3 Things We Can Do in Youth Ministry During COVID-19 So it can Thrive, not Just Survive.

If you serve in youth ministry at any capacity you’d know that 2020 would be the worst year to switch to a new church.

A Little Background First

Preaching before Covid-19It’s obvious that 2020 woke up on the wrong side of the bed. However, it was especially difficult for my family. In January my little baby girl spent her first birthday ever in the Hospital, she was there for 20 days. This was a dark season for us.

“I never imagined that my first months in my new church would be spent in isolation.”

In addition, I was also preparing to transition into a new church, as an Associate Pastor. I had been in conversation with them for nearly a year, until it all came together just weeks before we hit the quarantine. That’s when I made the transition to the church I’m currently serving in. And to be honest, I never imagined that my first months in my new church would be spent in isolation. My job description is to lead the website team, church online, the English congregation, the youth ministry, and the young adults ministry, too. I inherited a dying youth ministry, for they had been without a youth pastor for 2 years. The following is what we can learn about youth ministry during COVID-19 and how to thrive, not just survive.

1. Communication is 🔑 in Youth Ministry: Digital Hangouts are a must, but they are not enough.

I’m going to assume that your church is using Zoom or one of its competitors to continue to do youth ministry. Yes, Zoom is a must. In fact, if you’re not using a digital meeting platform to continue your youth ministry, you need to start using one now! However, we cannot put all our eggs on that basket. Social distancing has eradicated one-on-one community with students and parents. In my conversations with other youth pastors that I’ve coached, I’ve noticed that those that are thriving are not solely relying on digital youth groups, but on continued individual interactions.

“The best practice is to dedicate time to text and call volunteers, parents, and students separately.”

Don’t rely on group chats alone, either. The best practice is to dedicate time to text and call volunteers, parents, and students separately. That’s right, individually. If the majority of your time is being wasted on useless zoom meetings, you need to wake-up. Your job is not to plan digital events, it’s to preach the word and make disciples. Discipleship doesn’t happen one night a week. It’s a continual work. You need to invest in your people individually, too.

Let’s be real, are you anything like me? that if someone adds you to a group-chat you immediately mute it? so it doesn’t blow up your notifications. If you don’t, I wonder how you don’t have ghost-phone syndrome (look it up, it’s a thing). I guarantee you that your parents, volunteers, and youth do the same thing. Apps like Remind are great, but they are too impersonal, and one is limited to less that a tweet’s worth of characters.3 Things We Can Do about Youth Ministry During COVID-19 So it can Thrive, not Just Survive.

My Cheat Code: Hit ’em up and Calendly

I use Hit ’em Up. This app will save you time…so much time. You can send mass-personalized messages to all your contacts. I’m not getting paid by them to say this, they don’t even know I exist. But this very inexpensive app, allows you to send individual messages in a single stroke. Rather than doing copy-paste, and getting the wrong name typed in the message (it’s happened to me before using this app), all you’ll do is press send. You have the option to stop as you are sending messages so if there’s a contact you’ve been speaking with already, they’re not confused.

I also use Calendly to help me schedule one on one meetings with parents, volunteers and leaders. They offer a free version, and just like Hit ’em up, they are not sponsoring this blog, either. Calendly synchs up with my personal calendar, and allows people to schedule a meeting with me. I control the availability, and I’m notified when a person schedules something. This tool here in combination with Hit ’em up, is a power house. They are an investment.

2. Leverage Authenticity

We don’t have to pretend that Digital Youth Ministry during COVID-19 is amazing, it isn’t. It’s actually very awkward. Most teens already stink at face to face interactions. This new way of doing ministry is actually a deterrent for a lot of teens. In the words of my previous supervising pastor Ryan Reed “what are you doing to make your environment irresistible?” This is a great question, but before you try to answer it, by trying to make these sessions “cool”, or “gimmicky”. Be authentic. Call out the elephant in the room. These sessions are not awesome, they are awkward!

“use that authenticity as leverage”

Your teens are already thinking it’s awkward. So, when you contact them to find out how they are doing, or as you are reminding them about your next session…maybe mention this. No need to do it every week. And there’s no need to be a pessimist, either. But be bold enough to call it for what it is, then use that authenticity as leverage. Say things like, “I know it’s awkward, or not the same to meet like this, but thank God that we live in a time where we can still meet without risking the spread of COVID-19. I’m looking forward to seeing you this week.”

My Cheat Code: Countdowns, Ice-Breakers with Prizes, and Structure.

I make sure that our youth group starts with a countdown that has music playing in the background. If your church does not have a creative team that can do this for you, do a simple search online. It makes a huge difference, trust me. There’s nothing more awkward than being the first person to show up on a digital meeting. The worst thing is being second, or third, because you’re walking into a conversation. And it’s just weird to jump in, when you have no idea what’s going on. That’s why countdowns with music are helpful. They eliminate the awkward factor by a mile, and create a sense of anticipation (irresistibility).

Pizza“thanks to FOMO, it’s going to promote early attendance”

Budget permitting, I try to make sure that we play games everyone can participate in, with desirable prizes. No one’s going out to eat, but that doesn’t mean no one’s ordering pizza. Try to limit your icebreakers to be enticing enough that will make people want to play, and do giveaways. Every chain pizza restaurant offers e-gift-cards, give them away. And try to do these games at the beginning, thanks to FOMO, it’s going to promote early attendance. If you can’t afford a gift card each week, talk to parents, tell them that your goal, and get them to buy them for you. If you have 20 students, that means you have at least 30-40 parents. There’s only 52 weeks in a year. Do the math. There’s no excuse.

Structure is a double edge sword. Never show up unprepared, or trying to wing the night. Come on use Planning Center Online to help you out. Our God is a God of order, not disorder. Having a structure will help move things along. This reduces that awkwardness, and odd pauses. But remember to spice things up, change up the order every now and then. If it’s predictable, it can create resistance.

3. Follow Up is the Name of the Game

Given that I’ve already given you an arsenal of tools to do follow up with apps like Hit em Up and Calendly. The most important thing in ministry is follow up, because they foster relationships. If you notice there’s a new person, in the session, do not wait more than 48 hours to reach out to them. People forget what they sign up for after 24 hours. It is imperative that you reach out to new people, and to those that have shown interests in taking any next step in their faith. Pastor Ish Pimienta from Christ Fellowship was the king of follow-up when I was there. He would always say “Connection cards are gold, if you’re not following up, someone else will”

Reach out to parents: most youth pastors only reach out to teens, and only speak with parents when things turn sour. That should not be the case. Each week, make it a habit to tell parents what you’ve discussed in group. After all, they are with their kids 168 hours a week, now that COVID-19 has closed everything down. They need to be equipped to have meaningful conversations with their teens. The answers they get from their kids when asking how the session went is usually “…” Help them succeed, and they’ll help you succeed. Andrea McWhirter at Christ Journey Church would drill this down daily: “The Church is the Light of the world (yellow), the Parents are the Heart of the home (red), when the two come together they form Orange.” (this is known as the Orange Philosophy)

Closing Thoughts

COVID-19 has certainly changed the game of youth ministry. By the looks of it, this is the New Normal, for a while. Obviously, we cannot take our foot off the gas pedal. We need keep pushing forward. Pastor David Lema, PhD., DMin., of Peters Road Baptist Church has been saying this lately “In a crisis we can lose many things, but we can never lose control” We have to be strong, be creative, and act outside the box.

I’m interested in hearing your take on this, let me know if this is helpful for you in any way. I love partnering with pastors and seeing how we can be better at what we do.