easter I had planned and hoped for never happened.
This is a new year, though. It’s 2021, and 2021 is not Groundhog Day. We are not doomed to repeat 2020 until we get it right. But we will get it right. This time, whether your church is online or in person, hybrid, outdoors, or on Zoom, you can get it right. Not just because I believe in you (and I DO believe in you!), but because I’m here to help. Here’s the first thing you need to know:
This year’s word is “re-engagement.”
The scariest thing about being both a kids pastor and a kids and youth ministry consultant right now is seeing the number of churches who are content to move forward courting new visitors while leaving hesitant, concerned, or disengaged 2019 church members behind. Right now, so many churches are facing lower numbers than they’ve seen in years. Visitors might still be checking out our churches, but we are not starting from a base of nothing here. Most of us are not church plants. We have whole directories full of people– our people. We are SHEPHERDS. God entrusted these people to us. And, truly, I believe that we can love our dormant saints and our excited first-time visitors at the same time. But we have to be intentional.
So how do we do it? How can we make “re-engagement” our word for Easter 2021 while being strategic about connecting with children, youth, and families both old and new? Here are some first steps:
Step 1: Have an MIA plan.
Smaller churches may have the upper hand here, but we larger churches cannot use our size as an excuse to not know who’s missing. We need to be connecting with first time visitors in compelling ways. That’s understood. But sometimes we don’t do as well connecting with families we simply haven’t seen in a while. In the midst of this pandemic, though, it has never been more important to get really good at this. Many of our families have been gone for almost a year– they haven’t engaged with our newsletters or social media posts. They haven’t come to our outdoor or indoor services. They’re just gone. Though many of them would still call our churches “home,” they’re making new habits, new Sunday rhythms, that no longer include “church” whether online or in-person. And that’s a problem.
So, run that report for the last year (I went back to August 2019), or dust off those old attendance sheets, and get to work. Who have you not seen in a few weeks? A few months? A year? Make a plan to connect with them– Send them a card, give them a call, or send them a little gift. Whatever your budget or your team (or lack thereof), find a way to connect with these families. And when you do, use it to invite them back and build momentum.
Step 2: Build momentum.
We have just under two months until Easter. That’s enough time to interest potential guests, reach out to missing families, and keep directing them, again and again, to Easter. Here’s an example:
● Use February to re-engage families you haven’t seen in a while by connecting with them and inviting them back to a special Sunday in March. (It can be any Sunday, and we’re calling ours a “Sunday Fun Day!” because we are taking back the phrase before families go back to the lake.)
● Make this a fun, themed Sunday, where you pull out all the stops and make sure kids have a really fun day in church and families feel really welcomed.
● Meanwhile, on Social Media, be posting constantly about this upcoming fun Sunday, any safety precautions your church is taking, and all the fun things families can expect. Remember, this can be in-person or online! (I use a free website called Canva for all of my graphics if you’d like to really make these posts pop.)
● Finally, on this fun Sunday, give handouts inviting people back for Easter services and events. (I usually do brightly colored quarter sheet pages with our logo, service/event times, and minimal other copy reserved for anything especially fun!)
● Also on this day, shift all social media to EASTER, EASTER, EASTER. If you were able to take photos at your Sunday Fun Day event, use them to help advertise for Easter. (People like real photos better than generic graphics and much, much better than stock photos, bonus if the photos highlight some of the safety precautions your church is taking!)
● Also, this is a good time to send personal invitations to Easter events and services to all of your kids, new, old, and MIA.
Boom, you’ve built momentum and it’s time to play to your strengths.
Step 3: Play to your strengths.
Let’s be honest, the grass is always greener. The church down the street has 500 people at their outdoor services and full kids programming inside. Another church may be running services inside with no masks and no hassles, and another may be fully online but experiencing massive growth. Every church, like every child, teen, and adult, is on their own journey, and comparison gets us nowhere. (Except sad. It gets us sad.)
Stop and take an inventory of your church’s strengths. Maybe your denomination is being very conservative and you can’t host anything in person or on property… BUT you have multiple committees of committed leaders who are passionate about the Gospel. Or maybe, all of your leaders quit when you returned to meeting in person, socially distanced with masks, but you have an awesome Easter budget and could rock an outdoor event where your leaders might be more comfortable. Maybe you are like me, and you have an incredible space, an incredible team, but your kids just haven’t come back yet.
You have assets, you just have to name them. You have strengths, you just have to play to them. If Easter Egg Hunts are your church’s thing, do the Easter Egg Hunt! Find a way. Tap the people who have been passionate about it in the past, brainstorm how to do it safely in a pandemic, promote it, and do it! If you usually do a Passion Play but you’re not meeting in-person, find a way to do a virtual Passion Play. (Look, if TikTok can stage an entire performance of Ratatouille the Musical, you can share the Gospel!) If, like me, you usually just have a really fun, really incredible kids/youth service, then find a way to do it. But don’t just do it, promote it well and keep it safe!
Step 4: Keep it safe.
God is so good, and He is sovereign, and we can trust him. But we should not be unwise in a pandemic. Our states have guidelines, our denominations have guidelines, and our churches have guidelines. We want to help people get to Heaven, but we should not want to be the ones that send them there. I know that we want things back to normal. We want all the fun and all the worship and all the decisions for Christ, and we can have all of it. But we can’t let the excitement of Easter tempt us into being careless with people’s health and safety. Whatever your guidelines, follow them. They are not stopping you from teaching God’s Word, they are just making you better at it, more flexible, more dynamic, and more powerful. We are being honed and, in the end, our ministry will be all the better for it.
Friends, I know that we are coming off of a hard year. I also know that, despite so many of us having closed church doors and off-site officing situations, 2020 was not a vacation and we are tired. I know that being creative again feels like a stretch in this moment. But I believe that people still need the church. They need your church. And your church needs you. You can do this. You can DO EASTER. And in some ways, it’s going to be the weirdest Easter ever, and the hardest Easter, and the worst, and the best. But our mission is too big to let weird or hard or bad or good stop us. Our message of love is too critical in a really divided world to let anything slow us down. And at the end of this, you will be invigorated because sharing life gives life, and you will be joyful because giving joy breeds joy. And it might seem impossible in this moment, but you will be filled, because emptying our cups for Jesus always fills us up. So do it. I believe in you. Make the plan, work the plan, and give the Gospel away. Today and everyday. Easter and forever. It’s why we celebrate in the first place.
Brandi Kirkland serves as the Kids Lead Influencer at Lifepointe, a multi-site church in Raleigh, North Carolina. Church systems and strategy are her very favorite thing, and she loves what she does every single day. Brandi has led children’s ministry in both single-site and multi-site churches, and believes that each church has its own, unique offering that it brings to the cause of Christ.