Fall and Winter Programming During COVID-19

This fall we had to implement a whole new style of programming for our student ministry. In years past we had gone the traditional route of meeting on Sundays and midweek. But as our state, like the rest of the world, grappled with how to handle the pandemic, it quickly became clear that our traditional methods would not be able to continue.

So we took a risk. After sifting through no less than 10 different plans, we finally settled on one we believed would work. We switched from meeting on-site to meeting as small groups in houses throughout our community, calling them Home Groups. We believed this would be something that would continue to champion our values and mission, and after much prayer we initiated this new phase. And honestly, it’s worked. We have seen steady numbers, consistent attendance, and a deepening of discipleship-oriented relationships.

In order to do this and do it well, we had multiple steps to consider. These steps weren’t all handled the best, and in hindsight some of these are things I wish I had done. The reason I want to share this now is because as we are entering cold and flu season, there is an increased chance of programming changing for many of us. So here are some steps to help you think through program changes.

Prayer, lots of prayer.

This may seem pretty obvious, but the truth is sometimes we can get stuck in planning mode. We run ahead when we believe we have found the perfect plan without seeking God’s wisdom and direction. And perhaps you did find the perfect plan, but did you stop to thank God? The reason I want to remind us to pray is because so often during this new stage of ministry in a pandemic, we can get hyper-focused on just getting ideas and content out as quickly as possible, and we don’t stop to consult with our God. Prayer is needed (perhaps even more so now than ever before), and without prayer even our greatest plans will not succeed. So remember to go before the throne often.

Over communication.

This is one I wish I had done better at. Looking back we communicated well with most of our church staff and with our volunteers, but I really wish we had done better at communicating with parents. I can make all the excuses I want like “we put up videos on social media,” or “we sent out emails,” and “it was in the newsletter.” But the reality is our people are so inundated with communication right now, we need to be able to find ways to clearly communicate with them. In looking back, one thing I would have done is host a parent forum of some type to articulate our plan and allow for questions. This would have helped to head off all the follow-up conversations I have been having two months into our new programming style. I also would have been clear and direct in explaining our decision(s) for why we chose this model. One of the reasons we moved to Home Groups was to help with mitigation should someone come down with COVID. I didn’t share this in the beginning, but in many follow-up conversations when I do share this, it helps parents understand and feel more at ease. So commit to communicating well with everyone in order to have a more seamless approach to however your ministry will look.

Team and parent buy-in.

This is huge and goes hand-in-hand with my prior point. If you are going to change how things look for your ministry, you need buy-in. When we shared what we were doing with our new fall plan with our leaders, we lost some because of the changes. We also had to answer a lot of questions from our team, which actually helped us shape how we were looking to implement it. By bringing our team into the conversation and listening to them, the majority of our group stayed with us and has excelled at our new model. The team’s buy-in has actually helped our Home Groups to grow and flourish.

With parents, I cannot express enough how important it is to have buy-in from them. I have talked with numerous parents over the past few months and as I explain the “why” behind what we are doing and the results we are seeing, parents begin to get excited and ask how they can help. This is where over-communicating is key, and will allow parents to know and understand, and then jump on board. Having parents who support your program and the changes to it will help it succeed.

Leadership approval.

This is one that sometimes we may forget in the rush to get things changed. Make sure that leadership knows what you are doing and approves of it. That will help with making sure that communication is consistent across the board, and that they support what you are doing. It can be easy to just implement a change, but if it doesn’t align with what church leadership is desiring as a whole, you may have to walk your plan back. And nothing deflates a program like multiple changes or things being undone. So bring leadership in, and make sure they are onboard with what you desire to implement.

Consistency and stability.

Consistency is something that people today are lacking. Students are facing constant change with how school is being done. Colleges are changing protocols and rules left and right. Families are trying to adapt to new ways of working from home and doing school at the same time. States are changing regulations all the time. Change is happening constantly and families are desperate for consistency and stability. So when you implement changes, look to have them be consistent for the long haul. Don’t change things weekly, don’t randomly insert a change of plans. Instead, look to provide a stable and consistent change that will help families and your program.

I would also encourage you to make sure that whatever you are implementing matches what the rest of the church is doing. For example, if you are not requiring masks for youth group but the church is for all other functions, this will simply add to confusion for families and the church. So make sure what you are implementing matches the overall plan and function of the church. We want to provide stability and consistency from all levels of our churches so our people know what to expect. This will also help to strengthen the church rather than add another area for there to be division.

Allow for flexibility.

