Updated March 16, 2020
“'Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.’” John 14:27
The news about the spread of COVID-19, commonly known as a coronavirus, and the response to it, has left communities and families wondering what to do next and how to prepare. First, take a deep breath. As faith leaders, we have an opportunity to be a calm, non-anxious presence in the midst of so much unknown. We can speak proactively about the COVID-19, while maintaining a calm spirit and creating or providing ways for people who want to “do” something in meaningful and healthy ways. When considering how does COVID-19 impact our children, families, and children's ministries, we need to address concerns of children in age appropriate ways, address anxiety and fears of parents, and be proactive about our children's ministry spaces and leadership. Below are recommendations from the CDC, Michigan Conference, NPR, and other sources about ways that you can inform, address concerns, and be proactive.
Michigan Conference Churches
- Bishop Bard has encouraged all churches to close through at least the end of March. Watch the video or read the transcript here.
If you have canceled Worship, Faith Formation, etc.
- As much as possible, have an on-line option (Facebook live, Zoom, YouTube, Vimeo, etc) so that people can continue to engage and support one another.
- Encourage families to continue to support the work of their church through sending monthly tithes/giving or utilizing on-line giving options.
- Provide resources that families can use at home to grow in their faith. Include ways that people can connect and grow with God (prayer, Bible reading, spiritual disciplines) and ways that people can connect with people (send an email or text, call on the phone, video chat).
- Check in on families, especially those with younger children and/or those who have children with special needs.
- For parents who may not feel as confident in guiding their children’s faith, provide practical ideas such as prayers, open-ended questions, movies that families can watch and response questions, etc.
- Resources and ideas will be shared on the Michigan Conference Children’s Ministry Facebook Group and on the Michigan Conference website here.
Reassuring Children (and Parents)
- Assess what your child knows
- Process your own anxiety first
- Don’t dismiss your child’s fears
- Talk at an age-appropriate level
- Emphasize good hygiene
- Frame potential school (or church) closures as a positive
- Read more in-depth about each bullet point in this article from NY Times Parenting.
Articles about how to talk with your kids about COVID-19:
- How to Talk to Your Kids About Coronavirus ( from PBS for younger children)
- Coronavirus Video from BrainPOP (great for elementary children)
- Helping Children with Scary News by Sally Lloyd-Jones
- Just for Kids: A Comic Exploring the New Coronavirus (NPR)
Articles and Resources for Faith Leaders:
- Michigan Conference Alert on COVID-19
- Michigan Department of HHS – Recommendations for COVID-19 Community Mitigation Strategies (including churches)
- Coronavirus, Anxiety, Children and The Church (this article from Building Faith refers to the common cup of Communion which may not apply to most UM Churches, but there is other helpful information)
Additional Resources for equipping and empowering families for Faith Practices at Home will be coming soon here.
These are practical tips adapted from Ministry-to-Children.com, but these may not apply to many areas who have already closed due to COVID-19 precautions:
12 Ways for Church Ministries to Respond to COVID-19
1. Leaders should educate themselves with the latest science (not click-bait news)
Start by reading the CDC bulletins. These include a specific article about COVID-19 and children. Don’t miss their bulletin for schools preparing for this virus. You should also be ready to fact-check new information. We recommend the COVID-19 information from Snopes.com
2. Review and over-communicate your well-child policy
Every church should have a well-child policy, preferably modeled on the accepted public school policies in your community. This should include that children should be fever-free (without medication) for at least 24 hours.
3. Ask adults to follow this same policy for their church attendance
Ask all church members to follow the established well-child policies. This is common sense but make it clear that people should not attend if they are unwell.
4. Plan ahead for volunteer sick time or lower attendance
How will your ministry function without the normal volunteers? Do you have substitutes ready? Will you combine Sunday School classes on weekends with low attendance?
5. Plan to teach about prayer and the vocations that combat disease
The Christian response to fear should include requests to God for help. Help children know that God wants to comfort them in times of trial. An easy way to start is with the classic 5 finger prayer. You can also talk about how health-care workers share in God’s work when they help the sick.
6. Review your child hygiene policies
Snack times should require hand washing (or at least alcohol based sanitizer). Consider canceling snack time during cold and flu season. You may even want to expand this to include washing hands before or as entering the classroom.
7. Review your church nursery and facility cleaning policies
The church nursery should have posted cleaning policies, both to comfort parents and ensure volunteers don’t forget. This is a good time to review and communicate those nursery cleaning procedures.
8. Educate parents (and church members) through your communication channels
The children’s ministry should have a robust communication plan. Use that tool to help get parents to the right information about your policies and about the best information above COVID-19.
9. Decide the threshold for suspending the children’s programs
Ministry leaders should decide in advance when to cancel programming for children. This would obviously include any times when public schools cancel class. Consider a proactive approach if a certain percent of families or volunteers can’t attend. Follow your local church decisions or policies about when/if to close.
10. Decide the threshold for canceling church services
Church leaders need to be proactive. Decide in advance to honor any public health warnings or provide e-church though Facebook live. Elderly members are often the most medically fragile and the most determined to attend. What options will you provide if this virus become a widespread health threat?
11. Mobilize your church for ministry
Jesus is the Great Physician – and the church is called to participate in the work of the Kingdom by serving a world in need. Pray and seek God’s help in how your church can make a difference in a time of fear or potential crisis. Will you have a prayer hotline or message board? Will you find ways to minister to those without healthcare? Now is the time to prepare. Communicate with local government or public service organizations about their response and join together when appropriate and feasible.
12. Refute and correct Xenophobia when possible
With any public fear, old prejudice comes to the surface. Christian people should speak up for all of God’s children. Don’t let anti-Chinese sentiment spread among your church people, even in off-handed jokes.
(Adapted from Coronavirus Disease 2019: How your Church and Children’s Ministry can respond by Tony Kummer, https://ministry-to-children.com/coronavirus-church-respond-covid-19/)
- If you have worship bags, you may want to provide one for each child with a nametag or create disposal bags that kids can use and take home with them (pipe cleaners, small packages of crayons, blank paper, etc.) as these can be difficult to disinfect.
- Take this as an opportunity to thoroughly wipe down surfaces and put items that cannot be cleaned away (such as non-washable stuffed animals).
- Have fun “wash your hands” signs and/or put the lyrics to familiar songs next to sinks that kids/parents can sign as they wash their hands.
- Use a “drop box” instead of passing the offering plate. This is true if you “pass the plate” in children’s worship too. Have a basket where kids can drop their offering.
- Encourage kids to do air high fives instead of high fives or hugs or use another symbol for sharing peace and love for one another.
Contact Rev. Kathy Pittenger with questions, additional information or resources, or a person to process with at [email protected] or 517.897.4483.
Originally posted March 12, 2020