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This topic is focused on what church leaders and experts are saying and what various church statistics and surveys are telling us.

Related Topic:
A discussion about Returning, Rebuilding, and Renewing Sunday School
as we come out of the pandemic
this fall 2021 and beyond

Kicking off the topic: Neil's list of recommended articles

Here are links to some of the pastor-bloggers and church "experts" whose insights I have appreciated on the subject of preparing and leading congregations through and after the COVID pandemic. While mostly geared toward "church" and adult worship, much of their advice and observations affect Children's ministry as well. --Rev Neil

  1. What Not to Say to People When Leading Change

  2. 8 Disruptive Church Trends in the Post Pandemic Church

  3. Returning to the Pre-pandemic Church Would be a Step Backwards (for some)

  4. 5 Post Pandemic Accelerators (priorities)

  5. Leading a Post-COVID Church: A Pastor’s Guide to Ministry Challenges & Opportunities
    Free E-Book By Thom Rainer. Thom's advice is usually right on target.

  6. Podcast:  Leading a Simple Church in Post Covid World

  7. Ten Predictions About the Future Church

  8. 5 Trends Shaping Next Gen Ministry

  9. 5 Types of Church Members Who Will Not Return

  10. Pew Research into Church Attendance during COVID and expectations

  11. Pastoring in a Digital Age

  12. Best and Worst Digital Practices

  13. The Church has Left the Building: 5 Truths about the Future

  14. 4 Reasons Your Church Will Lose Volunteers after the Pandemic

There are a few more recommended articles linked in posts below this one.

Feel free to post your suggested reads.

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Re-Opening Sunday School "AFTER" the Pandemic:
The Challenges and Issues

A starter list with comments from Neil MacQueen and others

  • SAFETY: New policies and healthy practices need to be enacted and enforced for church-gatherings and children's ministries no matter when, where, or how big. Getting everyone to follow policy will be a big challenge, and as we've learned, some opinions may be more about political ideology than medical one. Read this topic on "Safer Sunday Schools."

  • HESITANCY: Some parents will be hesitant to join in a return to group meetings and classes "during" and even "after" the pandemic -- no matter where and how you organize them. Inspiring confidence and competence is one of our biggest challenges.  We will need to be prepared for a slow return to "normal."

  • EXPECTATIONS: Many parents and teachers will want to know what your plans for "safety and social distancing" are, and how you will enforce expectations and rules. And we need to manage the expectations of "how long" it will take for people's return, and the new normal we will be returning to.

  • TEACHER RETICENCE:  Some volunteers may be reluctant to come back until they feel it is "safe." This is especially true among our older volunteers. This may affect age-groupings, lesson planning, and room assignments.

  • LOW ATTENDANCE: In churches that have already started to re-open it's already apparent that attendance will take time to return to pre-COVID levels. Low attendance needs to be accounted for in our planning, grade grouping, teaching and room assignments, and curriculum.

  • MINISTERING TO THOSE WHO CHOOSE TO STAY HOME:  As our in-church programs re-open, some will continue to stay away. They will need "included" so as not to feel "excluded."

  • RESTORING ATTENDANCE HABITS: Some families will need their attendance habits "rekindled" no matter when and how you plan to return.

  • RESTRICTIONS: Some types of activities will need to be restricted (such as singing, see post below), and people will be naturally "skittish" about types of interactions they have grown used to avoiding (such as handshakes and sharing food).

  • WORKLOAD: We've got a lot of work to do to prepare for "the return." Managing priorities and laying some things aside for a time will require patience and explanation.  Some churches may be faced with staff cut-backs and loss of volunteer leaders.

  • VACCINATION: We may have issues with those who choose not to be vaccinated when one is available. Frankly, we should have had a policy about unvaccinated kids BEFORE the pandemic. Now we're going to have to grab that bull by the horns.

  • NOT FORGETTING WHAT WE LEARNED:  We've learned a lot about ourselves and our congregations during this "wilderness" period. Hopefully, it has changed us for the better. Let's be sure we are talking about "what we've learned" and let our experiences make us better than before.

  • DEALING WITH THE FALLOUT: Church magazines and ministry blogs are abuzz with the controversy many congregations are dealing with as their new policies and practices meet with opposition from fearful and ill-informed members. Some churches report that the national turmoil has "infected" their church politics and decision-making to the point that factions have formed and some members have left.  How can your Sunday School navigate this minefield and stay focused on kids and their safety?


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Opening our eyes and noses to healthier and safer buildings

  • Addressing the well-being of kids and adults who have mold and dust allergies.
  • "Safe" spaces, scary rooms, bad lighting, etc. (yes, some spaces are scary to kids)

This post has been moved to our newer Safe Sunday School Recommendations topic.


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The future of Sunday School after the pandemic:
personal, but not always in-person


Many of our friends in Christian education are reporting exhaustion with all the changes and challenges 2020 has brought them. I feel your pain. We've been challenged at too.

Fair to say that (a) it ain't over yet, and (b) AFTER the pandemic we're going to have a "new normal" for Sunday School and most of Christian education -- and the "new normal" is going to be equally as challenging for a number of short and long term reasons:

  • It's going to take time for many people to fully return.
  • Some people probably won't come back.
  • Many congregations and programs were already fighting decline before COVID.
  • New financial strains may cause churches to cut of C.E. staff.
  • Surveys are reporting a lot of stress and exhaustion among church staff.
  • And "no church affiliation" is still the fastest growing denomination in the U.S.

    (I've put a couple of citations and "further reading" links for these statements and at the end of this article. )

The pandemic and its aftermath will accelerate many of the changes we have already been experiencing, and light a fire under those we need to make. Crisis has a way of doing that.

