Skip to main content

We've since "closed" this "During the Pandemic" as we begin to shift our focus to "After."

Visit the "After the Pandemic" discussion to pick up the topic.

This discussion shared ideas and advice related to "re-opening" in-church Sunday School and other children and youth ministries during the COVID-19 Pandemic (where permitted).

"During the panedmic" is open to interpretation.

  • Some churches reopened their worship services "during" the height of the pandemic in the fall of 2020 and also opened limited or modified in-person teaching experiences.
  • Some states had different laws regarding gathering during the pandemic and some churches had different ideas about what and how to open.
  • In some areas, public school attendance stayed "closed" longer than others.
  • As the pandemic started to "ease" in early 2021, some churches reopened or increased their programming.
  • Some children's ministries are reopening on a limited basis and scale as the vaccine become more widely distributed.
  • Most are now anticipating a "return to the new normal" in the fall of 2021, and planning "safer" events like VBS for the summer.


Images (3)
  • mceclip0
  • mceclip2
  • COVIDdiscussionLOGO
Last edited by Neil MacQueen
Original Post

Replies sorted oldest to newest

Our challenge is going to come from the timing of things. Our state's lockdown is until the end of May--unless our governor makes it even longer, again. We don't do Sunday School over the summer, so that means no Sunday School from mid-March when the lockdown started until September. That is 5 1/2 months! 

@CathyWalz posted:

Our challenge is going to come from the timing of things. Our state's lockdown is until the end of May--unless our governor makes it even longer, again. We don't do Sunday School over the summer, so that means no Sunday School from mid-March when the lockdown started until September. That is 5 1/2 months! 


I feel your pain about the effect of so long of a "lay off" from church, not only for the children, but for family habits, and church finances (among other things).  I know some churches have not done much so far. They seem to be in a holding pattern doing the minimum. I suspect they will be worse off the longer this thing continues.

"We are literally building the plane as we fly it right now."

-- a pastor in Geneva Illinois

Those who get creative and continue to adapt as things change will rebound more quickly (and win the respect and relevance of their members. To wit: See Amy's church photo of worship in their tent!)  

I was struck by the phrase "we don't do" in your reference to past practices of not doing summer Sunday School. There being nothing "normal" about this year, I would ask, "what do we NEED to do?" What will give hope? What will help people reconnect in some responsible way with their faith friends? (which to me seems to be the most important short-term need).

What could this look like?

I would begin the brainstorming by dropping the words "program" and "school" from our vocabulary and replace them with "reaching out" and "connecting."  There are some good ideas over here in the alternative-VBS discussion.

One of the things churches are discovering is that many of its people want to respond and serve. It is not only a Christian reflex, it a way of coping with our own sense of loss and anxiety. How can children serve?  The answers are probably LOCAL to where each of us lives.

In my community:

  • A church has been making and distributing home-sewn masks for children. Kids can help make and distribute to their friends.
  • A church on Main street put out a sign asking for canned goods, and there are cars there every time I drive by.  Kids can put on gloves and sort.
  • My granddaughter's best friend (and her mom) showed up on their doorstep last week with a cooler full of ice cream sandwiches in a wagon. They were wearing masks and gloves, stayed outside, and only stayed for 5 minutes because they had other neighbors to visit.
Last edited by Neil MacQueen

Lifeway Resources, the educational publisher of the S. Baptist Convention, puts out some pretty good stuff even for Presbyterians like me. a wink

Read their "6 Considerations for Re-opening Your Kids Ministry"

One thing this resource doesn't address is how we can reach out to those who DO NOT initially heed the call to return. I suspect many parents will be from Missouri on this issue, i.e. "show me what you're doing and how many others think it's safe."  In this respect, we should be ready to post photos and videos of early gatherings (making sure they show good social practices).

  On a related subject, I found this very interesting blog asking "24 Questions Your Church Should Be Asking Before People Return."  Some of them pertain to children's ministry as well. 


