Youth Ministry in a Time of Urgency Part 3: The Gathering

Last night, we had a successful test run of our YouTube Live event: Youth Night Live. As I evaluated our options for platforms on which we could reach our students, I felt like YouTube would be our best bet. Most of our kids aren’t yet on Instagram, despite its 1 billion users. Instead, you can find them on YouTube. For perspective, YouTube has twice the number of users that Instagram has, including a staggering 81% of 15-25 year olds in the United States.

At some point, most students have shared a YouTube video they enjoyed with me. And if they haven’t directly showed it to me on their device, they’ve spoken about one in our conversations. I knew YouTube would be our best bet to connect with them. Furthermore, hosting a YouTube Live event meant our video could easily be saved on our channel and shared at a later time (something Instagram live can’t do as easily, if at all). To help protect the chat section, I invited a couple adults to moderate our account while we streamed. They could take down any inappropriate comments, as needed. Thankfully, it all went well!

Having chosen our platform, I began to think about how we could best fulfill the purpose our normal Wednesday Night gathering served. Namely, we wanted to connect students and families around the Word of God. To do this, we had to be intentional with our approach. I recognize a shortened attention span is an obstacle we all face as we look at engaging students through screens. This is why we planned for different segments, each no longer than ten minutes.

I promoted as much as I could, through every medium available to us. I used an Instagram post and stories on our Student Ministry page, Facebook (both personal and the church account), sent emails to parents and volunteers, and used our church connection software: Realm.

It all started by showing a countdown video created by Download Youth Ministry. Then, we played a Bible Trivia game, encouraging everyone to comment their answer. Once we finished the game, we showed a funny video made by some hilarious volunteers to help lighten the mood, before ending our time with ten minutes together in the Word. The success of Youth Night Live can only be attributed to my incredible team of volunteers. They subscribed to the YouTube account I made and were ready to interact with students. It was a joy to see!

This is where I have to encourage you to invite as many people as possible in to help. With everyone being at home and so spread out, we need a team now more than ever. We need to find people to bounce around ideas, interact with students in the comments, and check in with families. Use the gifts of your adult leaders to help customize your times to their skill set!

I also want to encourage you to find ways to be as interactive as possible. I understand that we’re all working with different amounts of technology and ability, but I consider last night a success because I was able to interact with students as I was teaching. Maybe for you it looks more like prerecording a video or teaching session, then interacting in the comments once its uploaded. However you meet the need, don’t neglect to find ways to gather together and connect with one another.

So, I’m curious: what did your group do to meet together this week? Feel free to share with me below! I would love to hear more about what others are doing!

Youth Ministry in a Time of Urgency Part 2: Resources

At this point, many of us have had a couple of days to think through how we’re going to adjust our normal gathering times. I know that Wednesdays are a popular time for student ministries. At my church, Wednesday night is our main worship gathering. As we are considering how to find new ways to accomplish the purposes of this gathering, I wanted to take some time today to compile some of the resources I’ve been looking at to help make decisions for my group.

If you don’t know where to start, I would encourage you to start here. Doug Fields and his team at Download Youth Ministry created this webpage last Friday, and they’ve been updating it with a steady stream of resources ever since. There are free interactive games, social media graphics to help you interact with students, and even lessons you can use in a pinch. You can also check out their blog post with great ideas here.

This video is from a gaming perspective, I believe; however, the principles still apply. His explanation is clear, and the software he discusses is completely free. If you’re looking to start with YouTube streaming, watch this video! (As a side note, we’re looking at streaming on YouTube this evening, so I’ll share more about how it goes and why we chose this platform tomorrow.)

So, how does all of this play out on the most practical level? I’ve attached the link to our Covid-19 page on our church website. Here, we’re updating our people on the latest information regarding service times and posting resources for families to use in their homes. This page is going to be updated often, so feel free to check back from time to time to see how our strategy changes.

What about you? What resources have you found useful? Feel free to share them below! Remember, we’re in this together!

Youth Ministry in a Time of Urgency Part 1: Communication

“We’re in uncharted waters,” many have said, describing our current situation. I think this phrase is an understatement in many ways. I’ve spent most of my day sending out emails and in meetings trying to figure out how to do ministry as the recommendations for the number of people who can gather together become less and less.