I am hopeful! Call it providence, but 2020 has been a year of some much-needed experimentation in Christian education:

  • It has taught us "how -to" and how-not-to reach out online and at a distance.
  • It has inspired at-home learning initiatives and materials, but also reminded us of the challenge of getting follow-through at home.
  • It's been a year of technical learning, trial and error.
  • We've learned that "new" can be exhausting, but also full of potential.
  • We've been forced out of our same-old-silos and comfort zones.
  • We've experienced the luxury of "doing without" things we thought were important and are finding out just how important they really were.
  • And we've all been reminded of the blessing of being together AND learning together (which is something many had taken for granted).

What does the future hold for Sunday School?

It's going to be wonderful to get back together, which is something many churches are doing right now in a limited way. But the need for more “online" and "at-home" outreach and learning is NOT going to go away with a vaccine. They were not temporary measures. They were the beginning of the future -- a future that doesn't sit in the church waiting for people to show up.

I've heard people say or write "people are tired of online!" -- And the funny thing is, you read those things in articles and posts online! But contrary to that kind of "nostalgic" wishful thinking, time spent online is growing and being woven into the fabric of our daily lives. The average American now spends 152 minutes a day on social media alone, and that doesn’t include other online activities such as Netflix, school, or work. More jobs have moved online, and there's been a growth in online schooling too. These trends already existed pre-COVID, and will continue whether you like them or not.

Naysayers are easy to be found when something new is emerging. Remember when those disciples were blown by the Spirit into the street on the day of Pentecost to speak in new ways? (I heard the naysayers when I started teaching with software, and began experimenting with the Workshop Rotation Model, and helped launch this website.)

I have no doubt we're going to see more "online" and at-home Sunday School materials from the publishers and creative teachers. But as helpful as these materials will be, they are not the revolution. The real revolution is personally REACHING OUT to our students and families via various online methods: connecting, pastoring, encouraging, and yes, teaching.

In other words:  our efforts will be personal, but not always in-person.

"Personal" is harder and more time-consuming, but it's also often more rewarding and effective.

This revolution won't replace in-person learning

This revolution won't replace in-person learning, worship, or fellowship, but it will supplement it AND encourage it, and give us new ways to reach more kids and families, rather than waiting around for them to walk through our door.

The inclusion of more "at-home" also holds the promise of something we've long sought: bringing parents back into the teaching equation.

These changes are in keeping with something we have been saying in the church forever and 2020 has reminded us in a dramatic way: the church is not a building.

Lots more to say! Your thoughts welcome.

<>< Neil

More for leaders...

One of my favorite "church futurists" is Pastor Cary Nieuwhof. Not only is he leading a congregation, he is talking about the things churches need to be talking about.  I would encourage you to read his blog. Nearly every one of his posts is challenging and full of facts, such as some of the things I just quoted above and continue with below.

Read: "7 Weird Lies About Online Church that Pastors Need to Stop Believing"

Here are some conclusions from "7 Weird Lies About Online Church"

  • If you think people are "screened out," run your theory by TikTok or Instagram. Apparently, people aren’t nearly as done with screens as you think.

    (I would add Netflix and Facebook to the number of "screens" in our lives. )

  • If you think people "don’t like technology," and "church online is just a bridge to get us to reopening," then you're engaged in wishful thinking. "Almost all of the people you want to reach and connect with are online. It’s time for the church to embrace that."

  • He concludes:

    In the midst of an unprecedented amount of change, it’s natural to cling to the familiar. It’s also a terrible leadership strategy.

Citations and Further Reading:

Neil MacQueen is a Presbyterian minister specializing in creative approaches to Christian education. He helped create the Rotation Model and


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The Workshop Rotation Model After the Pandemic

The advantages of using the Rotation Model as Sunday Schools regain their footing,
adapt to attendance fluctuations, and try to rebuild enthusiasm for attendance.

Using "Rotation" and "Workshop" concepts and planning strategies
to create online and at-home outreach, resources, and teaching.

This post has been moved into its own topic:
Post-Pandemic Advantages of the Using Workshop Rotation Model
and "The Outreach Workshop"


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Jesus took different approaches to different people -- tax collectors, zealots, prostitutes, fisherman, lepers, and priests,   

…at the very least,
we need to do the same with kids and teenagers.

This means that if you and I want to help God gather the next generation of the church, we have to choose to open our hearts and minds to methods that are built for a generation unlike any before it.

(Based on a quote from Pastor Carey Nieuwhof speaking about reaching Gen Z children and young adults born 1997-2012.)


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Ten things Sunday School can do
to adapt to post-pandemic attendance trends

The various clergy and church resources, futurists, bloggers, and number crunchers I follow* are predicting a very challenging post-pandemic future for churches. Most of them believe COVID has exposed, accelerated, and let loose changes that will be with us for years to come, if not permanently. Many of the changes were already "trends" before the pandemic -- membership and worship attendance decline, financial stress, declining numbers of children -- to name a few.

We can debate "why" attendance trends have been and will continue to be a serious issue — but not “if."  Various surveys and experts point to several reasons for the trends so I'm not going to rehash them. Instead of hand-wringing and finger-pointing, I'm going to look at ways my Sunday School can adapt.

The BIGGEST CHANGE COMING that will affect "Sunday School" is attendance and the "quality" of that attendance. Indeed, the change was already happening in most churches before the pandemic.


Coming out of the pandemic, many church statistics and experts are predicting a post-pandemic membership drop of about 20%. Concurrently, post-pandemic "regular" attendance will be increasingly defined as "less regular" than before (which is another trend that's been with us for years).

Based on societal trends and church stats pre-dating the pandemic, many experts believe these drops will be "permanent" for many if not most churches, forcing the closure of some and austere contraction of others. While some churches will grow, overall the numbers of "churched" is expected to continue its decades-long slide in the U.S.

