Mark L. Lowrey
In the beginning of 2020, churches were faithfully gathering to worship each week. The educational ministries of teaching and training children, youth, and adults were carrying on with their normal rhythms. And then in mid-March, everything came to a screeching halt with the arrival of COVID-19.
After this harsh interruption, slowly, over weeks and months—often depending on where you lived—some churches would regather for worship while also streaming online, some ministries would resume, and some children would return to school. Few thought that the impact would continue into the 2020 school year—certainly not into mid-2021. And even now with bright signs on the horizon, our churches and ministries still are dealing with the ripples of COVID-19.
During those first weeks, as the global pandemic hit home, Great Commission Publications (GCP) gathered virtually as a staff to pray and decide how we could continue to serve churches and families as we all adapted to a new normal. The vast majority of our churches had never hosted online teaching for children, and even families who regularly do family worship and devotions were looking for further ways to educate their children on the Lord’s Day.
It is wonderful to look back now and see how God’s hand led us through these difficult times. He brought together the talents and gifts of our staff to brainstorm new ways to use existing curricula and to creatively make video Bible stories, downloadable helps for parents and teachers, and so much more. Through the past year, GCP recorded eighty-three Bible story videos in seven different series, teaching God’s marvelous deeds through the Old and New Testaments. We crafted song lyric videos to help children and families learn Bible truths through music. Parent pages gave parents the relevant Bible background, Scripture passages, and spiritual goals for their children. Coloring sheets provided outlets for creative expression after the children listened to the Bible stories.
Through special offers of Pilgrim’s Progress, a gospel adventure curriculum based on John Bunyan’s classic book, and Kids’ Quest! Catechism Club, a curriculum to teach First Catechism, churches were able to host drive-throughs for families to pick up materials for the lessons that the children’s ministry leaders taught online. Parents received a free app, First Catechism To Go (FC2Go), that they could download to help them teach the catechism. Through it all, it was encouraging to see the imaginative and resourceful ways God’s people responded to discipling their kids through the pandemic.
Of course, even with all the ways GCP was able to support churches in their ministries, sales were nothing like a normal year. At the beginning of 2020, GCP’s sales of curriculum, Trinity Hymnal, and other resources were strong. They were even ahead of 2019. We were moving forward with work on new curriculum projects. Then COVID-19 hit. Sales basically dried up, with a 2020 drop in sales of 60 to 70 percent compared to 2019.
GCP tightened its belt by cutting expenses and not replacing two retirees. The budget for 2020 was essentially cut by more than half. With decreasing sales, that was still not enough. And yet God met our needs.
As churches cut back on their orders, we knew we did not have the resources to print curriculum that would likely not be ordered. Analyzing the inventory that we had available alongside projections for what churches would need, we felt that we would be able to get through the 2020–21 ministry year without printing curriculum. By spring 2021, as more churches began to gather in person, we printed a short run of material to meet needs. There began to be encouraging signs that more churches would be meeting in person and education for children at church would resume.
At the founding of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church there was a high priority given to developing a doctrinally sound program of Christian education consistent with the church’s standards. The OPC funded and began to develop lessons in the mid-1940s and 1950s. From 1961 to 1971, a complete curriculum for grades one to twelve was finalized. This was a huge accomplishment, and yet once it was completed, it was apparent that there would be an ongoing need for revisions, requiring a large amount of funding.
As the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) began to form in the mid-1970s, God provided a solution. Great Commission Publications was incorporated in 1975 with a board of trustees from both the OPC and PCA. The CCE-developed materials formed the starting point and basic building blocks for GCP materials. By the early 1990s, instead of receiving funds from the Christian education committees of the OPC and PCA, the GCP board directed that GCP would support itself through sales of curricula, the Trinity Hymnal, and other resources. In the decades since, God has faithfully upheld GCP and enabled us to revise older curricula and create new curricula.
While COVID-19 has certainly impacted children’s ministry, worship, and outreach, the 2021–22 ministry year looks closer to a normal year for both churches and GCP. It will be a time of transition as churches assess their gains and losses in families, children, teachers, and volunteers. We prayerfully look toward 2022–23 to be even stronger. Join with us now as we praise our sovereign Lord for sustaining GCP and his church through these turbulent times. We have seen God’s goodness, sovereignty, and kindness as he provided just what we needed when we needed it. We rejoice in our partnership with the body of Christ as we continue the work of the Great Commission.
The author is interim executive director of GCP.
Photo caption: GCP produced eighty-three Bible story videos for children to view at home as part of its creative response to COVID-19.
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