I know this almost seems to go against what I was just saying about consistency and stability, but hear me out. We switched to a Home Group model of ministry in which our groups play games, fellowship, watch a teaching video, and then discuss it. We have afforded our leaders flexibility in how their group functions and in how they engage with the video. Some groups hate games, so instead they fellowship and share a meal. Some groups never use the study questions we provide because they know their group so well that they use their own questions. Other groups have asked if they could go out for ice cream afterward with parent approval. Allowing for this type of flexibility not only allows for there to be ongoing discipleship, but it also strengthens the group as a whole. This type of flexibility doesn’t change what we are doing but instead allows for groups to grow and for students to witness faith in action.

Incorporating Creativity into Student Ministry

As a creative, one of my favorite lesser-known passages of Scripture is Exodus 35:30-35. It says,

 Moses then said to the Israelites: “Look, the Lord has appointed by name Bezalel son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. He has filled him with God’s Spirit, with wisdom, understanding, and ability in every kind of craft to design artistic works in gold, silver, and bronze, to cut gemstones for mounting, and to carve wood for work in every kind of artistic craft. He has also given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all the work of a gem cutter; a designer; an embroiderer in blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen; and a weaver. They can do every kind of craft and design artistic designs.”

What I love about this passage is how clearly it states that creativity is a gift from God. He is the one who gives creative ability, and it is something that can and should be used to worship Him.

As church leaders, we have the responsibility to enable those in our care to use their gifts, and to help lead others in worshiping God. One way we can do this is by leveraging the creative abilities of others, and intentionally incorporating creative elements into our services, resources, and activities. Whether it is our gifting or someone else’s, creativity can help draw our attention to God, and cause us to connect with Him in ways we couldn’t otherwise.

Student ministry is a perfect place to pursue creativity–young people have great ideas, and often think creatively about the world around them. Plus many are creatively gifted, and want to see how their passions and abilities are part of their faith. This fall is a great time to intentionally implement new creative elements in your ministry. Depending on your church’s plans and requirements in light of COVID-19, some ideas may be easier to incorporate than others, but we have included a “COVID alternative” for each suggestion.

Incorporate music.

Music is often the most creative interactive aspect of church services; it is also the thing most people think of when they hear the word “worship.” The artistry and creativity of music draws the mind toward God, through the arrangement of notes and selection of lyrics. And while it is something many are used to, it is still a creative element that can be incorporated into youth ministry.

Whether you have a playlist going during hang-outs and games, or you have a student-led worship band, or you host concerts and gigs, there are numerous ways to incorporate music. It can be used to instantly set the tone for a space or event, utilize the talents of your students, and help to direct attention to the appropriate focus or activity.

COVID alternative: Consider filming a socially-distanced worship set list, or creating one via Spotify or YouTube. Students can watch or listen and sing along alone or in small groups. You can also create playlists for them to listen to during the week, or during their devotional time. If your students are musically gifted, encourage them to share their covers or write original songs reflecting their relationship with God and the things He has been teaching them.

Embrace poetry and spoken word.

Poetry may seem like an art form from ancient times, but if you read Psalms, you know it can stand the test of the ages. Its modern-day equivalent, spoken word, can be equally as beautiful and powerful.

Spoken word can be used to melodically and artistically present a story or concept in a new way, which can help students to think deeply about the intersection of their life and faith. It can be featured before a talk, incorporated into your lesson, or showcased on an open mic night. Consider bringing in a guest artist or student to present their original pieces, or ask them to create one around a featured topic.

Both poetry and spoken word are elements of story telling, another creative medium that can be incorporated into student ministry. (For more on storytelling, check out this post.) Story telling can be personal, or it can also be presented in other forms, like video clips. Stories grab listeners’ attention and illustrate abstract concepts, which can lead to deeper understanding and retention.

COVID alternative: Share spoken word with your students via video or audio, whether you record it yourself, or find something online. If you have students who are interested in poetry or spoken word, encourage them to work on an original piece. If it’s something that can be shared with the group, ask them if they would be willing to record it, or if you can share it for them. If you have enough interest, consider hosting an open mic night via video chat, where students can share their piece and listen to what others have written.

Include arts and crafts.

There really is no limit to how you can incorporate arts and crafts into student ministry, the options are endless. Sensory activities can help students connect to spiritual concepts and engage other parts of their brains. However, there are some good starting points and things to consider before choosing an artsy activity. Some big questions to ask: is it childish, does it have a purpose, and does it allow for creative expression?

Students, especially high schoolers, want to be treated like adults. If the activity you have planned is something they do in the preschool class, your students will probably check out, and possibly feel insulted. Make sure a craft or art activity is something on their level and not overly juvenile. Also, the activity should tie into your lesson and have a purpose behind it, especially for the students who may want to participate, but aren’t artistically inclined. If they can’t draw a sheep, can they still accomplish something? For the student who is artistically inclined, can they use the activity to creatively express themselves, even if they think outside the box?