My heart behind this series is to try to create a few small resources to help my fellow youth workers as we walk through this together. Once again, this is not only a chance to streamline my thoughts into something more coherent, but to help give you things to consider as you seek to lead your student ministry through this crisis.

Which leads me to my first reminder: communicate! Our schedules are anything but normal right now. In fact, I just had two weeks worth of planning wiped away in the blink of an eye, but that’s okay! With new information coming out every hour, we need to be on top of our game as well. Find ways to communicate with parents and workers the changes ahead. Consider finding time each and every day to update everyone you work with. Give them a clear plan of what’s ahead and clear ways for them to participate. We may be separated, but that doesn’t mean our ministries are on hold. I’ll share more about how I’m adjusting my plan in the week ahead, but first- let me share my parent email from today. I hope this helps give you some ideas about what to consider when communicating with parents, and maybe even gives you some ideas for your ministry.

Hey Parents,

This week’s update looks a little different, considering everything that’s happening right now around the world. Before I get into the details of how we’ll be adjusting some things in the ministry, I just want to encourage you all with this truth: Jesus is still Lord of all. It’s incredible to me how I’ve been challenged to grow in my faith in the last week as all of this has started to unfold. If I’m honest, I’ve found myself living as if Jesus wasn’t Lord at different points in the last few days. However, this is an opportunity for me to be reminded of the truth I’ve been teaching in Colossians for the last two months: Jesus is Lord. No virus can challenge the authority and sovereignty of our risen King. As one of my favorite songs, In Christ Alone says: “No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand; ‘Til He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I stand.” And one more word of encouragement, this time from Martin Luther: “The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.” 

What follows is some details regarding the plan of student ministry in the next couple of weeks:

What will student ministry look like going forward? All of our normal gatherings and activities are postponed for now. We won’t be meeting on Wednesday Nights or on Sunday Mornings for Bible Study. In its place, we’re going to be planning strategic times where we can come together for a time of teaching. Tomorrow night at 6:30pm, we’ll be hosting a YouTube Livestream called Youth Night Live. This Livestream will be on our church’s YouTube page. I want to encourage you to join your students and interact via the comment section. My hope is to still make this as interactive as possible, even though I’ll be sharing via video. 

What about youth events? As of right now, we are going to pause all youth events for the student ministry. Since the goal is to keep people at home as much as possible, we’re going to keep things down to a minimum. However, we will continue with summer camp as originally planned. LifeWay has said they will give communication to all youth leaders the moment any details regarding Fuge Camps changes. As soon as any adjustments need made to our summer plans, I will be sure to let you know.

What can we do as a family during this time? My heart for student ministry is to partner with parents in the discipleship of their students. In many ways, having this season where we cannot gather as we normally would reminds us of the importance of family discipleship. The formation of our teens comes down to parents discipling their kids. I want to do everything I can to help make this task as easy as possible. This is why I’m hosting Youth Night Live on Wednesday night, and it is also why I’ll be sending resources to help you encourage your students to spend time in the Word and in prayer. I’ll also be providing questions to go along with tomorrow night’s devotion. I understand how this task can be seen as daunting- but it is possible. I will be available to you for whatever you need. Let me encourage you to redeem this time! We can do this together! 

How can we stay in touch? Please feel free to text, call, or email me. In addition, I want to strongly encourage all of you to download our church communication app and make a profile, if you haven’t already. From the app, you can interact with my updates, communicate with me via chat, and it’s all streamlined in one place for your convenience. Let me know if you have any questions about setting it up!

Why Working with Youth Isn’t As Scary As You Think

Teenagers are a different breed. I was reminded of this fact last week as I got up to begin youth and a middle schooler was creating a goldfish fish tank in his mouth: chugging some Dr. Pepper, then adding the delicious cheddar snack so it might swim around before being consumed. Actions like this (and the overall fear of adolescence) lead adults to alienate themselves from their church’s student ministry. Let me take a moment to convince you why working with you isn’t quite as scary as you might think.