Images (1)
  • mceclip0
Last edited by CreativeCarol

Experts advise us not to sing as usual
when we get back together

Tip: View creative ideas for safely "singing with kids in the time of COVID

In brief:
Experts in both the mechanics of singing and science of epidemiology (infection) backed by a large body of research are warning that the "forceful mechanics" of singing turns those infected into "super-spreaders" -- projecting virus-containing droplets in larger quantities over greater distances in confined spaces such as sanctuaries and classrooms that normal social distancing practices and common masks are largely ineffective against. Their findings are being taken seriously by performing arts organizations, choral leaders, and a growing number of worship experts across the country, as should those of us who sing with children and adults. See the articles below for more info.

Simply put, when we get back together,
among other things we should NOT be singing as usual.

This is no joke or over-reaction. Ask the members of Living Spirit United Church or Mt Vernon Presbyterian choir practice. They practiced hand-washing and safe distancing at their gatherings, but nearly half got sick and in both churches, two people died. There are other examples where infection rates soared after singing together. These are facts.

The initial "worship guidelines" from major denominations were not overly cautious about singing together in worship, but updates are now warning churches to change their practices. Check your denomination's COVID resources. Christian news outlets such as Christianity Today and the Religious News Service have also published warnings.

“Based on the science that we are learning about this week, we are urging and I am personally urging extreme caution,” said Rev. John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“Singing together in congregations is a practice that we dearly love and are eager to promote, but loving our neighbor is job one here and so a time for fasting from this wonderful practice may be longer than any of us would like.” (RNS)

Here are two more additional articles about it. Be sure to read the suggestions at the end of this post and feel free to share your own in light of these important facts.

1) Singing, the Church, and COVID-19: A Caution for Moving Forward in Our Current Pandemic, written by Heather R. Nelson, Ph.D with numerous scientific citations and explanations about the "aerosol" effect of singing, concludes:

"For now, it is not safe to sing together." 

Dr. Nelson is church music director who also happens to be a vocologist and a voice teacher with a PhD in Vocal Pedagogy and Voice Science. 

What about masks? The cloth variety everyone is wearing are no more than 20-40% effective, and many homemade masks much less so. Even the "N95" masks used by first-responders are only 95% effective (that's what the "95" means).

2)  An expert panel assembled by the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), Chorus America, the Barbershop Harmony Society, and the Performing Arts Medical Association (PAMA) laid out a sobering vision for the future of public singing in America, concluding that "there is no safe way for choirs to rehearse together until there is a vaccine or 95% effective treatment in place."  (This quote comes from Dr. Lucinda Halstead, president of the Performing Arts Medical Association, and the medical director of the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of South Carolina.) 

"Singers are super-spreaders."

Singing emits about the same amount of particles as a cough, but unlike a cough, singing is constant and multiplied by the number of singers. 

This information needs to be shared with worship leaders and even solo singers -- who should all be wearing masks in gathering and enclosed spaces. In this season of COVID, angels speak and sing with muffled voices.

View more COVID & Singing related resources from that seminar.
Read the Washington Post's May 2020 article on the subject.

Posting this article hurts. I LOVE to sing. I love congregational singing and singing with kids. But I also try not to be stupid.

Dr. Nelson concludes with this note of hope that speaks to me as someone who sees problems as opportunities to learn something new:

I think it could actually be an amazingly instructional time for us as churches to dive more deeply into what worship means besides singing in our public gatherings. We can worship with preaching, testimony, prayer, contemplation…all things that are true worship that just happen to not be set to music.

I think it can also be a wonderful opportunity to take music out of the church building and put it back into homes. As a worship leader and a music educator, I have long wanted to empower people to use music in their home lives, making music on their own for worship and entertainment. Too long we’ve left the music to the professionals, and this could be a wonderful opportunity for the church to sing everywhere.

Children's ministry folks also know that not all joyful noises require an open mouth! "Singing" can be done using instruments, rhythm, body movement, and hand motions. Perhaps this is something adult worship leaders could take a page from.