If you aren’t sure where to start, begin by talking with your students who are artistically-inclined. They may have some awesome ideas for creative projects you can implement in hang outs, or as part of your lessons. If you can’t think of a specific craft or project, start by providing blank paper and art supplies like markers, colored pencils, or gel pens. Another option is to invest in some adult coloring books, journals for your students, or scrapbooking supplies. If you have interest, you can plan a creative night where students can paint a canvas or complete a craft, enjoy a snack, and socialize.

COVID alternative: If you’re gathering digitally, plan a creative project students can do with things they have at home. Give them a heads-up beforehand so they can gather supplies. You can also encourage your students to make creative projects part of their personal devotional time. They can draw or write a response to what they read, or creatively letter a verse that stands out to them.

Don’t neglect aesthetics.

Decorating can be challenging if you’re utilizing a shared space, working with a limited budget, or restricted in what you’re allowed to do. But regardless, there are things you can do to make your space more aesthetically pleasing, which will help make your meetings inviting and appealing while encouraging creativity. Again, an important thing to keep in mind is that students want to be treated and feel like adults, so avoid things that feel overtly childish or juvenile.

A few things you can incorporate include:

  • Lighting. If you’re in a space with overhead florescent lighting, it can feel sterile and office-like. Switch things up with lamps, string lights, or up-lighting. You don’t need a laser light show to make the space feel more interesting or comfortable.
  • Seating. Switching up your seating options can help keep students’ attention, and make them more comfortable. Try sitting around round tables, providing cushions if you’re using the floor, or adding some comfy couches and chairs.
  • Decor. If you’re in a shared space, removable decor might be the easiest way to transform your space. Think about using wall art, lightweight furniture, faux plants and flowers, lights, and pop-up backdrops.
  • Paint. If you’re in your own space, a fresh coat of paint in an appealing, neutral tone can help make your space feel new and inviting. Try adding an accent wall in a bright color, chalkboard paint, modern design, or mural.
  • Graphics. Don’t forget that you can carry aesthetics through to your materials and display graphics. Choose artful photos, modern fonts, and colors that coordinate with your space. You can also create or refresh the logo for your ministry and feature it prominently in your meeting space.

Don’t be afraid to try new things; start small, and if they don’t work, you can change them. If you’re not sure what your students will like, form a decorating team to brainstorm ideas and contribute to setting up each week. Your students can help you keep things interesting and relevant while also providing manpower.

Also, set a budget for yourself or your students. You can shop yard sales and thrift stores, and keep an eye out for curbside finds. Some things can get an easy face lift with a coat of spray paint, or become a work of art with a simple DIY project.

COVID alternative: If you’re not meeting in person, you can still create an aesthetic wherever you film lessons and promos. Make your own back drop, frame the scene, or switch up filming locations. Also, you can use graphics and artistic imagery on social media, creating an aesthetic even if you’re not meeting together.

What have you done to encourage or incorporate creativity into student ministry?

Small Group Game Ideas

Last week we looked at socially distanced games for groups that can gather in larger numbers. These games can work for some ministries, but other youth groups have made the switch to meeting in smaller groups to accommodate state and federal guidelines.

With that being said, I would like to share some game ideas for smaller groups. Some of these are the same as last week because they can also be played in small groups with minor tweaking. This isn’t an all encompassing list, but merely an attempt to share some resources that we have found to be helpful and beneficial.

Zoom Games

The reality for many of our groups is that we will be meeting virtually at some point this coming semester. We don’t like to think that way, but it is better to be prepared for it than not. So I would encourage you to think through different Zoom Games that you can play. An easy option is utilizing PowerPoint style games that you can screen-share with a group. Another option is doing trivia over Zoom or a “Would You Rather” style game. The cool thing with all of these ideas is you don’t necessarily need to come up with them. Download Youth Ministry has an entire section on their website where you can purchase these games and many more. I would encourage you to start building up your resources now to prepare for the fall. And if you don’t end up meeting online, these games can transition easily to in-person gatherings as well.

Charades

Who doesn’t love a classic game of charades? The general idea is that you will have someone acting out an action, character, or activity that they have pulled from a hat. These can be pre-made by you and your volunteers or you can have students submit suggestions. There are lots of different ways to play Charades like as small groups guessing, or as a large group guessing, or even reverse charades where one person guesses while the whole group acts it out. Whichever one you choose, make sure to remind the people acting out that they can not make noise or they forfeit that round.

Apples to Apples

This is a classic party game and is fantastic for small groups. It does require you to purchase the card game, but it will provide lasting fun for your group. There are also many different editions that you can choose from depending on what your group will enjoy more.