Maybe your program's design and attendance is "big enough" to withstand a 20% drop, but what about your budget or your staffing? And what about churches and programs that were already at the tipping point? And even if your church is mildly successful at regaining or even growing its membership over the next five years, changing demographics point to fewer children among that growth. Moreover, what opportunities will be missed by congregations that "hang on" through the decline as if nothing needs to change?

You may be one of the lucky few if...

  • You are in a demographically "growing" area or neighborhood. You might not see a dramatic or permanent downturn (until the neighborhood ages).
  • Your church and teaching program were "healthy" going into the pandemic. You may not see a dramatic or permanent downturn and can just scale it back a bit.
  • Your church's worship was already appealing to families. You may not see a dramatic or permanent downturn, or can make a few adjustments. (But the research suggests that your success is cannibalizing nearby churches.)

But if you're like most churches, you already KNEW that you need to prepare for a different future -- a future that the pandemic has accelerated to our doorstep.

Ten Things Sunday School Leaders Can Do to Prepare for the Future

  1. Fear not. God is with us in the wilderness, and the wilderness has a way of clarifying and strengthening.
  2. Believe that "Sunday School" is a concept, not a day of the week. It's about the importance of teaching the Bible, and that can happen in many ways on any day.
  3. Reimagine how you teach based on the kids you WILL have, not the attendance you no longer have or wish you had --and do it now.  It's easier to adapt a program that's still breathing than one you let die.
  4. Look for alternate times and places to add Sunday School-like teaching. For example, if parents are gathering with adults in a home for a Bible study, the kids could be doing the same in the basement. In children's worship, use break-out groups for actual study and discussion instead of just a talking head delivering "a message." Add teaching opportunities to existing church events, such as your dinners and picnics.
  5. Equip and resource parents to do Bible teaching through their parenting. This long-standing goal is now more important than ever. (Note: Sending flyers and coloring sheets is not the answer.)
  6. Establish an outreach & teaching program for non & infrequent attenders. This will include online opportunities and the use of social media. Create something that works for them on their schedule and needs, instead of what used to work for the church's schedule.
  7. Train & Resource Your Church's Grandparents to be their grandchildren's Christian educators. This may be your "silver-haired" church's next great opportunity to reach & teach kids -- especially in congregations that don't have many kids in attendance but have loads of grandkids.
  8. Help your church make Bible study a priority and hallmark of your congregation. Parents who believe in their own Bible study will make it a priority for their children, and they will attract others to your church who also believe or want that as a priority in their lives.
  9. Be cautious about broadly grading your classes. Most older children resist being treated "like babies" and doing so can hasten their exit. Instead, when you have just one or two much older children in a broadly graded-group, turn them into leaders in the group, and mentor them in other ways.
  10. Use the concepts of "rotation" and "workshop" to improve your teaching and the student's attendance experience.  Rotation = focus on major stories for more than one lesson. Workshop = use a variety of creative teaching methods.
  11. What would you add here?

I'm hopeful because I believe and experienced that crisis is often the mother of invention. And Christian educators are some of the most creative people I know. I'm also hopeful because wilderness experiences are part of the DNA of our faith. They help us to clarify, discover, and hear the still small voice of God. Those who look back on Egypt, or try to live as if they are still in Egypt, will miss out on where and to whom God is leading us.

*Who do I read?

Here are a few of the "Church future" newsletters I subscribe to:


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Church fills empty pews with photos of parishioners during COVID-19 crisis - 6abc Philadelphia

Church growth guru Pastor Carey Nieuwhof has been posting challenging articles and predictions about what the "post-pandemic church" and attendance is going to look like." Below I've excerpted TWO of them.

While his comments are mostly directed at worship, they do apply to Sunday School as well. Nieuwhof is basing his predictions on surveys, research, and the work of other experts in the field of church growth and decline, such as Barna Research, Lifeway Research, and Pew (many of whom he interviews in his podcasts).

Article 1 is titled:


but could have just as easily been titled


1. The Leaders Bet Everything On A Physical Return To Church

2. Success Is Still Measured By The Number Of People Who Attend Physical Locations

3. Online Ministry Is Still Seen As An Afterthought Or Lesser Form

4. All Feedback Comes From Their Echo Chamber

5. They Quickly Went Back To Their (Same Old) Format

Article 2 is titled:


Read it! Below are Nieuwhof's 5 Ways and some of my comments.

  1. In-Person Doesn’t Necessarily Mean In Your Facility

    • This is similar to #3 but speaks more to the idea of alternative gathering spaces instead of viewing the church building as a "life center." The article mentions why this "shift" fits younger generations. One corollary is, "Sunday School doesn't have to be on Sunday or run like it meets in a school building."

  2. In Person Attendance In The Building Will Be A Percentage Of Your Real Church

    • Lots of ways to go with this observation, but the implication here is that we need to change our "measures of success" when it comes to groups. It then begs the question, "What is our "real" Sunday School?"

  3. You’ll Use The Building To Reach People Online, (instead of using) Online To Get People In The Building

    • Using online to get people inside the building is old thinking. The new thinking is that online IS a place to learn and meet, and call people to meet/serve in locations outside of the church building. How can our Sunday Schools reach and teach kids outside our buildings?  Where can Sunday School "go" instead of always meeting in the building?
  4. In-Person Church Attendance Will Probably Become More In-Frequent Church Attendance

    • See my notes on "infrequent" in the post previous to this one. Does spending a lot of money on graded curriculum that changes the story every week sound like a good idea if half your regular attenders will miss HALF of the curriculum you're paying for? Nope.