Images (1)
  • mceclip0
Last edited by Neil MacQueen

 Read our related new topic: "Singing with Kids in the Time of COVID"

Other Ways to Sing in the Time of COVID

For children's ministry, here are several ways you could potentially lower the risk of "super-spreading by singing" while still be able to include the power and pleasure of "singing" God's praise when we're safely back together.

All of the following suggestions assume you have all your other safe-practice ducks in order.

1. Sing outside where the science of sunlight, air circulation, and increased distance can work for us.

Project or display lyrics.
See the non-singing suggestions below.
And... continue to wear masks.
And... continue to maintain appropriate distances,
And... continue to clean surfaces (including microphones)

2. Use Movement and Motion instead of voice to "sing."

Not only is this a technique many children's leaders are familiar with, it opens up learning opportunities when students discuss what movements best interpret the lyrics.

Not all joyful noises require an open mouth. 

3. Hum instead of sing, or use rhythm instruments

And... continue to wear masks.
And... continue to maintain appropriate distances.
And... continue to clean surfaces.

4. Quiet Your Singing and Speaking

Have kids whisper or sing softly (kids will like this) while continuing to wear masks and keep an appropriate distance. Make sure leaders don't have to shout.

Researchers warn that the constant and forceful expulsion of droplets during singing and speaking loudly in confined space risks "super spreading" (allows one infected person to infect others in mass by forcefully spraying droplets).

If you are the leader, song leader, or speaker, stand back from people, use your “inside voice” as our moms used to say, and use a microphone (and don't forget to clean it afterward).

5. Move singing to an online "sing-along" format.

Let's all pray for the day when these become "just" creative ideas instead of creative necessities.


Images (2)
  • mceclip0
  • mceclip1
This post was forked into a new topic here: Singing with Kids in the Era of COVID
Last edited by Neil MacQueen


A List of "Healthy Sunday School" Practices 
for those Sunday Schools re-opening
during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The following guidance is based on CDC guidelines issued to churches, schools, and daycares and the advice coming from several children's ministry experts and organizations. I have tailored the language to a typical Sunday School environment.

Sources: CDC guidance for communities of faith, LifeWay's COVID resources, International Network of Children's Ministry COVID resources

It's important to communicate your plans to your members and remind them that these practices are not just "for the kids" (who don't seem to be especially susceptible to the virus), but for the ADULTS who lead them, their families, and for other adults coming to church who are at higher risk of contracting the virus from casual transmission. Communicating these "reasons" can help put children and young parents at ease who might harbor some fears about getting sick. "Doing this for others" is a great teaching opportunity too. 

  1. Require masks, provide masks.

  2. Have teachers meet their students at the door of the classroom. Have a helper inside the classroom assist students as they arrive to understand new classroom practices. Screen for children or adult helpers who might be ill.

  3. Require parents and siblings to remain outside the classroom if they are dropping off or picking up.

  4. Post safety rules in multiple locations for all to see. Share with parents ahead of time.

  5. Require students to wash hands prior to entering the classroom and AFTER leaving the classroom. This will likely need to be supervised. (Tip: provide fun "stickers" to mark those who have washed.) 

  6. Place hand-santizers and sanitizing wipes/cleaning supplies in each classroom.

  7. Create "social distances" between students and teachers in the classrooms by the creative arrangement of chairs and tables. Set class size limits to maintain social distancing. 

  8. Use visual markers, such as blue painters tape on the table, to help students keep their distance. 

  9. Reduce or eliminate the sharing of materials, such as markers, Bibles, and art supplies.

  10. Reduce or eliminate the use of games or activities that involve contact and loud voices.

  11. Eliminate singing in the traditional manner (see related post about that).

  12. If food is present, provide gloves to the teacher and practice safe food-handling (don't pass a plate, for example).

  13. Wipe down surfaces, objects, and "touch points" before and after classes with disinfectant. Don't forget doors knobs, shared items, tables, and chair backs.

  14. Open windows and doors wherever possible to increase air flow and fresh air exchange. Some churches are even moving some groups outside under tents for more fresh air flow.

