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Religious education after COVID

Programming for houses of worship has changed remarkably over the past three years. After the COVID-19 pandemic shut down some for weeks or months, congregations were forced to adapt. One of the biggest areas that has seen a lasting effect is religious education for children and teens. In a March 2022 study, the Hartford Institute for Religious Research found that half of the houses of worship surveyed had experienced major disruption in their religious education programming throughout the pandemic.

That’s no surprise—many religious institutions stopped in-person gatherings for an extended period of time, and some struggled to transfer religious education to digital offerings.

The problem is that even as restrictions have largely been lifted, some houses of worship have struggled to bring their programs back to pre-pandemic levels—especially those with fewer than 100 attendees at weekly services. If that includes you, you know how frustrating it can be to run a program without an adequate number of participants or volunteers.

Here are a few strategies some houses of worship have found to adapt to the “new normal” and still offer religious education:

  1. Embrace multi-age classrooms. While it’s nice to have separate classrooms for separate ages, there’s something to be said for bringing children together for learning. Older children can act as mentors and guides for young ones, and all participants learn the art of patience as their teachers attend to their individual needs. Ensure that you have enough screened volunteers to provide supervision when children of different ages are meeting together.
  2. Consider “family-based education.” Some congregations have adopted a teaching model in which they equip parents with materials to conduct religious education at home, rather than in the house of worship. They like this approach because it gets the whole family involved and focused on building family relationships, while also teaching basic religious stories and values.
  3. Turn religious education into a multi-generational event. If you’re OK with straying from the traditional, you could plan once-a-month events for members of all ages to encourage relationships among people who might not normally interact. Your older members will enjoy spending time with children, and the children will love the extra attention they receive from people who like to share their faith with them.
  4. Reach out. This may seem like an obvious move, but too often church leaders assume people who aren’t coming don’t want to be involved. In many cases, they are simply waiting for someone to ask them to come back. Get back to basics and make phone calls to families that were previously involved in religious education but have taken a step back since the pandemic. You might be surprised at the positive response you receive.

You’re not alone if you’ve been experiencing challenges with religious education. But a little creativity goes a long way, and just because your programs don’t look the way they used to doesn’t mean they won’t be meaningful.

To find more resources for houses of worship, visit Church Mutual’s website.