  5. Digital Church Will Be More Of A Front Door And A Side Door Than A Back Door

    • This is similar to other observations based on research that I've read. A church's online presence is the new front door and sign along the road.  Younger adults are much more likely to "look you up" before they walk through your door.

These predictions are scary and depressing to some people, particularly those in charge who lack skills and experience in these areas. It's going to be a lot of hardwork, trial, error, and dealing with naysayers.  What I'm keeping my eye on are THE FORERUNNERS -- those who are already succeeding in these areas and can teach us. That's how the Workshop Rotation Model spread in the 1990's -- people watched what and how we were doing Sunday School. We also took it upon ourselves to share our "how to" via 

Find those who are doing what you'd like to do or haven't yet thought of and learn from them.

Then become a teacher so that others can learn from your experience.


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What Has the Pandemic Taught Us About Our Ministries?

Church pastor and author Karl Vaters posted this gem about the "12 Bad Habits (Some) Pastors Dropped During the Pandemic That We Shouldn’t Pick Back Up" at   All "12 Bad Habits" apply to Christian education too! --including Sunday School, Youth Ministry, you name it.

Try substituting the phrase "Sunday School" or "youth group" for the word "church" or "ministry" as you read the article.

My Highlights from the Article:

It wasn’t a lost year. One of the positives is that it forced us to define what is and isn’t essential in ministry.

Our buildings are not as essential as we’ve made them out to be.

Focus on doing ministry from the building, not just in the building.

This year we learned to hold loosely to our plans. Churches with adaptability built into their strategy fared better than those with strict plans.

In the coming months, there will be many temptations to jump back into sprint mode. Don’t do it! Ministry is a marathon. Pace yourself for it.

During this challenging time, many of us have leaned on the help of our church members more than we’ve been used to. Keep fostering that spirit.

Don’t allow yourself to slip back into the mode of business-as-usual again. Change is relentless. Our ability to adapt to it is essential. There will never be an easier time to simplify your church’s ministries than now. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by.

If the past year has taught us anything, it’s not to take the most simple joys of life, family, and faith for granted.

This excellent article is reprinted from the author's blog with permission. Thanks Karl!

To read it for Christian education...
  • Wherever you read "pastors" substitute the word "Christian Educators" or "Teachers."
  • Wherever you read "church" or "worship," substitute the word "Sunday School" or whatever ministry you are involved in.

12 Bad Habits Pastors Dropped During The Pandemic That We Shouldn’t Pick Back Up

Did 2020 feel like a lost year to you?

If so, you’re definitely not alone.

But it wasn’t a lost year. Not if we don’t let it be.

One of the positives is that it forced us to define what is and isn’t essential in ministry. Most of the pastors I know dropped old habits that no longer work like they used to. If life during lockdown forced you to drop some bad habits, don’t pick them back up after the pandemic is over.

Here are 12 to watch out for:

Bad Habit 1: A Focus on the Church Building

This is one of the main differences between churches that have adapted well during the pandemic and those that have not. Churches and pastors that consider their church building as essential to worship and faith have been devastated by not being able to meet in it. Many have had to close for good.

On the other hand, the congregations that have not just survived, but thrived during this season have recognized that our buildings are not as essential as we’ve made them out to be.

The congregations that have not just survived, but thrived during this season have recognized that our buildings are not as essential as we’ve made them out to be.

When this is over and we’re allowed to go back into our church buildings, don’t fall back into the habit of relying on them for all our ministry.

Let’s focus on doing ministry from the building, not just in the building.

Bad Habit 2: An Obsession with Attendance and Numerical Increase

Most churches saw losses in attendance and offerings in the past year. It was unavoidable.

But that was never the best measure of church health and strength, anyway.

Thriving churches learned to see health and growth by what the church (as in the people) did, not just how many people gathered.

Let’s not go back to obsessing about butts in the seats ever again.

Bad Habit 3: Thinking We Have a Clue About What’s Coming Next

Those “2020 Vision” sermons didn’t age well, did they?

I’m not against planning, organizing or casting a vision for the future. But this year we learned to hold loosely to our plans.

Churches with adaptability built into their strategy fared better than those with strict plans. This is a reality that will be even more true going forward.

Let’s keep praying, planning and strategizing. But adaptability needs to remain a high priority.

Bad Habit 4: Not Paying Attention to What’s Coming Next

This is the flip-side of the previous point. While we can’t predict what’s coming, we mustn’t make the mistake of throwing our hands in the air in hopelessness, either.

While we can’t predict what’s coming, we mustn't make the mistake of throwing our hands in the air in hopelessness, either.

In 2020, we had to pay more attention than usual to the changes that are happening all around us. And so many churches did such a great job at adapting so quickly!

If the pandemic and lockdowns shook you and your congregation up, don’t be in a hurry to go back to being too comfortable with the way things are. We’ve learned to watch, listen, and adapt. Keep at it.

Bad Habit 5: Not Pacing Ourselves

Change happened so quickly at the start of the pandemic. From in-person services one week to online-only the next, then back inside, then outside, then…

In the first weeks and months, most of us jumped into sprint mode as we tried to keep up with all the changes. Then, as time went on and we realized this was no longer a matter of weeks, but months and probably years, we had to switch into a slower, steadier marathon mode of leadership and adaptability.

In the coming months there will be many temptations to jump back into sprint mode. Don’t do it!

Ministry is a marathon. Pace yourself for it.

Bad Habit 6: Ignoring Our Health, Families and Souls

This is one of the main reasons to pace yourself in ministry. When we stay at a sprint pace it always costs us something. And those who pay the price are usually our health, our family, and/or our souls.

When we stay at a sprint pace it always costs us something. And those who pay the price are usually our health, our family, and/or our souls.

