Whatsapp for church? How we are helping one church use Whatsapp to reach families during Advent in lockdown

One of the churches we attend asked us to help with a challenge they are facing as we approach Christmas with little prospect of our churches being open. The church has been holding Sunday services and bible study groups on Zoom and Facebook Live since March. However, they had not been able to find a meaningful way of reaching the many children in their congregation. 

They found that parents would participate in services on Zoom with their children in the background, but the children were often entertaining themselves, hardly engaging in the service going on. With an enthusiastic leadership and congregation, but limited resources, particularly during lockdown, the church realised there was no scope for anything like the activity packs some churches have used to reach families. Moreover, many of the church families access the internet through their mobile phones, making it difficult to accommodate consistent, structured opportunities to engage directly with children. Also, whilst English is the language used by the church, it is only the second or third language spoken by many of the church families, so any plan for activities through Advent could not rely heavily on reading. 

As Advent approached, they wanted to find ways of sparking interest among children in the story of Jesus and the meaning of His birth, but in ways that could fit well with the circumstances of families, and furthermore were not too demanding in terms of time commitment for busy parents, which would fit easily into family life, and were also not expensive to sustain, either to the church or to families. The church liked the Church of England’s Comfort and Joy Advent campaign’s activities, but wanted to adapt it to work for their church. Because Whatsapp is the main medium of day-to-day communication for the families involved with the church, it was clear that any activities would have to work primarily through WhatsApp. 

So we designed a weekly Advent activity for children, based on the Church of England’s Comfort and Joy Advent activity calendar, but adapted to the local context.

The Kids’ Advent was announced at last week’s Zoom Sunday service, and after the service, a summary of the weekly activities throughout Advent went out via Whatsapp. A short time later, the families received a video with the first week’s activity via WhatsApp. You can see the first video we made for the church here (we’ve just removed the details of the church, and replaced them with our own for this version).

In the video, children are asked to draw a picture or reply with emojis saying what they are looking forward to this Christmas.

Both the emojis and photographs of any pictures can be sent to the church Whatsapp group. The activities are designed to work whether a child wants to put a lot of time and effort into a picture, or whether they spend just a few seconds responding with emojis on Dad’s phone. The children are encouraged in the WhatsApp video and accompanying message to join the church service on Sunday, even for only a few minutes, so that the Chaplain can talk about everyone’s contributions. 

At the beginning of each week of Advent, they’ll receive a new video via WhatsApp with the next activity. 

At Christmas, the children’s pictures and emoji contributions are going to be compiled together into another short video that will go out (via Whatsapp) to the whole church community. 

We’re really excited about this project, which immediately received a warm response from the church, and promises to be a bright and positive focus for church family life throughout this unusual Advent season!