The premise of the game is this: The judge picks a green apple card from the top of the stack, reads the word aloud, and places it face up on the table. Players (except the judge) quickly choose the red apple card from their hand that is best described by the word on the green apple card played by the judge. Players place these red apple cards face down on the table. The judge mixes the red apple cards so no one knows who played which card. The judge turns over each red apple card, reads it aloud, and then selects the one he or she thinks is best described by the word on the green apple card. The player of the selected red apple card is awarded the green apple card played by the judge.

Yard Games

Being able to gather outdoors while the weather is nice is a huge blessing in many ways. Games outdoors are a huge win and don’t need to be planned out in great detail because many of them can run themselves. Some great yard games include cornhole/bags, ladder ball, giant Jenga, badminton, socially distanced volleyball or basketball, Kan Jam, Frisbee, horseshoes, or Spikeball. All of these options allow for social distancing and a ton of fun.

Heads Up

If you are not familiar with Heads Up, you need to download it now and play it. It is a ton of fun and guaranteed to get your group laughing. Heads Up is an app that you can download, but it does cost money. However, there are multiple free versions that you can download as well including the Charades App, Guess Word! Fun Group Games, Charades – Heads Up, and Charades! Kids. I would just encourage you to try them out prior to the night-of.

The way this game works is someone holds the phone up to their head while the app is running and a random word or words will pop up on the screen. The guesser will need to guess the word(s) by the clues that the audience gives. Most apps will let you know how many you get right, and you can have a friendly competition among your group.

Costume Challenge

This is an activity that can be done both in-person and online. I have had many of my leaders host online costume parties, and they change the theme each week to make them more fun and engaging. You can also do this in person, and if you have to wear masks you could even see about having students tie the masks into their costumes.

Scavenger Hunts

Doing scavenger hunts is a really easy and fun way to get students involved and moving, and they can be done in person or digitally. If you are meeting at a home, you could give a list of objects and tasks to your small group to find or complete around the home and/or neighborhood. If you are doing it digitally, you could have them find different items around their house and the first to show it on screen wins the round. Last week we shared about a great website/app called Scavr that allows you to create scavenger hunts that utilize the app and all that data and points are accumulated through an online leader board.

Users must download the app and sign up in order to participate. They then create a team name and will be able to see the challenges that you have put into the game. The beauty of this app is that it tallies the results and shows a leader board throughout the event. It removes the headache of trying to create and tally everything on your own, and makes it really easy.

Trivia

Who doesn’t love a good trivia night? You can set this up for small groups or for individuals to compete. If you Google trivia questions, there are countless websites for you to choose from or you can pop on over to DYM and find a ton of games that you can plug and play for your group.

Message Bingo

This has recently been making the rounds in various online groups, but the overall gist is that you create a Bingo board with different things that will pop up throughout the message or the night. You can add squares like “the pastor said ‘umm'” or “everyone wore a mask” or “pop culture reference” or “bad joke by pastor.” You can have as much fun with this as possible, and you could even offer prizes as well. There are lots of online generators for Bingo cards, but this website offers up to 30 free printable cards that you can change the layout and design on.

The Hat Game

This is a really fun game to play with any size group, but in smaller groups you can play multiple rounds. The premise is fairly simple: there are three rounds of game-play and two teams. In the first round one player will draw pieces of paper out the hat and try to get their team members to guess what is written on them by only using Charades. The next round is the player tries to have their team guess using Pictionary, and the final round they can speak but not say the word or what it sounds like. Each round is timed and then you rotate teams.

The fun part about this game is you can switch up the categories, the method for sharing clues, the timing, and much more. It is a game you could continue to use no matter the circumstance, and each time it will be an entirely different game for your group. For more ideas and a more complete set of instructions, check out this website.

Xbox/Wii/Switch Games

I am not normally one to encourage playing video games, especially during youth group time. But there are games on Kinect, Wii and Wii U, and Nintendo Switch that are great group games to play because they are somewhat active and allow for four or more people to play. I will say this though: be cautious with what games you choose and make sure that they are games parents and your ministry approve of. You never want an activity to become a stumbling block.

Would You Rather

These are great conversation starters and allow for you to actively engage your students with both fun and serious questions. I would suggest setting ground rules for your group that include no making fun of someone’s answer, no course or crude joking, and always answer honestly. A couple of websites that I enjoy using include Conversation Starters World and Icebreaker Ideas. Both of them have solid ideas for questions with a broad range of topics and age ranges.