The pandemic shutdown forced many of us to spend more time with our families and ourselves. Sometimes with bad results. But if these changes have allowed you to pay more attention to the principles that keep you and your family healthy, build on that.

Bad Habit 7: Not Equipping the Church

Maybe the biggest mistake I’ve seen my fellow small-church pastors make in this season has been an extension of our biggest overall ministry mistake – not following the Pastoral Prime Mandate of “equipping God’s people for works of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-12).

During this challenging time, many of us have leaned on the help of our church members more than we’ve been used to. Keep fostering that spirit.

Don’t go back to doing all the ministry yourself. Build on the foundation of increased volunteerism by training, mentoring and equipping church members in continued ministry.

Bad Habit 8: Expecting Anything to be Business-as-Usual

This pandemic hasn’t brought change to the church. It’s just accelerated the pace of change and made it more obvious than ever before.

Don’t allow yourself to slip back into the mode of business-as-usual again. Change is relentless. Our ability to adapt to it is essential.

Bad Habit 9: Hanging on to Dead Programs

You know those church programs you used to do, but you had to stop because of the pandemic? Don’t be in a hurry to restart them.

  • First ask “is anyone really missing them?”
  • Then ask “would it be a real loss if we didn’t restart some of them?”

There will never be an easier time to simplify your church’s ministries than now. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by.

There will never be an easier time to simplify your church’s ministries than now. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by.

Bad Habit 10: A Longing for the Past

There’s no “back to normal” any more.

Even if the past you’re longing for is how things were just last year, you’re still looking in the wrong direction.

Resist the habit of looking in the rear-view mirror.

Bad Habit 11: An Obsession with Being Trendy

This is the flip side of habits 8 through 10.

While some churches have learned to make necessary changes, others learned that nothing will ever replace the essential need that people have to meet together, sing in worship, receive communion and other perennial aspects of being the body of Christ.

Chasing trends feels wasteful and nonsensical during a pandemic. It will be just as wasteful and nonsensical after it’s over.

Bad Habit 12: Taking Anything for Granted

I never thought we’d have to go for weeks without opening the church building for worship. Or go for weeks without being able to offer nursery care even after we opened the building up. Or not be able to gather family for the holidays even though they live in the same city.

If the past year has taught us anything, it’s not to take the most simple joys of life, family and faith for granted.

When life does settle down again, let’s never settle for that.


Here are some challenging quotes from Craig Groeschel, the Sr. Pastor of Life.Church, known for their embrace of technology and online worship long before churches "had to."   I've excerpted these quotes from his 2021 podcast with Cary Nieuwhof where they discussed the POST-PANDEMIC CHURCH and digital engagement.

I'm quoting him with Sunday School and Christian education in mind.


In the post-pandemic church, your most engaged people may not be in the room.

Crisis leadership is not as hard as you think. There are some basics: You have to communicate over and over again. You have to bring the why behind everything that you're doing.

Some pastors will try to fill auditoriums while others focus on fulfilling the mission. Full auditoriums do not guarantee a fulfilled mission.

My identity was wrapped up in the number of people in the room And then when I was preaching to nobody, I just realized... that was super emotionally and spiritually disorienting to me. And I was like, "how real is it without the people there." So I had to adjust kind of my emotional barometer to that.

(On the quality of online engagement/views...)
So the quality of engagement is in question. The number of people, how long they're on is in question, where they're coming from, all that kind of stuff, what they actually do with it? Can they process it? Can they pay attention?  I'm incredibly concerned that we have to work way, way, way, way harder to retain them, to connect them relationally, to give them an experience that engages them with other people. I believe that church is not just absorbing content. That's TV ministry, that's podcast, that's YouTube, and those are all really important. We should celebrate it, applaud it, and a lot of people should do it. But if we're pastors and if we value the church gathering, then we may still stream our content but our strategy of how we engage people needs to be different, needs to be intentional, we just need to be clear about it.

Be what you are --without being against what you're not.


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Article: 7 Trends to Expect in 2021 Children’s Ministry

I thought this article from Group has some interesting thoughts for ministry as the pandemic continues as well as into the future.

The author points out the urgent need for children's ministry to help kids deal with stress and isolation and depression that have come out of the changes necessitated by the pandemic.

In many parts of the country, schools are back in-person, and churches that can provide in-person ministry will attract families from churches that have not been able to get restarted.

Here is one of the things in the article that really caught my eye:

"The COVID quarantine mentality has elevated the desire and need for human interaction, fellowship, and participation.

Passively sitting and watching others has lost its patina. And wedging into a crowd to passively watch the person at the microphone has really lost favor during these contagious times.

Kids today want to be noticed, named, and known, (according to the research). If your teaching is primarily a spectator-show, expect steady decline.

Churches and children’s ministries that rely on stage performances will weaken.

Hands-on, participatory experiences will reign, along with breaking crowds into smaller relational groups.

Even children’s ministries that continue to offer online sessions will need to incorporate active, participatory, relational, hands-on elements."

Once again I can see how the relational and experiential aspects of our Workshop Rotation Model are exactly what our kids needs --especially now!

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Article: Look! I’m Doing a New Thing

More hopeful food for thought from the folks at GenOn Ministries


"... we should think about “how we are moving forward” rather than “getting back to normal.” Meaning: 2021's new normal is going to be a little (or a lot) different than our 2019 normal, and better than 2020.

Followers of Jesus Christ live by hope. And through that hope in Christ, we have confidence that God is doing a new thing. That God is right there with us in our “coming along.” Our moving forward."

The pandemic has provided us with an opportunity to experiment, even if just for a season. It's taught us what we can do without, and what we need to do better.

What have you tried and learned that will become part of your "new normal"?

