In an alternate universe, there might be some version of you currently doing things like planning youth mission trips, going to camp, inviting students to awesome events, or playing games that involve eating, singing, screaming, and other dangerous things like breathing in each other’s general vicinity. But in this universe . . . we have a pandemic to think about.
So when “normal” youth ministry can’t happen because of health and safety concerns, what do we do?
How do we balance online ministry with in-person (and socially distanced) youth ministry?
How can we reach teenagers and also be aware of health concerns?
First things first. Before you start making changes, read the most current guidelines set by your city, state, and region and line up those policies with the policies of your church. Both will help you integrate the ideas below in a way that fits your context and keeps everyone safe!
Okay, now let’s talk youth ministry while social distancing. Here are 7 tips.
1) ASK FOR YOUR STUDENTS’ PERSPECTIVE
Because so many teenagers are telling us about the technology fatigue they are feeling, it may time to start asking what they think your gatherings look like (both in-person and online). Of course, you can’t let teenagers dictate when or how your ministry meets in person right now, but understanding their perspective is important. And remember, many students and families will likely have very different perspectives. For example . . .
- Some families only interact with their immediate family members.
- Others interact with a select, limited group of friends.
- Still other students are free to interact with whoever they please.
Understanding your people will help determine your expectation of youth group involvement. If students are hanging out with friends in person, your online participation may be low, while if families are hesitant to meet in person, your in-person participation will be low. Either way is okay! But we have to start by listening and then adjust our strategy based on what we hear.
2) FOCUS ON FUN
When you do finally get together with your students in person (with social distancing), focus on fun! We’re not suggesting you shouldn’t teach a lesson or preach, but maybe it shouldn’t be your primary goal. Instead, put most of your time and energy on relationships — especially when you haven’t seen your group in-person for weeks or even months! Make this a time to rekindle the bonds with them. And if you decide to teach, make sure it is discussion-based and not a lecture.
3) PLAY SOCIALLY-DISTANCED GAMES
Games break the ice and can be the language that brings everyone together. But, it’s important to prioritize games that don’t require physical interaction. Instead, focus on games that allow students to interact from a distance, like games where the group is polled, or someone is performing for the group, or there are individual contributions that can be made without making contact (like a relay race)!
For more ideas, search the Stuff You Can Use youth ministry Facebook group for resources and games other youth pastors are implementing, like here and here!
4) KEEP GROUPS SMALL
If you have more than ten students involved in your ministry, structure or restructure your programs to be more small-groups-based so students can gather in groups of ten or fewer. It will be easier to make changes and to practice social distancing when groups are manageable and easy to communicate with through an adult leader. Depending on your context, meeting by grade level or by splitting up middle school and high school students can help you achieve smaller groups.
5) PRIORITIZE HYGIENE
Record a fun hand-washing video or do a live presentation about hand washing. You can make it a skit or a what-not-to-do comedy. Help teenagers teach kids about the importance of hand-washing with soap. It might feel like a kid talk, but if you set teenagers up with vision to show how their hand washing can be a form of advocacy, you’ll be able to leverage their passion to help others and their potential to change the world! Ask your student leaders to be the ultimate servants by giving them the task of counting how many people go into the bathroom and how many come out! Set a limit for only two people in a bathroom at a time with clean-ups and wipe-downs every 30 minutes.
6) SCHEDULE ONE-ON-ONE VISITS
Especially when numbers are low, try making it a priority for you, your staff, and volunteers to visit every teenager in your youth ministry. Get permission from your teenagers and their families before you go visit, of course. To make it easier on you, here are some tips . . .
- Use Google Maps to make a route of multiple homes at once.
- If visiting someone in person isn’t an option, make sure to reach out in other ways like FaceTime or sending a video message through email or text.
- Let students know when you’re on your way to their home.
- Bring another adult leader with you to play fun games like Cornhole, Kan Jam, or Heads Up.
- Surprise the students you visit with “extra mile” efforts. Grab their favorite drink or candy on the way, or use your creativity to drive into their neighborhood with something random or fun.
- Turn your car into a photo booth or tie balloons to anyone’s car who’s visiting.
7) CONTINUE YOUR ONLINE MINISTRY
Remember, even after you’ve resumed your in-person meetings that there will still be teenagers who are vulnerable in your community — for those students, it won’t be healthy for them to attend in person. In order to best connect with these teenagers, be sure to continue your online programming strategy. It will mean the world to these teenagers and their families that you are still thinking of them and making it a point to continue to include them in your ministry.
And, hey. Remember . . .
- We’re all making shifts and trying to figure out what’s best. You’re not alone.
- Give yourself grace, even when you have low participation.
- No one has ever done youth ministry like this before.
- Do the best you can and continue to follow God’s leading and guidance for your youth ministry.
Our team at Stuff You Can Use is here with you through it all! In fact, we made you two handy resources to help you figure this out.
THE SOCIAL DISTANCING GUIDE TO YOUTH MINISTRY
How to pivot your in-person ministry strategy to accommodate social distancing in seven key areas: annual planning, teaching, discipleship, games, events, volunteers, and parents.
THE ONLINE GUIDE TO YOUTH MINISTRY
How to pivot your ministry strategy online in seven key areas: annual planning, teaching, discipleship, games, events, volunteers, and parents.