Highs and Lows

If you aren’t familiar with this idea, it is a great way to begin conversations within a small group. Many of my leaders use this each week because it gets students talking and engaging with the group. It can look different depending on your group and its dynamic, but the basic functionality is this: each student and leader will share anywhere from 1-3 high moments from the week and 1-3 low moments from the week. They can be funny or serious and they can lead to some fantastic laughs and amazing deep conversations.

House Party

House Party is an app that allows you to video chat and play games with your group. I would recommend utilizing the privacy settings and make your room locked so only certain participants are allowed in. But with this app you can play different games together as a group and video chat at the same time. It is very similar to Zoom but doesn’t require screen sharing for games. Everyone will need to create an account and have the app downloaded in order for this to work for your group. So make sure your students know to do that ahead of time.

House Party gives you different game options like Heads Up, Uno, Trivia, Quick Draw, and much more. It is worth downloading and giving it a test run before you implement this with your group so you know its inner workings and limitations.

What are some of your favorite small group games?

Socially Distanced Game Ideas

As many of us are looking at returning to some sort of programming soon, it is important to critically think through what activities and games we will be hosting. Because let’s face it, most of our games are not about social distancing. In order to provide a safe place for students and volunteers, it is important to think about what games will provide the most fun while still being safe.

The games below can be shaped to fit any style or size of youth ministry, but they are primarily for whole youth groups that are regathering. Next week, I will share some game and activity ideas for small groups as many youth ministries are moving toward that direction of ministry going forward. Before we get into the actual games, I wanted to share a few quick tips to make these games successful and safe.

  • Smile and have fun. The more excitement and fun you have, the more engaged your group will be.
  • Encourage social distancing. You don’t have to be an enforcer, but helpful and kind reminders will go a long way.
  • Provide hand sanitizer stations. If kids are touching one another or communal objects, have these areas for immediately after.
  • Encourage hand washing. Even with hand sanitizer, it is beneficial to wash often after activities and before eating.
  • Remind everyone about the rules. Whatever rules your state and church are following, make sure to encourage adherence to them for everyone’s safety.

Scavr

Scavr is a great new resource for creating scavenger hunts that are hosted through an online platform. Users must download the app and sign up in order to participate. They then create a team name and will be able to see the challenges that you have put into the game. The beauty of this app is that it tallies the results and shows a leader board throughout the event. It removes the headache of trying to create and tally everything on your own, and makes it really easy.

A scavenger hunt is also a great activity to socially distance in because you can send out small groups and ask them to maintain the six foot rule, which will be easier to follow in small groups. Just keep that in mind as you create the challenges (i.e. no human pyramids, which equals less people getting hurt).

The Floor is Lava

This is an old school game that has been having a recent resurgence. If you aren’t familiar with the rules the game is fairly simple: do not touch the ground or you are out. The object of the game can vary from completing tasks like collecting objects or moving a team to a safe zone, to completing an obstacle course, to a last person standing challenge. The game can be as creative as you can imagine and will allow for various people to play but also socially distance.

Up Front Games

Depending on the size of your group and the rules you need to follow these may have to be your go-to activity for the time being. These types of games could be trivia style, rap battles, PowerPoint games, or any of a number of Jimmy Fallon-inspired games. These can be done with as few or as many people as you would like, and they can be done in a safe manner as well.

Seated Basketball/Soccer/Football

This is a personal favorite of mine. These games take the traditional sports we love and turn them on their heads. You do not have to be super athletic to play these games because you are seated the entire time. Before you start the game, set up your playing area whether it is indoors or outdoors. Simply place chairs where players will sit the entire game or period and label which team they are for. Then have your students pick a chair and get ready to laugh.

The rules are the same for whatever the game is with one addition: students cannot move from their chair. Have leaders roaming to place the balls back in play when needed. You can also change up the rules and objectives to add another layer to the games as well.

Trivia Games

Who doesn’t love a good trivia night? You can set this up for small groups or for individuals to compete. If you Google trivia questions there are countless websites for you to choose from or you can pop on over to DYM and find a ton of games that you can plug and play for your group.

Hula Hoop Volleyball

This is an easy game to set up and run with. Simply set up a volleyball net, or something in place of it like a sheet on clothesline, and then place hula hoops on each side that are six feet apart. The rules for volleyball don’t change, except that students may not leave their hula hoop during the game unless it is to rotate spots during a change in servers.

Scattergories

This is a great game to play as a small or large group. If you are playing as a small group give everyone a score sheet and have them all compete against one another. You or a leader will assign a letter and have the students write words beginning with it.

If you have a larger group, consider setting this up tournament style. Have students all compete with same letter and then when time is up they will compete only against the other person at their table. The winner will advance to the next table, while the loser stays at the table. If there is a tie have them play Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide the victor. The person with the most wins at the end is the champion.

