A Sanctuary for Learning: Could Your Church Become… | UMC YoungPeople
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July 2020

A Sanctuary for Learning: Could Your Church Become a Community Internet Hotspot?

By Chris Wilterdink

COVID-19, and our responses to it, continue to create new needs in the community. Those new needs mean new opportunities for churches to connect with young people and their families. School districts continue to debate and make plans for what the 2020-2021 academic year looks like for students and families. Schools are coming up with creative in-person, hybrid, and fully virtual models to students, and only one thing is certain for any of those plans – they are subject to change!

The odds are good that you have schools, students, and families in your community who must be ready to adapt to changing circumstances. Parents may choose to homeschool or do completely online school with their children for the first time and need support. Even if in-person instruction at school happens, like in years past, students will almost certainly have some additional time at home if there are local school closures or quarantines put in place. Extra-curricular activities may be canceled, so the social fabric and community spirit often created through sports, performing arts, and other club activities may feel weakened and disconnected. As a youth leader, we encourage you to connect with local school leadership to determine how your youth ministry and church may be able to help meet community needs as the school year begins. Building relationships and discovering needs are cornerstones of the #SeeAllThePeople movement and this time is a tremendous opportunity to connect with new people in new ways. One possibility is to outfit and equip your church to become an internet hotspot for students and families who need that service in order to accomplish their schoolwork.

Some school districts have used their funds to invest in take home technology (laptops, tablet devices, Wi-Fi hotspots with limited data plans, online learning platforms, etc.) so that students can be ready to work and learn from home. Some homes have limited internet capability and there are communities where internet data speeds and availability could make at-home learning and interaction with teachers and assignments a real challenge. Enter your local church. Could you transform space in your church building into a “Sanctuary for Learning” with internet access? You know there are families that will need a place with air conditioning or heating, a clean bathroom, and adequate internet connection speeds in order for their students to accomplish their learning goals. Your church could lean into radical hospitality and create a space set aside for students of all ages to have access to online learning at a time when many businesses and public libraries are closed and inaccessible. Interested? Read on for questions and ideas to consider as you make a plan for a “Sanctuary for Learning.”

Basic ‘Sanctuary for Learning’ Plan:

  • Identify a space within your church that can be measured out to meet social distancing recommendations. Tape off areas and arrange tables, chairs, or other seating areas along with power strips, etc. to create comfortable learning/working spaces.
  • Work with your pastor or church leadership teams to determine the capabilities of the church’s internet service and consider upgrading speeds. Some internet providers may offer price breaks for non-profits and churches.
  • Create a guest wireless network with a password, just for students and their families. Make sure to get names and contact information so that you can create future ministry opportunities for those students and their families. Ensure that there is adequate security on your network to block visits to unwanted sites.
  • Meet with local school leaders (principals, teachers, administrators, etc.) and ensure that your church name and address are available in print and electronic communications from the school so that the public becomes aware of the space and opportunity at your church. Ask them about hours that would be helpful for you to host, or other ways that you could support the school’s students (nutritious food available at your church for example).
  • Determine the amount of prevention and risk your church is willing to take on in offering this space. Require masks? Set time limits? Provide hand sanitizer upon entry and exit? Volunteers or staff to meet Safe Sanctuaries® guidelines? Volunteers to clean and sanitize the space during and after use? Waiver that people sign as they enter (along with taking attendance)?
  • Start publicizing the space, and manage it with volunteers or church staff people, ensuring that the health guidelines for your local community are followed (if none are in place, use the CDC guidelines for COVID-19 as a reference point).

Expanding on the Basics:

Consider the radical hospitality and connection opportunities that this space offers and expand upon the basic idea of a “Sanctuary for Learning.” Think about the gifts of people in your congregation. Could your “Sanctuary for Learning” also offer:

  • Tutoring from church members? Who have you got that knows multiple languages? Who could offer space and a piano for music lessons? Support for Math or Language Arts?
  • Prayer and Support stations? Is there a Congregational Care Minister or Stephen Minister that would make themselves available for parents or students? Could this person meet and start to understand families and invite them to other opportunities for connection with the church? How about just a space to pray silently, or write prayer requests down and ask for future contact?
  • Food stuffs? Who can study on an empty stomach? Provide healthy snacks and access to water for students. Maybe you could combine initiatives and invite those who come to participate in canned food drives to support local food pantries or other food ministries that your church already engages with?
  • Spaces for multiple ages? Consider the needs of elementary, middle school, and high school-aged students as well as the needs of their parents. Could one space serve them all?
  • Connection points to other ministries of your church? How can you make information available and accessible for those who come? How could you get feedback from them and learn about their needs? What can you send them home with?
  • Follow up with students and their families? Make sure you are learning names and know how to contact and connect folks with your regular communications like church newsletters, social media accounts, etc. If you can build trust and get phone numbers and email addresses, you’ve got the potential to broaden the impact of your ministry and invite them to participate in other activities besides this “Sanctuary of Learning” time.
  • Space for teachers and administrators? Teachers are under significant stress this season as well. Could this space, or another time and place from your church specifically support teachers as they are asked to do new and challenging activities as a part of their job? How can you help support them in their vocation?
  • Social-Connection Space? Do you have outdoor space that could allow for in-person social networking or community activities? Talk to the school about other needs that your church property could be useful for. The fabric of the community is stronger when the church is a part of it!
Chris serves as Director of Young People’s Ministries for Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. Chris has a BA in English Education, and an MS in Project Management, and over 15 years of local-church youth ministry experience. He is passionate about leadership and faith development in young people and helping ministry leaders understand their value in the lives of young people. A Stephen Minister, Chris is a native of Colorado living in Franklin, TN with his wife Emily, 2 children, and sausage-shaped beagle.