How to Create Innovative Children's Programs During Coronavirus
By Lindsay Peyton
Rev. Lisa Michelle “LM” Wilson, pastor of children’s discipleship at Chapelwood UMC in Houston,follows a formula for developing children’s programs at the church during the coronavirus pandemic -- creating an opportunity for conversation, truly listening and spending time praying and thinking about the challenge. “Then you’ve got to do the work,” Wilson said. The result is a range of programs that provide a framework for creating young disciples at home.
Ever since Chapelwood UMC closed its doors and moved services online, Wilson and her team committed to calling every family in the church, about 800 in all, in the first three weeks, and they plan to continue to do during the coronavirus. “We asked how are you holding up, how can we pray for you, what can your church do for you in every single interaction,” Wilson said.
She also regularly schedules Facetime appointments with children and their parents. “Sometimes, I’m wearing a costume, ready to play Bible trivia or my cats show up, you never know,” she said with a laugh. “This way the kids have access to their pastor.”
At the same time, Wilson can catch up with parents. For instance, one mother confided her fears that fifth grade girls would not normally finish their time in elementary school or be prepared for middle or junior high.
“You have to listen to the parents when they say there is a need – and then prayerfully and creatively figure out how to respond,” Wilson said.
She proposed a Zoom group just for 5th grade girls with a time for a devotional, words of encouragement and fellowship. “If I had three girls in the group, I would be happy,” she said. “Within one day we had 20 girls sign up. It became a safe space for them to share.”
The success of that Zoom group prompted Wilson to start a second – a book club for 5th grade girls. She explained that this is only one example of creative problem-solving that can be followed by any church during this time.
“This is a time for children’s pastors to share ideas with each other, what’s working and what’s not,” she said. “There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It’s for your community, finding out what you need at this time It’s a good time to try something new.”
Any size church can make a big deal about including youth in their services and offer resources just for kids, Wilson added.
At Chapelwood UMC, during the Sunday services online, children are encouraged to join their parents for worship. At one point, an announcement will be made that Pastor LM is about to speak. “All the kids need to come up close to the screen,” families are instructed.
Wilson will then embark on a special sermon for them. On Saturday nights, the church also publishes a link to coloring and activity sheets that parents can print for children to work on during the rest of the service.
For Sunday school, the church posts links to a video and resources for parents to use. Wilson hopes that this will spark worshiping together and even starting their own Bible study at home.
In fact, she believes that this extra time spent as a family during the pandemic could result in forming new faith-affirming habits. “I think we’ll see a lot of fruit from this,” she said. “I have hope that, on the other side, our families will be stronger and our relationships with our families as a church will be stronger.”
During the week, the church uses social media outlets to stay in touch with families and offer more activities for children.
Special activities are scheduled at noon each day on Facebook. Monday is story time with pre-K director Amanda Terrell, Tuesday is Bible Trivia with 3rd grade director Allison Johnson and Thursday is the Noon show with intern Sarah Mac Stephens. Friday’s story time is led by Wilson, and the Saturday session stars with Caroline Clay, who serves as kindergarten through 2nd grade director.
Wilson also asks parents to post videos to Facebook of children singing or sharing joy. “We want to share something bright during this dark time,” she said. “It just makes you smile.”
The children’s ministry has a Pinterest site with ideas for staycation, celebrating holidays, activities and teaching themes, like forgiveness, sharing and kindness. On Instagram, there are inspirational posts, church families sharing photos, parenting tips, volunteer opportunities and funny memes. YouTube provides more opportunity to share videos and connect.
Chapelwood sends out a newsletter to families and maintains a web page to keep members up-to-date of available online programs and resources. There’s even a Chapelwood Children’s App, which existed before the pandemic but has become more widely used recently.
Adjusting to stay-at-home recommendations has come with its fair share of challenges, Wilson said. For example, Easter is a huge celebration at Chapelwood, and each year, the church hosts a massive Easter Egg hunt. The congregation has been stuffing eggs to prepare for the event since December, as well as creating a bound activity book for the holiday.
When Wilson learned that the Easter Egg hunt was canceled, at first, she was devastated to think of all the wasted effort. Then, she had an idea:“We put out on social media, ‘Do you want to be egged?”
By the end of the day, all 70 available spots were full – and staff squeezed in four more families. Then, they bagged up the eggs and dropped them off at all 74 homes. The families each had a kit for their own Easter Egg hunts.
“We literally drove from Humble to South Houston, Katy to Sugar Land,” Wilson said. “People were so appreciative and thankful. It made my heart happy – and those eggs were super sanitized.”
The hundreds of activity books were donated to food pantries and gone within a day. “We just had to be creative,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s overriding strategy has been to look for new opportunities instead of getting defeated by the pandemic. She quickly looked for resources that the church already had and made sure they were being utilized.
“We always wanted to help discipleship to be more at home than in the church,” Wilson said. “Now the parents are using our resources. Now they’re asking, how do we bring church into the home?”
To learn more, visit chapelwood.org/ministries/children, chapelwoodchildren.org/resources or
chapelwoodchildren.org/worshipresources. Wilson is also happy to chat with
children’s directors who are brainstorming ideas or problem-solving during this time. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The children’s ministry’s Facebook page is facebook.com/chapelwoodchildren/, Pinterest pinterest.com/chapelwoodchildren/ and Instagram,
instagram.com/cwoodchildren/. Download the App at https://get.theapp.co/gsd6.