Cornhole/Bags Tournament

If you do not have a couple sets of these for your youth ministry, let me highly encourage you to get some. I have purchased these before and they have held up very nicely. The very nature of the game allows for socially distanced fun, and you can turn it into a tournament to decide who is the best cornhole player. You can also set up varying degrees of game play (i.e. closer or farther away) to make it more of a challenge for your students.

Charades

Who doesn’t love a classic game of charades? The general idea is that you will have someone acting out an action, character, or activity that they have pulled from a hat. These can be pre-made by you and your volunteers or you can have students submit them. There are lots of different ways to play Charades like as small groups guessing, or as a large group guessing, or even reverse charades where one person guesses while the whole group acts it out. Whichever one you choose, make sure to remind the people acting out that they can not make noise or they forfeit that round.

Pool Noodle Tag

This is a game that will require a little more prep but can be a lot of fun. The premise is you are playing tag, but the only way you can tag someone is with a pool noodle. Make sure you have ones that are close to six feet long and explain to your group that they must hold it at the back end and reach out the pool noodle to tag the other players. It may be helpful to demonstrate proper tagging, especially if you have some overly zealous young men like I do who like to swing the noodles as weapons.

Nerf Battle

I don’t know if your students are like mine, but mine love a good old fashioned Nerf Battle. Having it now will look different, but it is still a viable option. You can set rules to include being six feet apart and if you get too close, you are out or need to re-spawn. I would encourage not swapping weapons unless they are wiped down, and always have eye protection. This would actually be a great game to encourage using face shields in because there will be minimal push back (and eye protection).

What games are you doing as your youth group regathers?

How to Connect with Difficult Students

The truth is we have all had a student, or students, that have been difficult in our ministry. There have been students who have tried our patience, they have disrupted teaching time and small groups, they may have broken things, or they never follow the rules.

Sometimes our propensity can be to get upset with or about them. We start to think they don’t care about others or maybe their home lives are bad and that’s why they lash out. Or perhaps we may try to connect but we have gotten tired when there is no response… or at least the response we want.

Students who get classified as difficult or disruptive are often the students who desperately need to be cared for. There are times we may feel like we are not getting through to them, but we must continue to pursue them and love them. Ministry was never meant to be easy, and Jesus came for all people especially those society would rather have forgotten. So let us be people, ministers, who seek to reflect Jesus as we care well for those that others would dismiss.

Build relationships.

In all circumstances, relationships are key. When working with people, we shouldn’t just assume that we can jump into any moment and give profound advice that will be heeded and life changing. We wouldn’t want people doing that to us, so why should we do that with students?

My point is this: you can only speak into someone’s life when you understand what is happening in their life. Meaning, in order to speak truth to someone, you need to know them. And you get to know someone by building relationships with them.

Now, I get it, you may be reading this and saying, “But I have tried… for a long time! I have tried, and it isn’t working.” Well, how do you know it isn’t? How do you know that the moments you showed care and love toward a student it wasn’t received or just outright dismissed? It may have felt and seemed that way in the moment, but you do not know the impact it may have had on their heart.

Continue to pour into your students, seek them out, love on them, take them out for coffee, show up at their games and activities. As you invest in their lives, they will begin to let you in.

Get to know the family.

Family history and knowledge of present family relationships is huge in helping you to know and understand your students. It can be easy to assume that there are issues at home because a student acts out, but that isn’t always the case. It could be home life, or it could be issues stemming from other aspects of the student’s life that the parents were not aware of (i.e. bullying, difficulty in school, failed relationships, etc.).

As you get to know the family, it will allow for you to build connections and relationships that will help you better care for the student. This may not always be the case as there may be problems within the family or they may not be involved in the church and therefore do not want your help. But being able to ascertain and see what is happening will give you greater insight into how to love and care for your students.

Be willing to listen.

This is huge for anyone, but especially for students. Students who often times are classified as difficult really feel they have not been heard. They believe they have been judged, marginalized, and profiled, and in many cases they have been. Let me encourage you to simply stop and listen to their stories. Hear their hearts. Acknowledge their hurt. In doing this you not only validate them, but you can help them to know they belong. As a student begins to know they have a place they begin to trust more and you will see headway happen.

Go to where they are.

We can easily do this for the students who we enjoy being around but when it comes to difficult students we don’t always make the extra effort. But let me encourage you to really lean into this. Go to their jobs, their games, the activities they are involved in. I love showing up at a restaurant or ice cream place where a student works. I get to see them, talk with them, and value them. Students who are struggling will see you making an effort, and though they may not say it or show it, they are glad you are there. These moments are huge in connecting with difficult students.

