Here in Georgia, Governor Kemp has given churches permission to reopen their doors and resume services, as long as we maintain strict social distancing protocols. This announcement has pushed churches to begin the discussion that causes excitement and makes our heads spin at the same time: What will reopening in-person church services look like, and what does that mean for children’s ministry?
Whether you’re reopening this Sunday or not even considering it until June, here are some ideas & resources from a variety of denominational backgrounds and organizations to help inform your decision and plan. I’m still trying to figure out what everything will look like too, but I hope this list helps inform your discussions in planning the best possible options for your ministry.
Keep these tips in mind when creating your reopening plan:
Determine 2 things: 1) Are people safe? 2) Do people FEEL safe? First, make sure your state or county has given permission to reopen your doors safely. Whether or not we agree with the decisions of our political leaders, we should lead by example in adhering to the guidelines and laws they set in place. Second, get in touch with your people’s feelings about the whole situation. Poll your people and share a simple online survey to gauge how people respond to the idea of returning to church. LifeWay Research released a COVID-19 congregational survey for this very purpose, and you can download it at the bottom of this article. The Barna Group and Gloo teamed up to create this Crisis Toolkit for Churches that also has survey templates to help you check in on your people. Let people know that the results of these surveys won’t determine your decisions, but the results can influence them.
Stock up. Go ahead and place your orders for hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, non-contact forehead thermometers, and more now. Even if you won’t open up for another month, these supplies are on backorder in many places and may take that long to arrive. When you are ready to open up, you’ll want to have these things on hand and ready to go.
Re-evaluate policies and procedures. Some policies will need updating, some adding, and some eliminating in light of the COVID-19 safety and health protocols. Check with your denominational organization for specifics, and use the links & ideas below to help you think through the changes you’ll need to make before reopening.
- Basic Guidelines – The Georgia Baptist Convention outlines 10 basic guidelines to think about for preschool and children’s ministries (plus the church as a whole) here. The North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church just released its guidelines for preparing to reopen here, including details about drive-in church.
- Volunteer Roles – Not all of your volunteers will be able or willing to jump back in right away. If you can, reach out to each one to touch base and have a conversation about how they’re feeling about returning to serve. You’ll also want to set up a time to train your volunteers about the new policies and procedures before returning in-person. In the meantime, how can you encourage your volunteers to be part of the ministry you’re doing digitally?
- Drop off and pick up – What can you do to minimize traffic for drop off and pick up times? Will you have one person running the digital check-in stations or hand-writing the list so supplies aren’t passed around? Will you allow parents to walk children to their classrooms, or will parents stop at the drop-off area?
- Cleaning procedures. Depending on the policies in your area, you may need to disinfect as often as every hour, or at the very least in between services. So you might need extra volunteers to help you clean, and you’ll probably need more time in between services to allow surfaces to dry and sterilize.
- Challenge your team to think through and discuss these 24 questions before reopening your doors.
Go slow. The first Sunday your church is open might not be the best Sunday for your children’s ministry to reopen too. Consider keeping all children’s ministries closed for a couple of weeks, then slowly re-introducing different age levels at different times. Shannon Rains, a children’s ministry professor at Lubbock Christian University, suggests that the child’s age matters regarding when they can return to a ministry classroom. See those details & her 9 other steps for reopening your children’s ministry here.
Be creative. We’ve all been waiting for things to go “back to normal” but let’s be honest, normal has now been changed forever. Reduced seating? Additional service times? Parking lot or drive-by services? Intergenerational family services? Reopening will look different for every church, but you’ll have to be creative in how you do it no matter what approach you take.
- Now’s your chance to try new things! Get creative with your offerings, and don’t be afraid to tweak things as you go. The standards for quality are much lower right now than normal, so you have the wiggle room to test something out, see if it works, and adjust as you go. Experiment and try new things, letting go of perfection along the way.
- If you’ll be offering intergenerational services before opening the children’s ministry, design your family services with children in mind. Don’t just try to occupy them; engage them. Are there elements of your children’s ministry that you could incorporate into the main family service? What resources can you provide to help kids engage with the service? I teamed up with Michayla White, the Executive Director at INCM, to talk about ways to include, not just occupy kids during service. See (and join in!) on our conversation here. And if you’re looking for ideas for worship activity bags for kids, I shared my list of favorites here.
- If you don’t use this time to try new things, Carey Nieuwhof warns about what you’ll miss here.
Rethink your physical space. You might have to include signs reminding people to wear a mask or use hand sanitizer or even tape lines on the floor to remind people to stay 6 ft apart. Kids are such visual thinkers that using floor signage like this from Displayit at Church can help remind them to stay apart. Are your classrooms or children’s space large enough to maintain safe social distancing? Now might be the chance to repurpose different spaces within the church as a whole. If the youth are meeting outside, weather permitting, would the youth space work better for children’s ministry in this season? How can you restructure the layout of the sanctuary to encourage family worship while also keeping families 6 ft apart?
Lay out a potential timeline. Together with your entire church staff, map out a timeline of reopening phases that begin cautiously, and then gradually reopen more and more as time goes on. Having (and knowing) a plan – even if it changes – will help your congregation feel more at ease and give them something to look forward to. A church in Orange County, North Carolina posted in a children’s ministry Facebook group about their Church Reopen Plan Template, and you can see it here. Another North Carolina leader shared their church reopening timeline, and you can see it here. As you and your staff are having this discussion about your timeline and re-launching, check out this Covid-19 Family Ministry Road Map from Ministry Boost to help your team strategize.
Communicate, communicate, communicate. You’ll want to share the reopening plan for your church or ministry with parents and volunteers before actually reopening. Include any new details like social distancing protocols (we’ll be asking everyone to wear masks), reminders about any changes, and emphasize how excited you are to see them again. Share the plan with your people as often as you can, through as many platforms as you can. Email, snail mail, website updates, social media posts, your church app, and more. Then utilize signs at the church to help remind people of the new procedures or protocols. Displayit at Church has some great ready-to-go health notice signs available here.
Consider staying online anyway. Even if you do reopen right away, you probably won’t see 100% attendance that first Sunday, or even that first month. Consider continuing your online and digital resources so families (especially those with young children) can continue to stay connected to your ministry. Explore all of the digital resources and ideas we’ve shared here.
Be flexible. If we’ve learned anything through all of this, it’s to take things week by week. The first plan you create may need adjusting as the weeks go on. Continue to meet with health officials, lawmakers, and other church leaders to stay up to date, and be mindful of any policy changes for your area. Vanderbloemen set up a great “reopening church” page on their website where they’re adding daily and weekly discussions, resources, and updates from thought leaders in the church world.
Give grace. To yourself, your staff, and your families. We’re all coming out of a traumatic experience of sudden change, leaving many feeling shocked, anxious, worried, angry, sad, stressed, apathetic, and more. Give yourself grace as you navigate this new way of doing ministry. Give your staff grace as you work together as a team to serve and lead your people. Give kids grace as they re-enter the world and may have trouble with separation anxiety after so much time at home or with understanding why they can’t hug their friends.
Remember there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. We all have different ministry contexts in different locations, so what works for one church might not work for the next. Use the research and resources you find to create a plan that’s unique for your ministry’s context.