“All our kids want to get together over Zoom.”
“Well, why not? It’ll be great!”
As I’ve been chatting with Sunday school teachers and youth leaders, I keep hearing that our churches’ kids miss seeing each other every week in worship, in Sunday school, and in youth group.
This is great news!
It means that their relationships with their church friends matter to them.
So, let’s get them together. We can catch up with one another, swap recommendations on the shows we’ve been watching, talk about our worries and concerns around the coronavirus, do a bible study and/or devotions, and we’ll pray with and for one another. It’s a great plan!
But, before you rush to book your first Zoom get-together (or send out an invite for your third or even tenth Zoom meeting), here are a few important things to set in place to ensure the safety of our children and the leaders involved in an online meet-up.
In the Presbyterian Church in Canada we apply our Leading With Care policy to all of the programmes and activities we do with all of the people we minister to and with. We particularly apply specific aspects of the policy to those programmes and experiences involving our children and youth. We do this because we want to provide a climate of safety for our children and young people and, because “as a body of Christ we want to… offer our best to Christ and work to make sure that the worst does not happen.” (LWC, p. 6)
Over the past couple of decades congregations have worked very hard to fulfill the requirements of the Leading With Care policy in all of our churches; we’ve installed windows in all our classroom doors, ensured that multiple, unrelated leaders are present in all Sunday school and youth activities, and made sure Police Records Checks are completed regularly for all the adult leaders who work with children, youth and vulnerable adults throughout all of our ministries. But Zoom is a whole new territory for us. How does the Leading With Care policy apply to church initiated children’s and youth get-togethers over Zoom and other social media platforms?
While this article is not the official word of the Presbyterian Church in Canada for the application of the Leading With Care policy to online meetings involving children and youth, this is my understanding of how the policy, to the best of my knowledge and experience, should be applied to the circumstances we now find ourselves in. So, I offer these reflections for your consideration before you engage in any online interactions with your church’s children and youth over any online platform.
Start by applying what we already adhere to when we meet with our children and youth in our church buildings. This would include:
- that any meetings, with their dates and times, be pre-approved by the church’s overseeing body for that programme (eg. CE Committee, and/or session).
- that the leadership, purpose and programme of these meetings be known and approved by this overseeing body.
- that at least two unrelated, adult leaders be present for every gathering. If the get-together is with a Sunday school class that is already using a modified version of the policy because you are only able to have one adult leader present in the classroom when you’re at the church (eg. classroom door is always open, the classroom is within hearing of other occupied rooms with classes happening, the class has regular visits during by an elder or usher), you cannot transfer that ‘one adult leader’ condition to an online class as the opportunity for these modifications is not possible. In an online case, include another adult from the church who is already a leader in other classes, or ask one or more parents to be present during the whole of the meeting.
- that all adult leaders have an up-to-date Police Records Check filed with the church.
Then consider the specific concerns a Zoom meeting presents.
- Ensure that parents know and consent to their child(ren)/teen(s) joining an online meeting. At the church we can assume consent when parents and/or grandparents send their kids down to a Sunday school class or off to youth group. However, parents may not know about a Zoom meeting you’re having with their kids if they haven’t been told about it. Inform parents of the meeting, including the details of the date, time, leadership and purpose of the meeting, in advance. Ask for a responding ‘thumbs up’ from parents to ensure their consent.
- In the case of elementary age children, send the Zoom invite to the parents, and encourage them to be present in the room while their kids are in the meeting.
- Have at least two, unrelated, adult leaders present in the meeting before the scheduled start time and before any kids are welcomed in.
- Have all the children and youth on hold in the waiting room until they are let in by the meeting host. Do not let any child or teen in until two or more leaders are present, and do not let the first child or youth in until you can bring in two or more participants at the same time.
- Do not let into the meeting anyone the leaders do not already know. If a child wishes a friend to join the meeting, require that all prospective visitors names and parent’s email addresses be be sent to the host leader in advance so their parents can be notified (as above), and to prevent any unwelcome stalkers from crashing your meeting.
- Take attendance of who was there, including all leaders. Store this information along with the date of the meeting in the church files you already keep for Sunday school and youth group attendance records.
- Know that two unrelated, adult leaders must stay on the meeting at all times (no running off to fetch something – plan ahead).
- When your meeting is done, make sure the leaders are the last to exit.
While this seems like a lot of work for a mere check-in, it is paramount that we continue to ensure that everyone is safe whenever and wherever the church gathers. Know that it is worth the effort that goes into these practices. In creating a safe environment online for all, we live into Jesus’ model of love and care in all of our relationships.
Now, feel free to go ahead, catch up and have fun with your next online get-together with kids!