Meet them where they are at.

Here’s the thing with students who are struggling: they aren’t like everyone else. They may be angry or withdrawn. They will try to push you away. They won’t want to engage. But put yourself in their shoes: how would you want people to respond to you when you are at a low point? Do you want them to meet you there or walk away? Be willing to have hard conversations, be willing to listen, and be willing to love students even when they aren’t the clean cut Christians.

Know their history.

As you get to know your students, you will begin to know their history. They may not offer it up in one fell swoop, but they may drop hints along the way. Be listening for them, and be willing to connect the dots in later conversations. If they keep bringing up a certain event or person, pry into that by acknowledging they have talked about it. By actively listening and engaging with them, you will begin to know more about them. This will then help you in thinking through how to best minister to and care for them.

Stand up for them.

I am not saying to justify their attitudes, disruptions, or flat out misbehavior. But often times these students will be mocked, laughed at, and talked about by others. Shut that stuff down. Don’t allow for that to go on because it tells the one student that they don’t matter and that you don’t care, and it allows for the other students to engage in sinful behavior like gossip and slander.

By advocating for them, you are showing the student that your actions and words match: you truly care about and love them. Be for all students and look to help them grow as you minister to them.

I know in reading this you may still be thinking “this won’t work.” I get that and I hear you. But as someone who was one of those students, let me say this: it does work. It took my youth leaders over four years to break through my hard shell. But when they finally did, they were the people I trusted because I knew they loved and cared for me in ways no one else did. They didn’t give up, they didn’t dismiss me. They loved me and pursued me and are a huge part to why I am in ministry today. So continue to pursue your difficult students. Love them well and point them to Jesus. You never know how God will use you in their lives.

How have you reached difficult students in your ministry?

Students and Identity: Helpful Tips to Begin the Conversation

I am an athlete. I’m in orchestra. I am a straight-A student. I am the middle child. I’m gay. I am a hard worker. I am kind. I’m straight. I live in the nice part of town. I have 1,598 Instagram followers.

These are just a few of the phrases that students use to identify who they are. They can range from physical characteristics, to gender and sexuality, to academic performance, to social media influence, and beyond. Students–and arguably our entire society–are basing their identity in things, characteristics, and formulas that are ever changing and do not actually define who they are.

As ministry leaders we have an obligation to help shape, prepare, and guide our students in a biblical worldview and understanding of identity. If you find yourself asking when should we start, or is this child old enough, the answers are “now” and “yes.” Our students are being presented with radical identity issues even before kindergarten and we must train them from the youngest of ages on who they are in Christ so it can shape their worldview and allow for them to reach an ever changing culture for Jesus.

But the questions are what do we do and how do we do it? I want to provide a few quick notes, and then address these questions below. These notes and points can easily be reproduced to send to parents to help them have these conversations with their students. With families being at home more now then ever before, the opportunity is perfect for families to have these transformative conversations.

A few of quick notes:

  1. Know this isn’t a one-off conversation. Don’t think this can be relegated to a single talk with students at youth group or over text. This is an ongoing conversation.
  2. Understand that older students can still have these conversations. It is better to start late than not at all.
  3. Be authentic and honest with your students, and be willing to listen. We must understand that we are to be the voice of truth, peace, and calm in their lives as we represent Jesus. Listen to their push-back and questions, don’t respond with “Because I said so,” point them to the truth, and affirm them for wanting to make their faith their own.

So what do we do? How do we actually engage with this conversation?

Present and represent the biblical model of identity to our families.

We must start by understanding that we are broken and sinful people. Look back at the story of the Fall in Genesis 3, and look at how humankind messed up, lied to God, tried to get out of the situation, and God offered forgiveness. In doing this, it sets the tone for our foundational relationship with Jesus. In Genesis 3, God set forgiveness, grace, and redemption in motion to help us better understand the need for a Savior and a relationship with Him. This is a great starting point to highlight where our identity lies.

Show students that their identity is rooted in Christ and not in any other identifying characteristic or trait the world gives to us.

This is not an attempt to alienate ourselves from the world, rather it allows for there to be freedom for us to live as new creations identified by Christ and Christ alone. 1 Peter 2:9 describes who we are in Christ and it has nothing to do with academic performance, athletic prowess, social status, the amount of social media followers we have, or the beauty standards of society. Instead, it radically alters how we view ourselves.

This passage, and many others, allow for you to speak truth into your students and point them toward the understanding that all the burdens society places on them are not their’s to carry. Instead, when they find their identity in Christ it brings wholeness, freedom, and peace.  

We do this by engaging in loving and grace-filled conversations, by pointing our students to truth, by continuing to invest in their lives, and by modeling Jesus to them.