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Children's Ministry as a Way to Reactivate Adult and Family Attendance

In his recent article, church growth expert Thom Rainer reminds us that it is often through CHILDREN & YOUTH that families find their way back to church, parents meet and make friends in the church, and adults are evangelized.

Of course, this is something children's ministers have known forever.

a. Kids don't drive themselves.

b. Adults are much more inclined to say "yes" when it's for their children's benefit.

c. Many adults crave fellowship and children's ministry can offer many opportunities to meet and get to know other adults in the congregation. (Indeed, we should create such opportunities!)

Challenge #1: In my experience, pastors and church leaders outside of children's ministry are largely UNAWARE of this potential, or dismissive of it.

Challenge #2:  Coming out of the pandemic, the connection between attracting kids and also attracting their parents means that we're going to have to have our "A" game going, or we may miss the "window of opportunity" of so many people returning to look for what they think they've been missing.

the "window of opportunity"
members returning to look
for what they think they've been missing


The psychology behind the concept of "Windows of Opportunity" is that the human brain is wired to "move on" from past behaviors once they are stopped, or no longer meet our needs, or get replaced by something new and different.

This is why diets don't work once you stop them, and why AA does if you keep going to the group. This is why "former" members are the hardest to reactivate, and why church membership experts remind us of the importance of caring for and feeding our members, instead of taking them for granted.

For most churches, the "window of opportunity" will be Fall 2021 when the pandemic is (hopefully) behind us and "fall programming" starts up with all of its expectations and excitement (hopefully). And because of our psychology, it's a window that won't stay open forever.

It's also a wide open window!  Read Barna's Research quoted below in this forum about "What People Say They Miss About In-Person Church," --especially YOUNGER adults. It's not the sermon or choir music.

according to Barna what the parents of our Sunday School kids (Millennials) have really missed during the pandemic are the social aspects of going to church, being with people like themselves.

The challenge may also be greater than expected, in part, because the pandemic has likely accelerated church disengagement trends that have growing for decades according to researchers and pollsters (many of which I've quoted and linked in this forum). What this means is that some of our impending challenges, if not outright "losses" were in the works BEFORE COVID and that offering "more of the same" isn't going to help.

So let's take seriously what we know works and what people say they want -- meaningful relationships through meaningful participation, learning, and leadership opportunities.

The time to begin addressing the fall and coming "window of opportunity" is now.


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Five Spring Cleaning Tips in Preparation for the Return

Ideas for post-pandemic Sunday School & Children's Ministry

1Make Real Changes. Change boring and uninviting rooms and hallways. Change boring and uninviting lessons. Change boring and uninviting teachers and leaders. Change how you plan. Change how you promote (such as embracing social media and personal interactions, and reducing reliance on impersonal mail and email).

2Make Your Program "Inviting." Change the "drop off" mentality of your program. Create ways for parents to engage with one another around their children's participation. Invite engaging teens to help (parents love to see their children spend time with role models). Invite parents to participate in easy leadership and support roles.

3Deep Clean. Remove disruptive and dysfunctional people who are driving others away (and look for other ways to minister to them). Send to the curb those traditions and practices that signal "the same old," chew up resources and people, and have limited results.

4Actually Clean. Some churches and classrooms are full of clutter and dust, and in need of actual repairs. Now is the time to fix broken blinds, get rid of junk, send that old curriculum to the recycle bin, and organize that closet. See our list of needs for a "Safe Sunday School" and get started. (And this is an "easy ask" to get low-commitment folks involved).

5Go Meaningful and Missional. Become discipleship focus, emphasizing faith in Christ and life application over mere fellowship. Equip kids to be better friends and advocates of tolerance in their schools. Plan service opportunities for kids and families. ("Making a difference in the world" is still a strong pull even for non-churchgoers.)

What would you add to this list?


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John 21:6 The resurrected Jesus gives fishing lessons

What's your "other side of the boat"?

This image was copied from Neil MacQueen's post about it in our Post-Pandemic Scriptures Topic where he includes some questions for discussion.

(Image source unknown and we looked!)


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What do our church members "miss" about coming to church?

(And thus, what will they be looking for upon their return.)

Barna Research has been polling church members and pastors throughout the pandemic.

Their March 31, 2021 newsletter about what church-goers "miss" includes a poll from back in September 2020 when the pandemic was getting worse. Fortuitously, they broke it down by "generation" so that we can see what parents of children might be thinking. While no specific question is asked about children's Sunday School, the poll clearly shows that our children's parents are missing many of the social aspects of their participation at church.

Boomers are those born between 1946-1964 (currently 57-75 years old). Gen X were born between 1965-1980 (41-56 years old). And Millennials are aged 25-40 years old (born 1981-1996).

(Click on the image to see it larger.)

what churchgoers miss about in-person services by generation

While the differences between generations don't appear to be great, according to Barna the parents of our Sunday School kids (the Millennials) miss more of the social aspects of going to church than older members.

  1. The chance to connect with like-minded people
  2. Connecting with church leaders in person
  3. Corporate Worship
  4. Chance to meet new people
  5. Sunday School, small groups
  6. Volunteering (at the church)

Interestingly, those "social needs" do not include socializing before and after worship. So much for coffee hour.

I think it's also interesting that 9% of Millenials and a whopping 17% of Gen Xers (parents of our teens and college students) miss "None of the Above."


If you want children's attendance to return and grow, you need to meet the social needs of their millennial parents by doing more than offering them coffee after worship.


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Once-a-Month Churchgoers Are Becoming More Common

Excerpts from church growth guru Tom Rainer's 5/24/21 blog post.

