I don’t have to explain to you in the trenches that church planning during a pandemic has been really, really challenging. As summer begins, I’m thinking about how fall Sunday school teacher recruitment will look and all the unknowns trying to plan two or three months out.
When the vaccines first started rolling out, the hope was that herd immunity could be reached by fall. In my mind, I pictured a return to normalcy. Now, vaccine hesitancy (and, let’s be honest, political polarization) data indicates we may never reach herd immunity. That means a higher likelihood of variants and COVID-19 being a part of our lives longer. Additionally, as I write, we are hearing about a rise in cases among kids and a correlation of more long-term side effects in the younger population. In other words, COVID is still scary.
What will volunteer-dependent Sunday school (and, for some churches, confirmation) look like this fall?
Many church staff have felt the pressure to go “back to normal,” regardless of local virus transmission rates. My advice to church staff and education leaders is to be strong in the face of parishioners who disagree with local public health and CDC guidelines. Listen to your church body leadership’s guidance as well; make them the “bad guy” as needed. If masks and distancing are still advised this fall, be loving and firm that it is for the protection of the most vulnerable among us—a very biblical concept. If a volunteer teacher informs you of an unwillingness to mask, for instance, I think it is reasonable to respond, “I appreciate your honesty and look forward to welcoming you back to teaching when public health advises masks are no longer needed.” Treat it no differently than you would other requirements for the protection of minors such as background checks and safe behavior expectations.
On the flip side, I suspect some volunteers may not be ready to return to leading Sunday school. If I say “classic church basement scent” and you know exactly what I mean, you also have experienced church rooms with poor ventilation. The kids we love were never known for keeping their germs to themselves. Even when it is safe to do so due to local caseload and widespread vaccinations, the mental hurdle for some to go back to normal will need to be respected.
From the family perspective, many of us have heard from parents whose kids have struggled with online learning and said they just couldn’t take one more event where they had to manage a fraught attention span. Will their year of disconnect from normal church activities have become ingrained? It may take some very intentional reaching out to those families to bring them back. Don’t give up on them!
Finally, look for the opportunity to share God’s love in new ways with new folks. Talk to pastors and streaming gurus about online analytics regarding who has been watching online worship. My experience is that people who wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable walking in church doors for the first time before COVID were popping into online worship to see what it was all about. Some of those folks are local and some of them have kids. Now is the time for some light social media sleuthing to get in touch and invite families in.
Our faith is always leading us into great unknown. Who can tell how the winds of the Spirit may blow through our churches in this season of Pentecost! God be with you as you navigate your fall planning and implementation.