If your church is like mine, our families are all over the map during this season. Some have fully returned to church and to all the programming we offer.
Some are still watching online. Some are cautiously coming back. Some are out of the church habit altogether. We live in a very divided time in our country where strong feelings abound.
How can we best support families in such a unique season?
1. Be intentional about connecting. As I debriefed the quarantine season with several other ministry leaders, we all agreed that the period of "stay at home" reminded us how essential personal contact and one-on-one ministry truly is. As our normal church activities begin to resume, we must fight the busy to maintain that priority.
Print a list of all of the families who attend your church. Go through it carefully, noting who you haven't seen and who you haven't had contact with recently. Make a plan with your ministry leaders to reach out. Do you have parents who are also teachers? Consider a special encouragement for them during this trying time for educators. Do you have families who have experienced illness or loss? How can you show Jesus's love? Create a system so that your families are routinely contacted, whether they have returned to your church services or not. Keep a running list of prayer needs. Look for ministry needs and connect them with people that can help. You can only discover these needs by consistently connecting.
2. Be gracious in understanding families' positions. Some families will be anti-mask and won't want to come if your church is requiring masks. Some families will be very pro-mask and won't come if you are not requiring masks. Some families are very fearful of the virus and some are just trying to be very cautious. Regardless of your personal position or your church's position on handling things, you will come across church members who disagree with you. Sometimes they will disagree strongly and vocally. We must remember Colossians 4:6 (NLT) which says, "Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone." Even if we disagree, even when conversations become emotional and even when we just can't understand where someone else is coming from, we must respond kindly and patiently.
3. Communicate often and clearly. Our families are processing a lot right now. Many are balancing virtual school and jobs. After many months of doing little, family calendars are quickly filling again. Many parents feel overwhelmed. As church leaders we end up feeling frustrated that parents aren't paying attention to what we say or provide. Parents are simply just trying to keep one foot in front of the other.
In this season, minimize communication to share what is most important in the most clear and succinct ways possible. Don't send long, multi-paragraph emails. Send three bullet points. Don't post extra-long social media posts. Be brief and to the point. Repeat yourself more than you feel you should have to. Especially in this season, as soon as you are tired of announcing something, one of your church families is hearing it for the first time. Help families understand where to best get information and make it easily available for when they remember they need to know it.
4. Help resource them where they are. Are most of your families back to church but a few remain at home? How can you keep those kids connected? We restarted our Wednesday night discipleship ministry, but have a handful of kids who are not ready to return. We chose to engage some college students to create an online group for them. We are hoping these families connect to the group, but even if they don't, hopefully we are at least communicating that we care about them even if they aren't prepared to be back on campus.
We have not ministered in a culture like we are now. It is all new. It's challenging. We will make mistakes. We will hurt feelings or not meet someone's expectations. But we also have many opportunities to point families to Christ and to encourage them in an extremely unstable time. Keep pushing forward. Keep showing Christ's love. Keep praying for God to make Himself known in the families your church serves.
Jenny Smith serves as minister to children at West Bradenton Baptist Church in Bradenton, Florida. She is passionate about equipping the church to disciple children to follow Jesus. Jenny also loves investing in other children's ministry leaders through one-one-one conversations, informal gatherings or speaking at national conferences (such as Group's Kidmin Conference or Lifeway's Etch).
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