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/ 21 September 2021

Rebuilding: 3 observations on returning to church in-person

Sam Donoghue shares some insight on some initial themes emerging in children and youth ministry during the mass return to in-person church.

With the academic year well and truly underway, I wanted to share a few observations on what we’re hearing from churches as we reconnect after the summer. This is also based on my own experience; I am once again working with children in person! The first thing that struck me: it was harder than I remember.

We’re starting over

I have loved working with children again. I’ve enjoyed talking with them about Jesus, praying with them and just sitting on the floor with the younger ones, letting them come over to me as they want to. There is no doubt though that the behavioural management side has been challenging – I’ve had to remember to do the basics well: pausing and waiting for quiet and praising children who are behaving well. Trust me, it works but it’s taking a bit of time. I’m secretly pleased to hear that other places are finding this hard too. I guess when you think about it then it makes perfect sense: the children we are working with are effectively all new; there is no established culture for them to slot into. All this is going to take time.

Our teams need rebuilding

Volunteering levels are also a serious problem. Obviously, it’s not as if pre-covid we were having to fight our way through church, past the crowds of people desperate to help on a Sunday morning but right now every church I’ve spoken to is short. In fact, some churches are having to limit the number of children who can come as they cannot maintain safe ratios. There are a few factors that have led to this: firstly, the usual cycles of recruitment have broken down through lockdown. So as that normal attrition of people dropping out have happened, they haven’t been replaced and so now there’s a gap. This has been made worse by the pandemic creating a space where more people seem to have decided that now is the time to stop and others being cautious about committing to stuff until life feels more settled.

In some churches, children’s and youth work has effectively stopped for nearly 18 months and now they are effectively needing to recruit a whole new team. That, my friends, is tough. The best way to recruit volunteers is to draw people into an existing team. It allows people to understand exactly what is being asked of them and be encouraged by the smiling faces! So just getting started becomes a huge step to take.

There’s space for creativity

For some churches, there is now an unexpected space for creativity. Things have developed over the last few months that were unexpected. As church is returning in person, there is a difficult decision to be made about what to do with these things. Do we want to return to how we did things before, or has the Spirit breathed life into a new thing that we should continue to invest in? Is there a ‘midpoint’ where we tweak our models to absorb the good of what’s been happening more recently?

As I’ve talked with various churches, I’ve heard some exciting stuff; churches forced to worship all together by social restrictions have chosen to stay together as they have grown to love it. Should you keep it going online?

I guess we can certainly say that stuff hasn’t settled down like perhaps we hoped it might have by now. My encouragement in these situations is to pause, take a breath and see where God may be leading us. For so long, we’ve been fighting fires and surviving; we’re not used to having options!

 

If you need some tips on rebuilding a volunteer team, we’ve written a course for that! Sign up for free at london.anglican.org/learning to get access and support from the children and youth team.


About Sam Donoghue

Sam Donoghue is Head of Children and Youth for the Diocese of London, a keen cyclist and a supporter of Everton FC.

Read more from Sam Donoghue

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