  • Prior to the pandemic, the twice-a-month church attendee was considered active by most church members and leaders.
  • But one of the trends emerging from the pandemic is the increasing number of once-a-month attendees.
  • Is this trend temporary, one that will improve as COVID concerns wane?
  • Are these members re-establishing themselves or are they easing themselves out?
  • What are the motivations for such infrequent attendance?
  • Why is church not the best family time possible?
  • The once-a-month church attendee is not as much a function of culture winning as it is the church surrendering.

What if they don't come back?

Insights from Barna Research as reported by Pastor Jason Koon in The Baptist News

Baptist News reported a Barna Research statistic that signals part of the problem:  pastors and younger people/families NOT on the same wavelength:

"nearly 70% of pastors believe they are meaningfully engaging their congregations on issues of social responsibility,

(but) only 30% of 18- to 35-year-olds see it the same way."

Instead of blaming those who are leaving, we could step back and take a long, agonizing look at the expressions of faith they’re leaving behind.

  • Why don’t they miss it?
  • What about the way we do church falls so flat that committed Christians just don’t see the point anymore?
  • Is it possible this exodus is not a culling of the churchgoers who are walking away, but an indictment against the expressions of faith they’re walking away from?


This post is about managing expectations

Increasing Sunday School attendance has always been the goal of teachers and leaders. We've put a lot of heart and soul into the effort. That's what makes the post-pandemic prospect of lower attendance this fall and into 2022 disheartening. (See the other posts in this topic for predictions.)

Because we care, and because some have made it their livelihood, it's personal.

That's why I want you to read "5 Ways Tracking Church Attendance Can Mess With Your Soul" from Pastor Carey Nieuwhof. It's a word of grace to all of us who count heads on Sunday morning. And while he doesn't mention Sunday School, his pastoral advice still applies. Only please read it to the very end where he addresses the uncomfortable paradox about the need for counting.

(and why you still need to do it)

What his excellent pastoral advice doesn't say, however, is "who" to count. One of the great blindspots or "I'll get around to its" of Christian education has been the need to minister to the low and non-attenders.

I get it. Who wants to make that phone call asking "where were you?" I hate those kinds of phone calls, emails, and postcards when I get them, don't you? Encouraging more attendance is hard. People are often set in their ways and attitudes (including the leaders ).

In my experience, what often works is finding "that thing" that will get them involved somewhere, somehow. And "that thing" may not be your Sunday School right now (or ever). It will likely be some "simple "ask" that helps them get back into the habit and attitude of participating.

A few simple "asks"

  • Can your family help pour drinks next Sunday?
  • Can you help collect the offering next Sunday?
  • Can you help with fellowship snacks next Wednesday?
  • Can you help me be a game leader Sunday night?
  • Can I sign up your family to walk in the CROP walk?
  • Can I help you with transportation?

And then be aware of what THEIR "asks" may be you. What's going on in their life right now? What are their needs, hurts, concerns, joys, scheduling issues? Do they have transportation needs, clothing needs, childcare needs? What faith issues are keeping them away?  etc. Sharing the heart of Christ is always one of those "things."    And that heart is one of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Not a single mention of giving up or putting pressure on people.)

Don't lose heart yourself. Instead, be steadfast. It may take months or years for someone to feel part of your church's community.

Looking forward to your thoughts...


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May 2021 Gallup Polling shows a slow post-pandemic return to weekly in-person worship and a decline in online ("remote") participation.

(Click on the charts below to see them clearer.)


Most experts agree this "return to services" will accelerate through 2021. Keep in mind that this poll is only measuring "attendance in the last 7 days." But as referenced in a previous post, some experts believe "regular" attendance (i.e. what we used to think of as "weekly") is being redefined as "once a month."

Some other posts in this thread bring up the question of "how long" it will take for pre-COVID attendance levels to return? Or will they ever?

Gallup and other researchers have been tracking "Americans attending religious services" for several decades, and some wonder if the pandemic drop-off will accelerate the long-term downward trend. As Barna Research notes, the "nones" --those who didn't attend or won't return are growing.


In other words, we have our work cut out for us, and probably need to change our organizational and inner definitions of "success."


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That's the provocative title of church futurist and growth guru, Pastor Carey Nieuwhof's August 6, 2021 blog post.

In it, he analyzes the current pandemic and attendance situation in the church, reminds us of pre-existing statistical trends, and explains why we have a natural nostalgia for the past (which can cripple our future). His "nostalgia" observations alone are worth the read.

His article in brief:

  • Things aren't normal and won't be for a very long time.
  • Focusing your resources on facility-based gatherings may leave you doing nothing well.
  • Thinking about "the past" doesn't make you panic like thinking about the future, which is why people yearn for the past.

Some of my reactions and applications:

  • "Normal" in the church wasn't usually that great anyway.
  • Teaching the Bible to kids doesn't have to be "in-church" but it does have to be "teaching" and not just "gathering."
  • "Creative people don't panic about the future, they get busy tackling it." As teachers, we are "agents of change" like Jesus is --not Guardians of the Old Order.
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The United Methodist Church's "Ministry Matters" online magazine has published an article with numerous links to other articles dealing with "the attendance question" --how churches are preparing and changing.

Here's a quote from the article:

The answer to the anxious question for leaders--Will the people return to the sanctuary?--is necessarily delayed until the delta surge burns out. However, before the surge, anecdotal observations registered alarm concerning low worship attendance in June and July (which applies to in-person or a hybrid online environment). It’s summer, with vacations as a factor, but the challenge for the return is still obvious.


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Are they coming back ?

