5 Must Haves for COVID Safe Events
Covid. Can we agree that Covid is a big ol' pain in the buttox? As a matter of fact, as I write this, my daughter is quarantined in her room having tested positive and I'll be getting a test this afternoon due to the low grade fever I'm now running. Don't worry, you can't catch covid over a blog article.
A few months ago my team and I sat down together to talk through the idea of whether or not we could do a DNow event during the middle of this pandemic that we're all going through. It started like this as I addressed the team: "Ok, we know there is a whole lot we can't do, but let's have a conversation about what we can do." We've asked ourselves that question a lot in the last 9 months. My guess is you have too.
We did decide to do a DNOW with our students and I'd like to share 5 things we learned that I believe will help you have Covid safe events.
1. Be Sure You Have Leadership Support
Now is not the time to fly solo as a youth pastor. Covid is a sensitive issue for many people and decisions we make about how to host events don't just affect us. As many emails or frustrated parents we may have had over the last 9 months, trust me, your pastor has had even more. We need to be mindful of that as we plan. What this means is we should start with talking with our pastors and church leadership (be it deacons or elders) to discover what they're willing to stand behind if you do choose to offer up an event. Taking time to do this before an event is planned may save you a lot of time and makes it clear on the front end what you can and cannot do.
This process of gaining leadership support will also boost your leadership with parents because you will be implementing a plan that you have approval for from church leadership. If a church member decides to go over your head, your pastor or other church leader will be able to respond that the plan is something that you've consulted leadership on.
2. Work Within the Framework Your Church Is Already Using for COVID Gatherings
After I gained the support of my pastor and other key leaders, our team realized quickly that there was already a framework in place on Sunday mornings for regathering. We decided to build our event around that. In other words, our church was already gathering on Sunday mornings for worship with a smaller crowd and covid rules in place. Rather than recreating the wheel, we decided to build off of that and create an event that would feel familiar and was already proven to be acceptable.
For DNOW that meant we could gather in our worship room with a smaller crowd as long as we had seating, exiting, and size of crowd under control. In order to do that, we knew we'd have to split our middle school and high school students for worship. Again, this went great because we were not introducing anything "new" to our people because that type of gathering was already in place.
If you're familiar with DNOW though, you know probably the biggest, most fun part of the weekend for students is spending the nights in homes with their friends. During covid??? Um, nope. We knew we couldn't do that. However, smaller groups of people had been gathering at the church for Bible studies and such. The framework for that existed. This allowed us to form a plan where after one of the DNOW worship gatherings, we were able to dismiss in to rooms throughout the church for a small group discussion moment. We knew it wouldn't be the same as normal, but it's what we could do, not what we couldn't do that we were focused on.
3. Take COVID Serious
As I think back to my class in seminary on how to lead a youth ministry during a pandemic, oh... wait. It's tough to be an expert in something you've never been through. As youth pastors, it's been like drinking out of a fire hose trying to keep up with all of the covid rules and what we can and can't do. It's like hitting a constantly moving target.
As leaders, we're expected to be good at this stuff. We may get the blessing of being the laid back, t-shirt wearing, 9 square playing ministers on staff, but being laid back about Covid is not an option. I'm not suggesting that we overreact, but rather we keep in mind that most of our congregations are full of people who believe all kinds of different things about what we should and should not be doing. This complicates event planning even more.
It is important to keep in mind, though, that there are a lot of people that have been GREATLY impacted by Covid and there will be more impacted in the days to come. Please, please be careful to take the appropriate precautions when planning an event that is well balanced in it's approach to risk. In other words, don't simply make a rule while giving it a wink wink about whether or not you will enforce it. This means you'll need to plan carefully ALL aspects of your event. An example would be in the past, you've never had to consider how to dismiss a crowd. Now, you'll need to be careful not to create a situation where all of your distancing is thrown out the window when the event is over because everyone goes to your gathering hall and mingles anyways.
Trust me, you will be more likely to gain and maintain parental support if they can tell you're putting in the hard work and taking Covid seriously.
4. Seek Wise Counsel
This step is crucial. As I mentioned in the first "must haves", now is not the time to fly solo as a youth pastor. Depending on your church and how many people are on your staff, putting together a team of people to develop a Covid safe event will help protect you from making some very unwise decisions. I recommend finding at least 4-5 people that can represent various approaches to how to handle Covid.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not recommending you put someone on the team that's constantly putting things on Facebook about how it's all fake OR how we should never leave our house for anything. I'm talking about reasonable people you can share ideas with and have their support going into the event. Also keep in mind, you don't have to put this team all in the same room at the same time. Your team could function as a group you are able to share ideas with and really listen to their concerns and ideas about how to keep your event safe.
The great thing about this step is that much like gaining the support of your church leadership equals support for the event, so will gaining the support of a small team that will stand behind you. If something unfortunately goes wrong, you'll not be the only one who planned the event. Truthfully, seeking the counsel of others will increase the likelihood that nothing will go wrong.
5. Have a Response Plan
Make no mistake, there is a real possibility that you will have to inform a group of parents that their kid was exposed to Covid at an event you've planned. It's important that you don't wait until that happens to know how you will handle a positive Covid exposure in order to respond in a timely and professional manner. I recommend you look into how other organizations (like sports teams and schools) in your area handle this issue. Matching up to the culture of those organizations should help you to respond well. You'll need to be sensitive to the one who has tested positive and not create an embarrassing situation for a student/family in your group. Also be sure you have the support of your church leadership team and those you're seeking wise counsel. From knowing this plan in advance will sure help save you some grief on the back end.
Our students have lost so much this year. Everyone has. It doesn't matter if you've been doing youth ministry for a year or have been doing it for 30. This is a challenge like we've never faced. I believe we will get through it and will look back and see it as a time of pruning from God, but until then... plan well and keep pointing kids to Jesus.
Chris and Andy talk about this in more depth in the video below!
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