Confused on how your church should react to the Coronavirus pandemic? Rick Lawrence shares some starting points for your children and youth programs.
Sometimes the movement of history feels glacial; sometimes it turns on a dime.
And sometimes, today for instance, history shoves us off the subway platform onto the tracks. Now we must learn how to “live and breathe and move” in a world where “pandemic” is no longer a plot device in a film but a present reality. That means we adjust to “life on the tracks” by changing our default habit patterns and broadening the scope of what is “normal.” All of that translates, of course, to a new way of doing youth ministry that’s driven by necessity, not preference.
But we need help to make the shift…
In a highly attended webinar hosted by Craig Cable, Group’s Church Safety and Security Director and a nationally recognized church security consultant, he targets church-leader concerns about the spread of Covid-19, and how the impact of the pandemic is likely to challenge our status quo. Titled “Coronavirus Outbreak: What Your Church Needs to Know,” the webinar focuses on church-specific strategies that can help every youth leader navigate a rapidly changing reality. “Building resilience” in your church/ministry culture is the goal.
Hallmarks of a Resilient Ministry
Cable says resilient ministries maintain their balance and persevere through difficulty. The hallmarks of that approach to crisis include…
- Accepting that there will be an impact on the ministry, and that some risk is okay;
- Managing fears by directly addressing them;
- Taking decisive action, not waffling back and forth; and
- Communicating effectively and often.
Uncertainty, of course, breeds fear. And we’re right now living in the Wikipedia definition of uncertainty, as massive shifts in “normal and expected” happen hourly. To take the fuel rod out of community-generated fear in your ministry, we…
Create an open and strategic dialogue
There is a danger in loading too much information into your communication pipeline, and in passing along untargeted information. So thoughtfully choose what information is necessary for your kids, parents, and volunteers to know, and what they already know from other sources. For example, it’s crucial to connect with your volunteer leaders to make sure you’re all on the same page, and up to speed, on your plans going forward.
Focus on information from only credible sources
Today’s 24-hour news cycle can be an unreliable source of information, so you’ll need to sift through what’s credible and important, and what’s not. Make sure you’re paying attention to respected local, state, and federal sources of information—for example, your state’s governor’s office will have targeted and local guidance that differs from other regions of the country. Don’t let social media trends drive your information. See the below links to recommended resource.
Dispel misinformation and myths
We can do this by 1) pointing out ridiculous associations (for example, the panic over buying “Corona Beer”) and 2) clarifying what your church is actually doing to respond. Dispel the rumor mill—for example, maybe there are some kids or parents in your ministry that believe your church’s leaders are promoting practices that they are not following themselves.
Determine your ministry’s status within the various phases of a pandemic. That means you’ve developed plans that can inform your decisions at each phase of the crisis.
Sanitation and Minimizing Transmission
Yes, we’ve all heard the “best practices” for keeping the spread of the virus to a minimum—“social distancing” is right now the clear leader for “phrase of the year.” But widespread intentionality depends on ubiquitous and repetitive reminders…
- Follow the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendations for churches and schools;
- Repeat, over and over, with good humor but with firmness, recommended personal sanitation practices; and
- Implement facility sanitation practices, including wiping down doorknobs, handrails, phones, and so on. Make sure you have plenty of trash cans scattered around your meeting area, so kids can get rid of tissues and napkins and other paper products right away.
The rapid spread of the Covid-19 virus, and the breathtaking speed of its consequences, will shake the normal patterns of ministry leadership as if they were drawn on an Etch-a-Sketch. Some questions to consider…
- Are you offering all of your normal ministry options, at all of the normal times, in all of the normal ways? Consider now how you might pursue your ministry goals in new ways and times.
- If you oversee staffers, are you up to speed on your church’s employment policies, including sick-time guidance?
- Have you considered how to shift some gatherings to a virtual platform (Zoom, for example) or how to record and post online your teaching?
Shut-Downs and Cancellations
So, as local schools and organizations curtail their services or shut down, that’s going to ripple out to your ministry. It’s important to consider in advance what you plan to do, and be ready to communicate it. Questions to consider…
- Do you have regular practices or gatherings or traditions that can be temporarily adjusted or suspended? For example, communion or travel or hospital visits or playground equipment.
- Do you have a graduated plan for when to alter what you’re offering, or even close down your normal ministry gathering times?
The Southern Baptist denomination has developed a three-phase “guidance grid” that triggers new actions every time an invisible “absenteeism” level is crossed. For example, if your group is at the 25% absenteeism level, that’s a trigger to remind parents to not send sick kids to youth group, no matter what symptoms they have. And at the 40% absenteeism level, that’s a trigger to start propping open doors so they don’t have to be opened and to remind kids that hand-shaking and hugging must be replaced by foot or elbow “bumps” for a time.
You already know, from the deluge of information that is washing over you now, that effective communication is like gold in a crisis. So “be the gold” for your…
- Staff and volunteers: kids will be asking them questions, so anticipate what those questions will be and help with clarity.
- Group members: students are experiencing lots of disruptions to their normal patterns, and some of them have had significant activities canceled or curtailed, and they’re really struggling over those losses.
- Parent community: parents want to know you’ve thought through your decisions, taken the threats of the virus seriously, and have made contingency plans.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- Health Alert Network (HAN)
- Johns Hopkins Covid-19 Interactive Map
- Tutorial on how to live-stream your teaching or small-group experiences
Rick Lawrence is the executive editor for youthministry.com and Group Magazine.