Here’s why online children’s ministry in a pandemic is a brand-new opportunity to minister to children and families living with special needs.
Because of COVID-19, churches have closed their doors for several weeks–and even months in some cases. This closure forced many churches to move rapidly to an online ministry approach. And while it has produced its share of headaches, online ministry to children has also produced some amazing opportunities.
Not surprisingly, the online effort has had a wonderfully positive impact on many children and families living with disabilities. Entire segments of communities that have otherwise felt isolated and, at times, found a church building overwhelming, finally have equal access to their church families. That’s a powerful thing to experience!
Although some churches are beginning to open their doors, we are wise to remember that for many children with special needs or with compromised immune systems, coming back to church is still months away. As a matter of fact, there may be typical children who are unable to return to church due to a family member’s compromised health. My family is one of those families, as my youngest daughter is immunocompromised. School and church, even this fall, may be out of the question for us.
What to Consider for Effective Online Children’s Ministry
Parents of children with disabilities have been asking for churches to offer online ministry for a long time. It’s sad that it took a global pandemic for churches to offer this type of ministry. I wonder how many churches would have seamlessly transitioned to online ministries if the foundation had already been set in place?
As we continue to navigate a new normal, it would be beneficial for us to consider that how we do ministry is no longer an either/or (either ministry at the church building or ministry online). We have now moved to a both/and model (we do ministry in person and we do ministry online).
The encouraging point to remember is that we now have awareness of the need–and we know it extends beyond disability. The challenge now will be to incorporate both models of ministry, but it can be done.
Continuing live streaming of services is the minimum (even better if you caption your videos). But finding ways to connect the children who are unable to attend in person is key.
I’m excited that, for the first time in the history of church, all children can have the opportunity to be included thanks to technology.
5 Things Your Church Can Do to Provide Inclusive Online Children’s Ministry
At my church, we’ve been dreaming of what a robust online ministry can look like moving forward. We hope to begin rolling out some of the following strategies.
Acknowledge not everyone is in the building. Keep the children engaged online present and real to those who are in the building. This is as simple as, “Some of our friends are with us online, so let’s say hi to them.” If you know who’s watching online, a mention may be exciting: “Nia couldn’t be with us today, but she’s watching online. Isn’t it exciting she’s able to be with us?”
Develop prayer partners or mentors. This is perhaps my favorite online ministry model: the one-on-one connection! My youngest daughter with Down syndrome has loved meeting with her teachers one-on-one via Zoom. That check-in and 15 to 30 minutes of connection makes a huge difference. She has thrived this way. Not surprisingly, there are people who typically wouldn’t engage face-to-face who have found this type of volunteering to be something they can do.
Provide lesson notes. Make your lessons more accessible by providing “notes.” This doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking; it can be as concise as bullet points with pictures.
Get active on your Facebook page. People hang out on Facebook. Create a page to connect the parents of the kids who are staying home longer. Provide resources, post videos, and do live videos to encourage kids. Include them in what’s happening inside the church building and work on creating a sense of community for on- and off-site families.
Finally, remember: When your kids do return to church, church may look different. People may wear masks, children’s services may be paused, and kids may have to be in the sanctuary with the adults or sit in newly configured ways. Create a visual story or social story to explain to kids why church looks different.
Kid in Story is an app that helps you create visual stories for all learners. It was designed with disabled children in mind. The app has pre-made templates, or you can create your own. It also allows you to record your voice to tell the story. The best part of the app is that you can use pictures of the kids to make a social story just for them.
Special Needs Ministry for Children There’s perhaps no better way to share and receive God’s love than through a special needs ministry to children.
Do you know what it takes to make these kids–and their parents–feel welcome in your church family?
This practical, insightful ministry training book is your guide to answering all those questions and more. Packed with case studies and personal stories from recognized experts in this ministry field, this book will leave you better equipped to share the love of Christ to children with special needs.
Ellen Stumbo is the director of Disability Matters, where she encourages every church to embrace disability.
Want more articles regarding children with special needs? Check out these posts!