Pastor Carey Nieuwhof provocatively suggests we focus on those who DO come back rather than worry about those who don't.  (Fall 2021)

Gallup: Church Attendance in 2021
compared to previous years

Gallup Quote: The pandemic's effect on Americans' practice of their religion has been significant. Church membership in 2020 fell to its lowest point in more than eight decades of Gallup's tracking, and overall religious service attendance (the combined percentage in-person and virtual) also reached an all-time low. The latest data show that even as in-person attendance has increased with fewer closures and capacity limitations, overall attendance remains lower in 2021 than in 2019. As Americans gradually resume their pre-pandemic lives, their participation in religious services may increase further. But as the trend shows, attendance has generally been declining over the past two decades, so a full rebound to what it was two years ago (in 2019) may not occur.

Gallup Religions and Church Statistics from the first half of 2021

as reported in Christianity Today

Who are the people who are not attending, not joining, or not coming back?

  • Many Americans don’t see it necessary to join a church in order to attend services regularly
  • Older Christians are Just as likely to be nonmembers as younger ones
  • 1 in 10 church attenders are non-members
  • Non-attenders are largely NOT agnostic or atheists. What many are is anti-institutional.

How and with whom do you communicate what's going on in Sunday School?

Neil Note: I've been thinking about churches I've been part of over the years and how poorly equipped we/they were to stay in touch with visitors and non-members who attended with some regularity. Our passive "data collection" relied mostly on visitors filling out the pew pad and a secretary entering them into a database, or hoping the teacher or leader got the visitor's contact info when they dropped their kid off in class or fellowship. Or worse --hoping the pastor remembered names and details.

Moving forward, we simply can't operate like that anymore.

If your Sunday School does NOT have the capability or interest in gathering the contact info of visitors and non-members who are attending, then they are missing a big informational and outreach opportunity that is more important these days than ever before.

Church Visitors Data Collection

Improving Our Data Collection So We Can Reachout and Keep Non-Members and Recent Visitors Informed

  • Getting visitors and non-members to give you their contact information is important and challenging.
  • Passive "walk up tables" and pew cards are weak approaches.
  • For Sunday School, at least, info collection is a sign of safety and care that many parents will appreciate, but schedules and church architecture can make it challenging. (See some suggestions below.)
  • We need to do a better job of "discovering" the contact info of visitors and non-members who did not give it to us in person, or give incomplete info. The internet and various search companies make it easier these days. (It's not "creepy," it's evangelism.)
  • Options for collecting contact info will vary depending on your church's schedule, building, and number of visitors/non-members attending at any given time.

IMHO, the best information you can collect these days is a cellphone number and email address for immediate "was great to meet you today" contact. Sending out "welcome letters" is old-fashioned and impersonal. If you do snailmail people, write personal notes.

The second best info is a mailing address so you can send them your newsletter and Sunday School info AFTER you've made your more personal contact. People want to know you noticed and appreciated their participation, and they need to know what's coming up.

Some ideas for "good contact collection practices"

Here are some ideas. What are yours?

1. Requiring "parent drop-off or pickup from classes" to create a face to face contact with the teacher. In churches that let their kids "roam" the building, this would be a big culture shift. A lot to think about here, but requiring some sort of "hand off" not only creates a data collection point, it's a good safety practice that parents will understand.

Church Visitor Gift Bags2. Requiring the use of nametags in Sunday School and having the teacher collect the nametags at the end of class. The nametag creates a data collection point and a good memory. The teacher can ask for the address of the child and write it on the nametag, then collect it at the end of class. If parents are doing drop off, they can write their cellphone/email on the tag as well that gets collected back by the teacher. Electronic sign-in options are nice too if you can afford them.

3. New Student Gift Bag with Detachable Contact Card
Some churches give "welcome bags" to the adults --if the adult approaches a table, but kids are much more likely to be interested and impressed by free swag! The bag can come with an information card attached to it that the teacher fills out and keeps before giving out the bag. Even if all the child knows is the name of their street, a volunteer can take it from there to discover the rest of the address.

4. A "Church Cam"
A former church where I suggested this hated the idea. (They also thought their website wasn't important.) But as a staff member, I was often put in a position to NEED to know about visitors who attended but whom I wasn't able to physically greet (which is difficult in some churches due to size and building architecture).  Having a photo of people in the church service I could review (or use to jog my memory) would have been nice, or a camera aimed at the front door (in that church it would have caught everyone). I believe that here in 2021 people feel differently about cameras and such, and they are a lot easier to conceal if you feel uncomfortable with them. They can also serve a security purpose.

In another church, I would have loved to have a video camera recording the area where I greeted parishioners as they exited the worship service.  It would have been easy to review, and I could have used it to hear myself repeating names and needs. Years ago attending a Catholic church I noticed an older member standing behind the priest at the exit door taking notes. Same thing.


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Most have come back (to worship)


Lifeway Research has released the results of their August 2021 "return to worship" poll of Protestant churches:

98% of churches are open for worship

By August 2021, the average church had 73% of their church members in person on Sunday morning. That number was 63% in August 2020.

91% of churchgoers told Lifeway Research they planned on attending church services as much as they did prior to the pandemic or even more once COVID-19 was no longer an active threat to people’s health.

On average, small church attendance in worship is higher than big church attendance in worship. Said the Lifeway researcher: “It’s possible small churches are aided by perceived safety of a naturally smaller gathering, differences in technology options for gathering online, or the strength of relational connections. But regardless of the reasons why, in-person worship attendance trends currently look promising for small churches.”

African American pastors are 12.5 times as likely as white pastors to say their attendance is less than 30% what it was before COVID-19 (25% to 2%).

Still no polls about the return to "small groups," or children and youth ministry.

There's certainly a lot to cheer in these latest stats, but it's important to note that the poll results are "averages" --meaning, some churches are doing better, and some are doing worse. As well, some prognosticators are concerned about the long-term impact of losing 10% of members and the trend toward less "regular" attendance.

I'm in the process of preparing a SURVEY about Oct 2021 Sunday School attendance. Members should watch for an email about that soon!

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