For just over a year I’ve served as Director of Children & Family Ministries for a medium size Episcopal church in Wake Forest, NC. Our last in person programs and worship services took place on March 8, 2020. Two weeks later, our congregation began offering Godly Play through Zoom (video conference) and we have continued ever since (with one week off to transition from spring to summer).
What Works Well
Looking back over the past four months, I think there are seven main factors that have contributed to the vitality of this online formation program. Virtual Godly Play is familiar, short, consistent, intergenerational, face to face, relational, and prayerful. I’ll say a little about each of these below and include some practical details at the bottom.
- Familiar – One important factor that has contributed to a smooth transition from in person to online Sunday School is familiarity. Our children and families were already familiar with Godly Play, so we didn’t have to spend a lot of time explaining what we were doing and how we would be doing it. Furthermore, as the pandemic turned our worlds upside down, it was comforting to participate in something familiar, even if it was happening in a new way.
- Short – Both the time of day and the length of Godly Play have worked well for our families. Our sessions begin at 10:30AM on Sundays and last 30-35 minutes. With this short timeframe, we’ve been able to engage an age range of 2-12 year olds.
- Consistent – While the story changes weekly, the opening song changes monthly and the intercessions change weekly, the rest of our session remains exactly the same each week. Children & parents know exactly what to expect. In an anxious time, this is comforting. Our entire small group of leaders is present almost every week. I lead the story each week. I have one Sunday off a month and so far I’ve been recording the story ahead of time for volunteer leaders to play live via Zoom.
- Intergenerational – With the exception of a few 4th-6th graders, all of our children participate in Godly Play with one or both parents. As parents experience more Godly Play than ever before, their investment in the program grows as does their ability to talk about the content at home. Furthermore, our leaders are able to model for parents how to wonder and how to pray with children.
- Face to Face – While Zoom does not work for everyone, and screen fatigue is real, it has worked well for our families to gather “live” for Godly Play. The face to face gathering provides a dynamic anchor point for our Children’s Ministry. I believe the off-screen formation activities that we’ve offered have been so successful because we have a place to talk about them, promote them, and connect them to themes. This live anchor point offers accountability for our families to continue formation at home during the week.
- Relational – Rather than focusing on content, our gatherings are relational. They focus on connecting us as a community and connecting us with God. Each family is greeted individually as they arrive. Each child is asked individually if they want to share during the wondering. Our leaders reach out to families via text, email, and snail mail to thank them for participating and to check on them if they have missed a few weeks.
- Prayerful – Each week we ask for families to share prayer requests. We’ve gotten feedback from parents that children are praying for each other based on the intercessions they hear each week. Furthermore, these prayer requests attune us, as leaders, to what is on the hearts of our children and families.
Honorable Mention: Singing
While perhaps not an indispensable ingredient of successful online Godly Play, singing together has brought joy to our circle each week. Our sessions include an opening song and a closing song. A cantor leads while everyone else sings along on mute. Because we cannot hear each other, it helps to use a song with hand motions. We sing the same closing song each week and we sing the same opening song for 4-6 weeks. If you’re looking for music, check out these suggestions.
We gather at 10:30AM each Sunday. We use the same Zoom Meeting ID and password each week. Over the last four months we’ve had 26 different households participate. On any given Sunday, we generally have 8-10 households with children participating as well as 2-4 adult leaders without children. The ages of children in our circle ranges from 2-12. Godly Play lasts for about 30 minutes with an additional, optional 30 minutes of response time.
I sit on the floor with the story and place my laptop on a milk crate. I use Google Slides like these to help guide the session. When I tell the story, I stop “screen share” and encourage families to use “speaker view.” I tilt the screen towards the floor to show the story. On my monthly Sunday off, a volunteer leader shows a video of the story I’ve pre-recorded.
Outline of Online Godly Play
10:25-10:35 – Gathering & Welcome!
10:35-10:40 – Opening Song *Changes seasonally
The Circle of the Church Year (I have a hanging on my wall)
Opening Prayer: The Lord’s Prayer (I use a candle & snuffer)
10:40-10:50 – The Story
10:50-10:55 – Wondering Together *One group or breakout groups
10:55-11:00 – Intercessions *I ask “what can we pray for today” and then close in prayer
11:00-11:05 – Closing Song: Go Now in Peace
11:05-11:35 – 30 Minutes for Response Time (optional) *I stay on Zoom and do my own response time. I invite others to do the same or leave the call, do some work, and come back at the end to say goodbye
Godly Play Response Material Bags
In May, I dropped off bags of response materials for families that wanted to participate in response time either live on Zoom or at home on their own. I created 17 bags for about $100 total. Bags included:
- Parent Handouts – Response Time at Home, Additional Material Ideas, & Pentecost at Home
- 25 pieces of construction paper
- Glue stick per child in family
- Sidewalk chalk
- Non-drying clay
- Collage bag (pictures cut from National Geographic)
- Googly eye stickers
- Tissue paper squares
- Contact paper pieces
Sarah Bentley Allred received her MDiv. from Virginia Theological Seminary in May 2019. She now serves as Director of Children and Family Ministries at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina and as the Associate for Christian Formation and Discipleship for Lifelong Learning. Sarah is passionate about children’s spirituality, intergenerational worship, and small church formation. She loves local coffee shops, board games, the beach, and exploring new places with her husband, Richard, and their dog, Grace.