Student Ministry: A New Normal?

Join our panel of experienced youth leaders as they discuss how youth ministry will change once groups begin meeting again. Our panel will discuss experiences they’ve had as well as ideas to help us all move forward under “the new normal”.
Panelists: Cody Ray, Todd Shoemaker, Carly Nicodemus, Angie Dallavalle, Tyler Kramer, and Eric Miller

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What do you think life will look like moving forward in the midst of COVID?

Todd – There is no going back to what was before. Instead, we move forward, reinventing and re-adjusting. Initially, we were “behind the 8-ball” with online virtual ministry. It was a hard pivot in order to keep our students connected virtually.
With the transition to biblical community groups meeting virtually, we have seen our attendance increase compared to a year ago. Students are less busy and also see the need for community.
Cody – Creating an online community that people enjoy. God has given us the internet to use and we are able to connect with more people that don’t necessarily have the same zip code.
Carly – A push to go back to basic habits, for example: being in the Word. Students are now being given the gift of time in order to read their Bibles and pray. Our church has started an activity of having students share a 30 second or 1-minute video of a habit they’ve developed during this time and how it’s been helpful.
Tyler – We had just changed our structure to a once-a-month youth group gathering, empowering leaders and encouraging students to make life groups their primary community. That was so good, because now I’m not responsible for all the kids, but am able to check in with my leaders who each check in with their 4-5 kids. This re-structure has been so powerful in connecting students because I’m not able to talk to everyone every day, but maybe through my leaders, we can.
Angie – Looking for the blessing in this situation and getting on board with where the Holy Spirit is working (instead of trying to force things to the way they were before). This is an opportunity to try new things and often God blesses us by forcing us to change.

What are some things you started during this time that you want to continue in the future?

Carly – focusing on a social media presence. Some students in our youth ministry have started sharing “takeovers” on how their day is going via Instagram. One student even made an app similar to the game where you guess “What is this?” on someone’s phone but it was “Which pastor is this?” This was a fun thing for students and even other church members to get involved in.
Todd – finding a way to get our students to engage and interact with us. We’ve been going live on Instagram or YouTube and bringing our students in on Zoom calls. We also do different things different days of the week. Some examples are “Tuesday Tunes” where students can post music they create, Wednesdays we go live with our large group programming, and “Talent Thursdays” students can sign up for a talent and compete and people vote on it. Our mindset moving forward is how to engage with students 50% in person and 50% online.
Angie – Zoom Bible studies in small groups. This has been valuable time to be in the Word and students have been asking good questions. There’s been a “girls’ night sleepover” feel that has led to some really good conversations.

What are some things you can potentially eliminate as a result of this shift in ministry?

Tyler – The in-person vibe that junior highers are just waiting to get into high school. With our Zoom calls, the students in junior high have their own set of leaders and are doing all the same things high school is so they feel more prioritized. This has been helpful in killing the bad stigma that junior high is second rate when it’s really not.
Also, moving forward, we will probably re-evaluate some of our summer activities. Maybe this thing we did last minute worked better, fostered better relationships, and helped students grow more than something we were planning on for a while.
Cody – trying to do a little bit of everything to connect with students. Perhaps it’s helpful to narrow the focus, maybe focus on 3 things that work well and do those.

What impact has the coronavirus had on student ministry, both now and in the future?

Todd – it brought to the surface the importance of community and how the church provides a level of community students can’t get anywhere else. God is at work—big time. Our goal is to make the gospel accessible, to make community accessible.
Tyler – it’s impacted two areas that I’ve seen:

  • Schedule – students are beginning to realize they don’t need all of these things in life, maybe they can eliminate some things and relax more. Time just by themselves to relax or time with family is nice. Moving forward, after initially starting more activities, perhaps they won’t over commit themselves as much because they realize the value in quieter time.
  • Thought behind things – students are putting more thought behind responding to texts. When everything students have depended on is stripped away except for God and His Word, it points them to think about where their hope really lies – in God.

Carly – it has made some families realize that discipleship can and should start in the home. As families watch services together, quality conversations are taking place.

Have you seen any effective ways of encouraging students to make their walk with Jesus and connecting with your ministry more of a priority?

Cody – Reminding students of what they’ve said in the past – maybe they voiced frustration with being pulled in so many different directions before COVID. When things start up again, remind them of what’s important and that they don’t have to overcommit if they don’t want to. Paying attention to what you’re thinking now, how you’re feeling now, and going back to that in the future when you feel drawn back into the “normal” amount of activities which can led to feeling more anxious, etc.
Carly – It’s not about how you are doing compared with other youth ministries, but about leaning into how God has gifted you individually and where God is leading your ministry and running with that.
The focus on our personal and spiritual health, as youth leaders, is so important through all of this.
Angie – I sometimes have a tendency to think too far ahead of where we are at now. We don’t know the future, but we can take one step at a time and let God lead.
As we shift into the “new normal,” what’s something you are excited about?
Angie – There are a lot of unknowns. I’m definitely anticipating something new, but am realizing the importance of being okay with not knowing for sure and trusting God with it. Eventually we will get to see each other again.
Todd – investing in our graduating seniors. We are doing a virtual senior night and gifting them with a photo session (from people at the church volunteering their time), with their family or whoever they want to be there.
Tyler – encouraging our leaders to continue doing what they have been during this time. They’ve been doing a good job – “look at what God did through you.”
Carly – continuing to build on small groups. We’re excited to begin hosting more things in our home for smaller groups of students.
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