MIAMI—To help church leaders navigate the murky waters of social distancing guidelines and the uncertainties of the weeks ahead, the Florida Baptist Convention hosted a video conferencing call for nearly 40 next generation ministry leaders in the southeast region.
Billy Young, Florida Baptists’ next generation ministry catalyst, led the March 14 virtual conference that focused on how to prepare to transition to in-person church and repackage summer programing while complying with social distancing guidelines.
It has been more than a month since students have been learning from home and it has also been more than a month since the same students have gone to a Sunday School class or worshipped with their friends.
Activities like summer camps and vacation Bible school are on hold until the Center for Disease Control (CDC), as well as federal and local governments, issue new guidelines to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
“The church will be better served by focusing on how to get back to in-person services,” said Young. When it comes to summer activities, he encouraged the NextGen ministers to “stay the course. Regardless of the current situation, we must keep the focus of sharing the Gospel above all.”
“We don’t know what the summer holds,” he added, so churches should “prepare to carry out current plans in a variety of different ways.” He suggested that some of those options could be smaller classes at church, or neighborhood and home ministries.
The key, said Young, is to “be patient. This is the toughest part, but we aren’t sure what the next few months will hold.”
Young urged churches to prepare for the immediate future by continuing to equip their leaders and volunteers as well as children and their families.
Following the conference call, two church leaders shared ways they have stayed in touch with their NextGen groups and concerns they are addressing for the future.
Stacy Boyette, children’s director at Parkridge Baptist Church in Coral Springs, has ongoing communication with her students and their parents via video conferencing and text messages.
“Since the first week we were out, I went on our church roll and contacted all the families that attend our Sunday school 20 percent of the time and committed to reaching out to those families every week,” she said.
That included sending text messages to touch base with families, encouraging short videos and even presenting challenges for the children.
“Yesterday the video that was sent out was a challenge for the children to send in a picture of themselves; 85 photos came back,” she said.
The weekly video calls started with about 20 families joining and now nearly 60 families participate. “Our bonds are getting even stronger now than they were before,” said Boyette.
According to Keny Felix, pastor of Bethel Evangelical Baptist Church in Miami, “This is a time of uncertainty and while we are waiting for the end of the pandemic, we don’t have a timetable and so we’re having to prepare on both ends,” he said. “At our church we have rolled out a connection time for fellowship and Bible study and the response from the young adults has been tremendous.”
“Our young people are looking for meaningful opportunities to connect and for opportunities to grow; their ability to ask questions, comment and interact is there and we just have to maximize on that,” he said.
“Going back to in-person services and class will not be an easy transition,” said Boyette.
“Young families raising kids are hyper aware of germs to begin with and I believe that when we do get to go back, they will be even more so,” she said.
“When we go back to life that will be in everybody’s mind and parents will think twice before they put their child in what could be a germ classroom…we need to convey that we are cleaning and cleaning well.”
Felix agreed. “Even when we do get back together, social distancing may remain in place and that will still lead us to look differently in the way we meet.
“We will be making safety and health a priority and I think that will be a new normal.”
Boyette said Parkridge is considering putting in place a children’s car line for pick-up and drop-off to avoid people gathering in hallways outside classrooms.
Boyette said she is looking at different ways the church can still host VBS if CDC guidelines are not less strict by summertime. “If the guidelines are still very tight then we might do a long-weekend VBS in the fall.”
“I don’t want to give up on it because the kids are already missing out on so much,” she added. “Camp will likely be canceled; they have just faced disappointment after disappointment; any joy we can give them we need to figure out how to give it to them.”