PENSACOLA–While COVID-19 pandemic has brought many challenges for West Florida churches, it has opened new avenues for parents and children’s ministry leaders to instill spiritual foundations in the next generation.
Hillcrest Baptist Church in Pensacola has embraced a return to the traditional backyard Bible clubs as church members opened their patios, gardens and yards to small groups of neighborhood children for a week of daily Bible study.
Melinda Madison, Hillcrest Kids director, said she has been encouraged by the interaction between church members and neighborhood families involved in this venerable approach of reaching children.
“We’ve had unique opportunities for Gospel conversations and sweet fellowship with parents while kids are in Bible club,” Madison said. “As a result, several families have attended on-campus worship services for the first time – even without all the extras for their children.”
Noting that “social restrictions of COVID-19 have increased the administrative and digital part of ministry,” she added, “having in-person Bible club–even at a distance–has re-energized us and brought us back to the basics of building relationships.”
Madison also spoke about the resurgence of Gospel conversations in the home during this time.
“There’s a reason God has allowed parents to have this time with their children. They are realizing that it is up to them to be the primary spiritual influence in their children’s lives. In that process, parents’ lives are changing, too,” she said.
Almost two years ago, the Panama City area was devastated when Hurricane Michael marched through the Panhandle region. When churches finally started to get back on their feet, COVID-19 hit. Yet God has shown He was still in control.
“The Lord opened new doors for ministry after the hurricane and He’s doing the same for us now,” said Ginger Owens, minister of childhood education at First Baptist Church in Panama City.
“The relational aspect surrounding COVID-19 has been the greatest challenge for everyone involved,” she said. “Children are used to hugs, high-5’s, and seeing the unmasked, smiling faces of their teachers.”
These relationships and interaction with church family and friends are “vital to children as they grow in Christ. So, the Lord is showing us new ways to keep those relationships strong,” Owens said.
“Along with our on-line presence, we are more intentional than ever to connect with each family on Sunday with big air hugs, bright eyes over our masks, and worship activity bags that engage children during worship,” she said.
Owens, who has served as a stalwart advocate for children’s ministry both in Panama City and across the state, will retire this year after 16 years in her role at First Baptist. Prior to her ministry at Frist Baptist, she served at Thomasville Road Baptist Church in Tallahassee.
During the quarantine Melissa Schubeck, children’s ministry director at Heritage Baptist Church in Cantonment, has witnessed new accountability from families concerning their own children’s spiritual formation.
“The pandemic has definitely limited in-person church ministry as we know it, but that limitation has also given parents opportunity to take more responsibility to teach the Bible at home,” she said.
“Many parents are intimidated about sharing the Gospel with their kids. We’re taking away some of that fear by equipping them to be ready for the privilege of leading their own child to Christ.”
Three of the Gospels give accounts of Jesus encouraging little children to come to Him. Through natural disasters and pandemics, the heroes of children’s ministry are finding a way to bring children and families closer together and closer to Christ.