How To Build An Engaging Student Ministry During Social Distancing
By: Brett Connolly June 1, 2020
A critical part of student ministry is physically attending countless school lunches, sporting events, choir concerts, orchestra concerts, band performances, pep rallies, and plenty of other school events to support students. When I was a Student Pastor, my days were packed with one-on-one discipleship meetings at the office or getting coffee with students. And of course—Wednesday nights and Sunday morning services; what awesome times of intentionality. Because of COVID-19, the church and world has shifted from in-person to remote communication, but intentionality should still be our primary focus in ministry.
I have recently connected with a number of student pastors who have been doing student ministry at a high level for years and are now stepping into this season of needed agility with focus and strategy. Here are some strategic, simple tools to navigate this new season of ministry as we enter summer, a time when student ministry typically becomes more exciting, not more challenging.
Focus on Engagement
Engage With Your Volunteers
It’s easy to buy into isolation. A ministry space doesn’t need to be pulled along right now. It needs to be led. Instead of trying to champion this alone, connect with your volunteers. A wise person once told me that “your student ministry space will only be as strong as your volunteers.” Your volunteers are likely remote—just like you. Connect with them. Hear their story. Lead them and encourage them to connect with their small groups throughout the week, not just on Sundays. This will likely be a practice that will serve you well moving forward after social distancing as you intentionally engage and support your volunteers throughout the week.
Engage With Your Students
Even though you cannot physically be with your students at the moment, there are many ways to stay connected with them. If you simply hop on Instagram, you can see that many of your students are simultaneously anxious and bored. Be intentional with this time and meet them where they are.
A Houston area student ministry currently has the theme - “Stop scrolling through your feed and FEED YOUR SOUL.” The group provides a daily reading plan, questions, and application attached to this theme. Lean into this time to find ways of reaching your students that engage them and offer the connection that they’re craving.
Summer is a great time to set up remote game nights, coffee hangouts, and Bible studies. Try out a few remote events and activities to keep your students engaged at a time when they’re craving connection.
Engage With Other Student Pastors
You might be feeling stuck, or maybe feeling like your content is already turning into white noise. Reach out to other student pastors in the area or friends who are also in student ministry. I guarantee they are working through some of the same questions you are. Lean on each other’s ideas and experiences.
Leverage Simple Online Tools
Whether you are leaning into YouTube Live or you are having a pre-produced YouTube video, this is where much of the Wednesday night youth content is going. Students have quick access to this, as well as families. If you have the ability to still go to your student ministry building or room—shoot your video there. Something familiar is welcomed in this unfamiliar time.
Zoom & Group Facetime
Many school districts are going with Zoom to continue school during this time of remote. This is a great tool to utilize for Sunday School/Life Groups, Bible Studies, and even staying in contact with your leadership team.
Group FaceTime is also a viable option. With the right phones and updates, you can FaceTime with up to 32 people.
There are so many opportunities on this platform. There is certainly a time for intentional fun and intentional equipping. Done right, this platform can be a great tool to achieve both.
Share church-wide vision casting to help students maintain awareness of what’s going on within the whole church.
Have some Bible Reading Plans on your Student Ministry account’s Instagram Story with some follow-up questions students can think through.
Repost some student’s responses so other students can see they’re not alone.
Challenge Student Leaders to post content so different voices can be heard.
Utilize all the different features to engage students—such as Questions, Polls, and Quizzes.
Video and Picture Challenges are taking over feeds as students, and people in general, want to connect. Lean into this and have some fun too!
This is a great platform to connect parents with what is going on in the student ministry. With this, you can use this space to post Wednesday Night and Sunday Morning application questions that follow along with the messages. You can also post updates from the church to keep students in the loop.
Utilizing group text can be another tool for Life Group teachers to stay connected with their class, for you to stay connected with your volunteers, and for you to stay connected with students.
Just as we have found a new rhythm over the last few months, summer is upon us. This summer is going to look much different than in years past. Big events have been cancelled or postponed. Most campgrounds are closed, most camps are cancelled, there’s no physical VBS for a student ministry to rally around, no big mission trip to serve and grow together, no student choir tour.
So are we packing it up and cancelling summer 2020? Not a chance. Things are still fluid, but there is a real chance that you can have even more engagement with your virtual summer camp and activities.
In this summer season of not having to budget for vans, charter buses, airfare, facilities, hotels, food, and more food, student ministries can strip down budgetary cost which opens up the pathway to the inclusion of students who may not have normally joined or the inclusion of volunteers who couldn’t give up a full week to go to camp but can now engage with some online components.
Trends For The Coming Months
Having spoken with a number of student pastors, it seems like everyone is doing slightly different creative activities wrapped around the culture of their church and student ministry. However, there are two clear streams of thought that I have heard on repeat—Small Groups and Content. These two streams are beginning to shape student ministries for the summer.
Some people and organizations are setting up online camp experiences like Digital Youth Camp (DYC) with a one time fee that allows whole church groups to join in on a church camp experience with scheduled bands and speakers. This is a great option for some churches.
Other churches are looking internally to create a unique personalized virtual camp experience for their students. They’re looking to tap into what has been a win with their camps in the past. For some churches those wins may be in the break out groups, it may be in morning devotionals or “Silent Sounds,” potentially with a particular speaker, band, or even a fun talent show.
Some churches are doing a one to two-day conference feel event, while others are still doing a week long schedule. One church in the Houston area is even doing a “Camp In” where students will build a tent in their house or in their yard and all go “camping” together with Zoom meetings and live segments. Find your wins and live in the streams of Small Groups and Content.
This is certainly uncharted territory for student ministry, but it’s awesome to see the “Big C” church come together with ideas to continue to connect with volunteers, students, and families. As a student pastor put it so well, “we are focusing on what we do well which is teach them The Word, encouraging them, and giving them a place to be loved.”
For more on summer student ministry during COVID-19, check out this conversation I had with leaders on their plans for this summer.