We are all capable of providing the one thing students long for the most- sincerity. Teenagers hunger for an adult who will be genuine and honest. They’re not looking for an act or for someone who tries extra hard to relate to them. It doesn’t take a flawless knowledge of Snapchat, Instagram, or Tik-Tok to earn the right to talk to students. In fact, as I seek to build my adult leadership team, I look for someone who can be genuine.

To get to the heart of the issue, sincerely is something we all desire. There’s something about knowing someone is consistent regardless of the environment they’re in. In the gospel, we see how Jesus’ death on the cross in our place frees us to be honest about who we are. Paul says in Romans 10:13, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” What leads us to call upon the name of the Lord? An honest view of ourselves, It’s only when we recognize who we are and stop trying to save ourselves that we find salvation in Christ.

In the same way, once we have received this salvation, we are free to be honest with the sins and struggles in our life. We aren’t honest in terms of seeking to stay in sin, but knowing that through sharing our sins, God purifies us to conform us into the image of Christ. James 5:16 says it this way, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” We are wired to receive healing from our sins when we confess them.

Student ministry can still be intimidating, even for me. But God has already given us everything we need. Still on the fence about serving in your church’s student ministry? Why not give it a try? Be you, and see how God uses you.

Why I Take Students On a Smaller Winter Retreat

For as long as I have been a youth pastor, my calendar of events has been anchored by a summer and winter trip. All of our momentum in the ministry has come from these two opportunities. Having just come back from our yearly winter retreat, I thought I might share a little more about why I find this trip to be so important.

Before I get into the reasons why, let me first explain the format of the retreat. Every Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday weekend, we rent a cabin in a mountain city a few hours away. Our trip lasts two full days, and during that time, we have four sessions walking through passages of scripture exploring an idea I think will benefit the group. Immediately after these morning and evening sessions, the students are split up into smaller “breakout groups.” The rest of the time is spent exploring nearby attractions, having free time in the cabin, and eating our meals.

During this same weekend, many other churches take this time to bring their students to a larger conference going on in the same area. While there is certainly a benefit to these types of events, I’ve found that they didn’t quite fit into the vision and direction I had for my ministry. Here’s a few reasons why:

1) A Smaller Winter Retreat Creates Unity

While this can be said of nearly any trip students take together (if leveraged properly), there’s something about our group being in the cabin together that helps all of us get to know one another better. During these down times, adult leaders get more time to build relationships with students. As a student pastor, I enjoy the extra time I have to have conversations with students and hear their stories. I can jump in on some of the board games and I have an opportunity to act a little crazy- showing students that sometimes I’m only slightly more mature.

2) A Smaller Winter Retreat is More Cost Effective

Sometimes, trying to take kids to one of the larger conferences causes an increase in the cost of the trip. This increase in price is usually passed on to the parents. In my current ministry, I have quite a few families with three or more kids in the group. These prices add up quickly when you have to pay for more than one teen.

On the other hand, having an in-house winter trip meant that we could feed each student for around $2 per meal. By cutting back here, and only having the cost of the cabin and gas for transportation as the other expenses, it’s easier to keep the cost low, making the trip available to more students.

3) A Smaller Winter Retreat Means You Can Focus on the Needs of Your Group

I’ve already hinted to this in the introduction: one of the advantages to this model for a winter trip is that I can pick a topic about which the students need to learn more. Do they need more teaching on apologetics? I have two whole days to invest in them. Need to focus on evangelism? Here’s my chance.

I used this weekend as a time to focus on answering the question, “What is a Christian?” It was a chance to get rid of all of the baggage which comes along with the territory when you’re ministering in the Bible Belt. For two days, we looked at the Scriptures and saw what was at stake, what was to gain, what it looks like to follow Jesus, and how we tend to get it wrong. The breakout groups that followed then took the information I shared and help students think of ways to apply it in their lives. This trip can be customized in any number of ways to meet these needs.

I’ve been involved with this sort of winter retreat for nearly eight years now. To be honest, this model isn’t original to me, but was passed down to me by a great student pastor I had the opportunity to shadow. In my time working as an adult leader and now as a student pastor organizing it, I have seen the Lord do incredible things. Year after year, the benefits have outweighed the extra time it takes to put it together. The group grows more unified and grows in their love for the Lord. And for me, that makes it all worth it.