COVID-19 - Youth Ministry Online

COVID-19 - Planning is key to using technology safely in children’s ministry

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 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matt 11.28)

These are comforting words from Jesus, especially in the current situation of COVID-19. Each day brings new changes to our way of life. Our physical gatherings must cease for now and you may be feeling anxious, weary and burdened, wondering how can we minister to one another – and in particular to our children – when we are in social isolation? Can we do this safely if we are utilising online connections?

Safe ministry principles should not be abandoned at this time. While these are exceptional circumstances, we need to maintain clear guidelines on what is acceptable behaviour and practice by leaders and kids. Living and connecting online will still require boundaries and guidelines that will look similar to our face-to-face meetings. Therefore it’s important to get this right – to pause and consider our plans for the next few months, remembering God is Lord of all and still in control (Ps 46:1).

As you navigate how to set up new systems it will be important to take a principled approach and think of ways to organise online interactions with children and their families so as to maximise transparency. It will also be important to consider how you can engage everyone, which will probably involve a multifaceted approach of online and other methods of communication.

Thankfully, our Diocese already has a number of documents that can help you in your thinking and planning. These include our code of conduct, Social Contact Policy and Blueprint documents.

The guidelines below focus on ministry to children (5-12yr olds). For guidelines relating to technology in youth ministry, please see this article.

Faithfulness in Service (code of conduct)

5.46 When considering using technology for communication, you should apply the same principles as you would in any other form of communication with children.

All leaders should be familiar with Chapter 5 of the code. Guidelines 5.30, 5.32, 5.45 – 5.47 outline how we should communicate with children particularly when it involves technology.

Safe Ministry Social Contact Policy

Any phone contact should be for ministry purposes only. It should be with parents and then, if appropriate, with the child… You should never contact a primary student on their mobile phone.

Online contact must be limited to logistical purposes (e.g. information on the church website)

  • It is inappropriate to talk with primary students on a social networking site or email.
  • Email can be sent to the parents or guardians for logistical purposes…

This policy sets out guidelines in how best to communicate with primary aged children in a variety of ways.

In ordinary circumstances, it is best practice to “never” engage in online communication (including video conference/streaming) with children. However, during these times of social gathering restrictions you may be looking for innovative and safe ways to connect including in an online forum.

It is a blessing to have technology that enables us to connect in these innovative ways and we are thankful to God for this provision. However, we must also be aware of the dangers present to children in the online world and model appropriate contact with them online. Great caution should be taken if you are considering using video streaming/conferencing services.

Further information about using these services (e.g. Zoom) during COVID-19 can be found at https://safeministry.org.au/ under the Info & Resources tab.

Safe Ministry Blueprint – Children’s Ministry (head ministry leaders should refer to this document)

Never engage in any contact with a child that is secretive (whether physical or through electronic media or any other way).

Leaders should regularly review the Blueprint document and agree to abide by the code of conduct (p4) and the communication guidelines (p8) it contains.

Whatever form of communication is used, all of these documents highlight the importance of leaders communicating clearly with parents and making sure they know what their children are doing and being involved with them. The head ministry leader must ensure that parents

  • are aware of what they can expect from leaders when it comes to our use of electronic communication with them and their children,
  • understand that any changes to the norm will be outlined by the head ministry leader only, and are temporary for the purpose of maintaining contact with the group while we are in social isolation,
  • know who to speak to about any leader not abiding by the standards or violating any boundaries regarding the use of electronic communication and technology.

The head ministry leader should immediately follow up any allegations of leaders violating boundaries and monitor the leader’s behaviour.

We can also help parents to safely navigate the online world with their children. The eSafety website has some great resources for parents and kids and the eSafety Guide is an excellent resource on the latest games, apps and social media.

Where you are considering using your church’s online accounts to communicate with children e.g. to upload a video for kids ministry, the Child Safe Organisation’s Checklist for Online Safety is a helpful tool. You should also check the security features of the platform you are using (e.g. Zoom) or inform parents of things they can do to make it a safer online experience for them and their children (e.g. YouTube safety resources).

We don’t want to give up meeting together and encouraging one another at this time, but we must always be careful to ensure that we are engaging safely in ministry to children (and all vulnerable people). Planning is vital. Whatever you do, consider the long-term implications or potential for boundary violations to occur and minimise the risk.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb 10: 24- 25)

Kylie Williams is the Safe Ministry Training Consultant in the Professional Standards Unit (PSU). You can contact the PSU if you would like further guidance or to raise a concern about leader misconduct.

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