  15. Discuss the installation and use of HEPA filters in the church's HVAC system. If your church will not install a central HEPA filter, you can tape your OWN HEPA-rated filters (found at your local hardware) to your classroom air intake and output vents.

  16. Continue to reach out and include those who cannot (or will not) attend in person.

  17. Have your requirements and practices "officially approved" by the church, publicize the practices, and let everyone know that if they can't follow the requirements, then they should not attend "at this time."

  18. Take and share photos of teachers and kids engaged in safe practices to help those "waiting" to return and encourage the continuation of safe practices. Inspire confidence among your parents.

  19. Spend time talking with your students in every lesson about how they are dealing with all the changes and worries related to the COVID crisis. This is a teaching opportunity! 

  20. Talk with each teacher about safe-practices and be prepared to provide substitute teachers to replace those who are not yet ready to return.



Images (2)
  • mceclip0
  • teachers-shields
Last edited by Neil MacQueen

I saw a great suggestion to help children visualize their social distance spacing: place each chair in a hula hoop (or have the children sit on the floor and stay inside his or her hula hoop's circle). Another suggestion is to mark a grid on the floor with tape (like a parking lot, with "aisles" between rows of personal spaces).

And for classes that require supplies, get a colorful cheap beach bucket for each child at the dollar store to hold pencils, papers, scissors, gluesticks, etc. Each child has a bucket waiting inside his or her space. No need to pass out supplies during class (some children may need to be reminded not to peek, or if all of the supplies are needed later in the class time, pass out the buckets when needed --- after washing your hands again.) No need to mark names on buckets - the nonconsumable supplies can be cleaned before the next week. Although I believe most people agree that the virus does not live on surfaces for very long, so if each bucket is only used once a week, you might not really need to clean them or the supplies inside them before the next Sunday.

July 20, 2020 Update

I have updated our list of "Healthy Practices for Reopening Sunday School" to reflect the latest CDC guidelines.

The following discussion is based on what I'm hearing from friends in other churches and what I'm reading in the latest ministry articles, news, and blogs across the web. Your thoughts are welcome.

Where are we with "re-opening"?

Here in July 2020, the situation continues to evolve, and in some ways regress.  Some states have rolled-back reopening plans (which include public worship recommendations), and churches are recalculating timetables and options as well. 

Many of those planning and hoping to reopen this fall are limiting their plans and taking a wait and see approach -- especially now keeping an eye on what will happen when public schools open. For many churches, this meansno Sunday School or small groups for the foreseeable future until a clearer picture in their region or state emerges.

Many of the educators I've talked to are still not sure what their fall program will look like -if any- and are getting anxious about it. Most are expecting LOW attendance for some time even when they have reopened. The "slow return" is already being experienced in some regions and churches that have reopened or had limited experiments in reopening.

Some churches have reopened worship and fellowship in limited ways, and some have chosen to close again due to infection rate spikes.

Some have stated they may not or will not reopen public worship for the rest of 2020 -- deciding to marshal all their resources toward in-home and online ministry.    This seems like the strategy many Sunday Schools will need to deploy if the pandemic continues to grow, things don't go well with the public school reopenings, and where churches decide to reopen theirworship services only.

What seemed like a likely return this fall now seems more iffy and difficult.

  • Some church staff and leaders are "burning out" providing "interim" solutions and are anxious due to the uncertainty and weight of the decision to reopen.
  • Some churches are planning to "phase in" things like Sunday School once members and leaders are comfortable coming back to worship, infection rates seem under control, and more families are ready. But as one church educator wrote,  "planning a whole program for one-third of our regular attendance isn't feasible." 

  • Some churches are planning on returning to WORSHIP this fall with COVID-restrictions, but are waiting to make a decision about small group meetings and Sunday School.

  • Some have said they are waiting to see how reopening goes in daycares and public schools before reopening their small group, children, and youth ministries.

  • Some have created or plan to create small groups/classes that only meet with each other apart from (larger group) worship -- either at an alternate day and/or alternate site (such as a member's home).

