We Are Going to Have to Start Over

Over the past few months, we have learned that there really is only one thing that remains constant…that is that nothing is constant. COVID has come in and seems to change everything we have held dear for years overnight. Just when we adjust there are new challenge and changes we face daily. COVID has come and has done damage to the health of our country but also it has shaken the foundations of our confidence and the normality of our daily lives.

In times of prolonged uncertainty novel is not the answer. People don’t want a new normal they don’t want digital everything they want the comfort of old truth. Coming out of quarantine I knew that we were going to have a slow path back but I don’t think I was fully prepared for what the reality presently is…I think we are going to have to start over.

I say this because about 10% of our kids have come back and only 10% of our volunteers have returned. There are lots of reasons for this. Many in isolation have reevaluated priories and have moved to be closer to family, some are still scarred by the daily barrage of media, still, others are waiting for a cure. These are uncertain times. These are times filled with difficulty for every leader because no matter what decision you make someone will not be pleased.

We in our churches have been dealing with things as they have arisen on the fly. I have seen much creativity from the church in creating Zoom small groups for Youth and doing kids shows on YouTube. Those are great adaptations but the longer everything lingers the more I am convinced that I think the reality is that we are going to need to start over. I have often thought about what would I do differently in kids and youth ministry if I had to start over from scratch knowing what I know now after 23 years leading in the same church.

Here are a few things we are going to need to change.

  1. Discipleship needs more thought and investment than environments. There has been much focus on excellence in kids and youth environments and not enough on how do we create lifelong followers of Christ. What things do we need to teach and how can we teach them to kids in a way that creates lifelong faith in Christ? These need to consume our thoughts and drive our budgets.
  2. We need to rely more on training live teachers and less on video elements. Video doesn’t have the same impact in a zoom or online setting that a loving teacher teaching kids live over zoom or making phone calls to kids can make. Video is wrong but people are better.
  3. Small group leaders are going to have to know kids better. When difficulty hits small group leaders that know their kids are better equipped to reach out to those families. We are going to need to create opportunities for small group leaders to connect more intentionally with parents and look at their small group as a little church and not as child care during the service. We need a better structure for coaching small group leaders to spiritually direct kids rather than to simply disseminate religious information to children.
  4. We are going to have to run more of what we do like a small church rather than a megachurch. Our bigger campuses have a return rate of 10% but at our smaller campus kids are coming back at rates like 80%. It seems like for the foreseeable future people are more comfortable in smaller settings. Over the last 30 years, the people who we have looked to for direction are the kids and youth ministry experts from the largest churches in America. I know many of these people and they are amazing leaders but our solution going forward does not seem to be bigger and better but intimate and intentional.
  5. Our preaching needs to be more Biblically driven and less topically driven. The reason for this is our kids need to know what God reveals to us in his word more than cute stories and applications that are fun but not formational. Kids need fathers in the faith to proclaim Biblical truth far more than they need cool older brothers to hang with them. I am not saying our approach should be informational at the expense of being relational. What I am saying is that our approach needs to Biblical if it is to be transformational.

I know starting over sounds overwhelming because it is overwhelming. I also think that this is a great opportunity for us to re-evaluate our approach to ministry, our motivation in ministry, and ultimately what the fruit of our ministry should look at.

If we walk away from COVID unchanged by its far reaching effects in every area of life we have missed an opportunity to start over to reset and and to reevaluate what matters most.

Pastors, we can’t go back to a new normal. We shouldn’t try to keep things the same. We need to take this moment to learn how to make our churches smaller and make our ministry more personal.

How would you start over if you had too? Because I think we are going to have to do exactly that.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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7 thoughts on “We Are Going to Have to Start Over

  1. So very thoughtful. I have been looking at the comment box and not sure what I want to say. I believe you have hit on some very important points. I have not returned in person. I’m not afraid. I have had serious health issues in the past but not now. So have my grandchildren. I know I factor that in. My family doesn’t need me to get sick. I have no doubt they would take care of me. That’s not the issue. They just don’t need more. I stay connected in every way I am able. This is my church.

    Overall, not speaking of church, there is such a lack of truth all around us. That is overwhelming. I don’t want to vote for anyone. That’s not good, I know. I have limited social media because I am sick of conspiracy theories and lies. As I said there is such a lack of truth no matter what camp, party or group you are a part of . I pray and I feel like I am waiting. Been as honest as I can here.

    • Marianne I totally understand. I hope you don’t feel pressure especially since you and those you love have health issues. I just didn’t expect so many to stay home and rather than try to get things back to where they were I have been thinking maybe we should use this time to make some changes. Maybe we should start over. Love you Marianne know that you are missed but we fully understand.

  2. I’m right there with you. For some years I’ve been struggling with how things are in the church, especially larger churches, and this season does feel more like God’s invitation to trust Him in the “start over”. I feel like my own vision has flipped as far as how I look at the church building and it’s purpose. The building should never limit or cripple the growth and impact of the church. If the deep and impactful ministry that brings lasting fruit happens in the discipling relationship, then it makes sense to see the church as small groups and see the building as a place to offer space for community service and engagement, not as a place where church “happens”. See and treat small groups as small churches and expand what we include in a small group, beyond just a quick huddle and Q and A as part of a Sunday program. Look at changing when church happens to break the check of Sunday only worship. What does a daily 24/7 life with Jesus look like? Invest in the leaders and relationships of that group and include the parents. Look for opportunities to build prayer, worship, space for wrestling questions, innovative ideas for serving each other and community, etc. (Messy and rough ideas but I had to throw some down! I love what God is stirring in you Sam!)

    • Thanks for your comment Kim. This has been a season like no other any of us have experienced. We are clearly in uncharted waters but we proceeded with confidence because Christ is a skilled sailor. Blessings to you Kim.

  3. Wow, Sam….this has been on my mind for some time now. We can’t go back to normal. But this “new” normal is not working either. There is so much fear. The enemy is feeding on it, ravenously. We need to starve him.
    I agree that small churches, gatherings is key. People are hungry for intentional relationships ….not just casual friendships.
    I am a children’s pastor in southeast Ohio. About 50% of our kids have come back…but on different Sundays. It’s never the same kids two weeks in a row.
    The Lord has laid upon my heart to reach out beyond the 4 walls, and not always online, to our kids and families.
    Discipleship……key. How do we make kids into Jesus disciples ? How do I make disciples out of my volunteers? ( all but 1 of 9 volunteers have come back) Some Sundays, an entire age group is absent. It’s very disturbing….the fear…the lack of “want” to come back.

  4. Sam, this is profoundly important insight. Right on! We minister in 12 different nations, with close to 1,000 children’s ministries we call Powerclubs. I would say 90% of them have been shut down by government edit. We’re concerned about re-starting once the restrictions are lifted. Few of my leaders have the luxury of videos as they are in developing nations. So we have just had to close altogether, and parents are scared to let their kids return. It’s a real wait and see situation.