By Kara Witherow, Editor
As social distancing has become the norm and people are physically isolated and no longer gathering for worship services, it has become a challenge to stay connected.
Although church services have been moved online, many South Georgia youth and children’s ministers are finding creative ways to continue ministering, using social media and the Internet to communicate and come together.
Each evening, Annie Paulk and her two children record themselves reading a story from the “Jesus Storybook Bible” and post it on Tifton First United Methodist Church's children’s ministry Facebook page. Paulk, the church’s director of children’s ministries, hopes that the story time inspires parents and families to spend more time together reading the Bible.
“We try to impress upon parents the importance of spending time in the Word with their kids, and what better opportunity and time than when they’re getting ready for bed,” she said.
Paulk hopes that if families get into the habit of reading the Bible together during this time of quarantine and crisis, it may become a habit.
“Maybe when this is all over and we’re back to normal they’ll continue to devote that time to their kids and the Word,” she said.
She’s also hosting a Facebook Live Sunday school class each Sunday morning at 9:30 and a Wednesday afternoon Zoom video conference call in lieu of their regular in-person Wednesday afternoon activities.
As a low-tech option, she’s making “Sunday school to go” packets each week for families who aren’t able to get online or log onto Facebook. With a printed Sunday school lesson, Bible story, and activity ideas, the envelope includes everything children and parents need to have Sunday school at home.
Paulk hopes that barriers are broken even after the coronavirus pandemic passes.
“It’s amazing how this is creating community even though we aren’t supposed to be having community,” she said. “My prayer and my hope is that people who are now actively reaching out for the Word, that they will seek it out when we can be social again.”
Moving Douglas First United Methodist Church’s youth ministry to Zoom video conferencing seemed an obvious choice to youth director Josh McLemore.
In addition to being the church’s youth director, McLemore works at a curriculum company and uses Zoom daily. When he saw that in-person worship services were being discontinued, he knew that video conferencing would be a good option for meeting.
“It was just kind of obvious for me, especially for small groups,” he said.
He’s used the online video conferencing platform to continue the church’s regular Wednesday and Sunday youth programming. The youth, he said, are handling it well and have even asked if the online meetings can continue after the COVID-19 crisis is over.
“They’re Snapchatting, they’re on TikTok, they video call all the time, they’re used to that constant interaction over the internet,” McLemore said. “They have handled this so well.”
But even though the students seem to be handling the crisis well, they’re still bored, some are worried, and all are adjusting to new routines. Now, more than ever, McLemore said, it’s important to be genuine and meet people’s daily needs.
“We’re doing ministry in ways we’ve never done before,” he said. “I think what matters more than quality of videos or sound is connection and authenticity. That’s what our congregations need right now. Lean more into those things. It’s a season for us to lean more into authenticity and less into trying to do whatever that other church is doing.”
Creative communication is on the rise in South Georgia schools, neighborhoods, and churches, church leaders say.
“The need to communicate hope in Jesus to our kids and teens is imperative, now more than ever,” said Suzanne Akins, the South Georgia Conference’s Director of Camping and Retreats. “Our children’s and youth directors are making that happen in a million different beautiful ways!”
Looking for ideas and resources? Visit www.sgaumc.org/children-youth.
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