  • To deal with the uncertainty, a few churches and educators are creating "at home" resources and outreach plans NOW rather than waiting to see when worship reopens and when regular (or COVID restricted) Sunday School or fellowship programming will return. Many churches, however, lack the leadership and resources to carry out such approaches.

  • Some professional CE staff are beginning to wonder if they'll have a job in the fall as church finances continue to decline across the country.

  • Large children's ministry programs and those built around "children's worship" or "large group learning" are faced with challenges that many smaller or more traditional churches are not. Those churches may be able to hold onto staff, but will have to revamp their model to avoid large group gatherings.

Regardless of our plans, many members will have their own time table for return.

Members will make their OWN decisions about returning to worship and Sunday School, and the decision for some may not occur for many months.  We're seeing this "individual reticence" in churches which have reopened, in the general public with regard to returning to jobs, day care, and restaurants, and in the surveys of parents and teachers about their feelings about returning to public school this fall. As we get closer to the fall, we can only hope things will look brighter, but we can't count on it.

Here are some of the implications of this "individual reticence" to return:

  • The need to reach out to "non-attenders" will likely persist through the end of 2020 and perhaps beyond. I know that's something many of my worn-out friends don't want to hear, but it will be the new normal for some time to come, and may, in fact, be a blessing in disguise. Read "Connecting and Caring Beyond the Classroom."

  • Churches should expect smaller numbers, which at first will help social distancing.

  • Social distancing for those who do return will initially be easier due to smaller class sizes.

  • Recruiting teachers will be harder due to those not yet wanting to return.

  • Many Sunday Schools will likely need to "broadly grade" for some time to consolidate numbers and resources. 

  • Those who choose not to return may feel guilty about it, and sometimes those feelings push them even further away. Our "messaging" needs to be one of support and care.

  • Advent may look very different in 2020, which will be an opportunity to focus on learning, celebrating, and sharing the message of Advent in some new ways that are not centered in a building.
Last edited by Neil MacQueen

Had to share this video I came across late last night when I was unable to sleep.

It's by MercyMe, posted May 8, 2020.

It gave me several good laughs, as well as had me dancing by myself. I pray you enjoy it while you think about your next steps!

After you watch the above and if you're interested in where that astronaut came from, watch their lyric video below.

The astronaut is also in their video Almost Home.

Hoping everyone is doing well, keeping safe, and managing during these difficult times.

I live in Louisiana, and while our public schools have pushed the start back a week (until 8/17), that is only a month away. It is clear right now that nothing is clear  and that plans are still in flux. I agree with Neil (above) that it makes sense to be cautious and to wait and see (and let others try out methods to see what is best practice, maybe?), especially for small churches with limited staff and budgets.

My church is getting ready to send a questionnaire to parents (with a follow-up phone call, because a form cannot capture the nuances of the situation). This will help us decide what our next steps are. I have attached the draft, in case it is helpful to someone. Volunteers will be asked similar sorts of questions, about what protocols are essential for their feeling of safety and comfort.

Neil also wrote above

I do like the idea of limited and safe "small group gatherings of students with a teacher" (in church or at home)  to touch base and help with and follow up on additional e-learning at home in-between the limited small group gatherings.

I very much agree that it is important to continue to offer some sort of community opportunity to our churches, small groups of some sort being a possible solution. I saw a very thought-provoking statement on Facebook that as Christian educators, we may need to set aside some of our reservations about gathering in order to offer opportunities for those who need to get out of the house to be with others. She said she is in a "difficult marriage" and that "As I continued to reach out to parents, especially my moms who attend without their spouses, I found so many more like me, or in similar but different circumstances. Being at church with each other one or two or even sometimes three times a week, was what these women needed. It encouraged them, helped them, got them through another week." 

All to say, yes, we need to be cautious and protect people's health, but we also need to remember that there are some with mental and spiritual health needs also. 


Last edited by Amy Crane

August 19, 2020 Update to our Re-Opening Sunday School During the Pandemic discussion.

Our July-August Survey results about "re-opening" are in!

I've also updated my original considerations and recommendations for re-opening at the top of this page/topic. I hope you find them useful and would expect you to add your own expertise to them.

Where do I come up with my recommendations? 
A lot of reading about what others are doing, discussion with fellow educators and pastors, and things people email me about. 

In Indiana, our Bishop (UMC) encouraged returning to church on June 14, which we did. Our pastor is also of the mind that we should be here for anyone who choses to come. I was unsure how things would work for Children's Ministry but since leadership encouraged it, we opened our Elementary group (Kids Pointe-K-5) that same day. Before Covid we usually had 60-70 kids each Sunday.

How we did it:

  • Posted our plans on our Facebook page, sent postcards to get the word out.
  • Personally contacted all teachers to see who was willing to teach 
  • Plans:
    • Teacher or Shepherd will wear mask and meet children at door of Children/Youth Building (separate building from Worship) spray hand sanitizer on hands before entering. Parents do not enter building. At first we did not require children to wear masks but when things began to get worse in July we did ask them to wear them to enter the building and leave them on until they got into their classroom. (This is what the Elementary schools in our area were planning to do and have done.)
    • Sign kids in on computer/print nametag
    • Take kids directly into one of our rooms and have them wash their hands with soap and water then be seated.
    • Have an activity for them to do while waiting for others - make/color cards for church families who we know will not be able to attend.
    • As soon as 12 students are in a room (we have large rooms), open another room. We had 4 rooms available that first week. That meant 4 teachers and at least 4 shepherds. We only needed 2 rooms the first couple of weeks. About mid-July we actually went down to one room and I don't expect it to go back up until later this month or early October. (It is normal for our church attendance to go down in July and August but the Covid cases rising did not help!)
    • We are not doing singing and no running games.


These lessons are well thought out and were simple enough that if we needed an extra room, someone who had not initially planned to teach could pick up the lesson and be effective.

 One big thing our pastor has been serious about is NOT STARTING PROTOCOLS that will last until Jesus returns!  For example, we did not close every other pew or take temps.  Our pastor's wife is the Director of the Covid area of one of our Hospitals. I think learning from her how things truly could and could not be passed helped guide him and our plans. 

We continue to do online worship and Children's Ministry for those who are not comfortable attending. 

I also prepare worship packets weekly, with gloved hands, for children whose parents are comfortable with attending worship but not Kids Pointe. These are not to be returned, so the kids take everything home every week they take one.


As our state and country are currently inundated with more and more cases of Covid, I thought I would update how we have fared and are handling the changes.

In early October we were growing in our numbers at worship and children's ministry. We had a small Fall Festival (second annual) that was all outdoor, and very well attended and praised. People really needed to see each other!  Some wore masks, others didn't.

After that event things have quickly changed though.  Cases rose and schools had to stop meeting in person for a few weeks due to a shortage of substitute teachers and bus drivers!

Our attendance at worship has actually decreased by 50% from early October to now. We continued to do online worship and children's ministry. People are tuning in but not as many as at first, at least when it is live.  We have a concern that many people are getting out of the habit of church attendance and wonder where it will leave us when this is all over.

We are trying things to keep engaged other than the online offerings:

  • We have a drive-through pick up for parents of preschool through 5th grade this coming Sunday, November 1. Kids get to choose a stuffed animal puppy to use as a Bible Buddy. They also get a bag that includes a simple Bible study for the next 30 days, some prayer cards, candy and a few other trinkets. When kids finish the Bible study they return it for a prize and another study.  The idea and the booklets for the study were found on here on Etsy. The entire set of Bible study booklets for all of the ages plus parent guide is a download for a total of $15.00!
Post Your Question, Comment, Idea, or Resource Inc. is a volunteer-run, 100% member supported, 501(c)3 non-profit Sunday School lesson ministry. You are welcome to borrow and adapt content for non-commercial teaching purposes --as long as both the site and author are referenced. Inc reserves the right to manage, move, condense, delete, and otherwise improve all content posted to the site. Read our Terms of Service. is rated5 stars on Google based on 51 reviews. Serving a global community including the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, S. Africa, and more!

Link copied to your clipboard.