This isn’t a foolproof model. There isn’t one. There will be hard conversations, tears shed, and hurt feelings. But in all things we model Christ, and just as God asked hard questions, pointed out truth, forgave and restored in Genesis 3, that is our model.              

Below are some helpful resources for you to utilize in your ministry. You could share these with your leaders, email them to families, use them to host a Zoom conversation with parents, or simply have them as resource to call on when needed.

How have you talked about identity with your students? What has worked for you?

Caring for High School and College Seniors During COVID-19

While we are all attempting to navigate this new phase of life in which we find ourselves, for high school and college seniors it is especially difficult. All students are missing out on the same things, but for seniors, many rites of passage and coming-of-age events have been torn from their grasp.

Seniors are dealing with proms being cancelled, musicals being postponed, graduations being suspended or moved online, not seeing their friends, and missing out on all the things we took for granted just over a month ago. NBC shared an article that highlights how seniors are feeling and attempting to navigate this period of loss. They feel they are losing their friends, their education, and part of their identity as they cannot engage in the normal social protocols that surround senior year.

Our seniors are hurting and grieving as they experience loss at an entirely new level. During this time we can dial in and look to love, care for, and encourage our seniors. But how do we go about doing that? I want to share with you five ways that we can practically engage our seniors while we are home together. These ideas can be implemented through your ministry or passed along to parents to implement with their senior.

1. Pray for them.

This is huge and cannot be overstated. Praying for our students as a whole is essential, but praying for our seniors who are struggling in unique ways is extremely important. Seniors are walking through loss, questioning why things happen, asking if anyone cares, and wondering if God is in control. To be able to pray for our seniors is a privilege and allows us to go before God on their behalf. Pray for their hurts and loss, pray for them to be encouraged, pray for their identity, and pray for their future. May this time lead them into even deeper relationships with Jesus that will shape their lives going forward.

2. Allow them be heard and grieve.

There is a huge sense of loss right now for seniors and they are grieving. They are looking for an outlet for their emotions and feelings, but sometimes bottle them up because they don’t know how their response will be received. Be willing to let them share without judgement. Let their pain, anger, frustration, and sadness be vocalized. Here are a few ways to help students grieve:

  • Give them a safe space to share their emotions at their pace.
  • Listen carefully and respond appropriately – you are not meant to be the fixer but instead a supporter during this time.
  • Don’t hold too tightly to responses that are out of character.
  • Don’t minimize their feelings.
  • Love and champion them during this time.

3. Encourage connectivity.

This may seem a bit odd at first. How do we do this in a world of social distancing? But what we must remember is students are not just grieving loss of graduation and prom, but friendships and community as well. It is important that we help our students connect with their friends during this time, and we must understand that community will look different.

Most, if not all, of community is taking place digitally as a result of Covid-19. Encourage your senior to connect with friends through calls, FaceTime, group chats, and whatever other forums they use. Another huge aspect would be to make sure they are connecting with their youth group leaders and small groups. Youth leaders can set up various ways to communicate and even short conversations help a student to know they are loved and valued.

4. Pour into their lives.

Isolation is a big deal for all of us, but especially for seniors. They need people encouraging and loving them. Encourage parents especially to make the most of this time to grow closer to their seniors and be present with them. Parents can focus on helping them to grow as an adult, teach them practical skill sets, spend time hanging out together, and help them grow spiritually. We have been given an opportunity to engage with our students in new ways; let’s make the most of the time we have. Two questions to give to parents to help them think through how to do this are:

  • What would I want to share with my senior before they leave for college?
  • What is something that if my senior were in college now, I would have wanted to share with them before they left?

5. Celebrate milestones.

Just because things may have gotten cancelled or postponed, doesn’t mean that seniors cannot be celebrated or make memories. What if you took the moments they were going to have and made them happen in a creative and unique way? It will not be the same, but it will show your senior that they are not forgotten and that they are loved deeply. Here are a few ideas that you and parents could implement or use as a creative jump-start:

  • If commencement gets cancelled, consider hosting an online one for your senior and their friends. Connect with other families and decorate your homes for the commencement. Give each senior an opportunity to share from the “podium” and allow for a parent or two to share advice. Then call each name and have the student receive their diploma from their families. Another added sentimental touch could be having each family member write letters to their senior.
  • If prom gets cancelled consider hosting a mobile prom. Have your senior and their friend group all get ready for prom in what they would have worn. Girls could even get ready together over virtual platforms. Then have everyone get in decorated vehicles and drive around the neighborhood together playing some of their favorite songs. A cool way to have everyone listen to the same song is create a Spotify playlist and start it at the same time in each car. See if you can get your neighbors to come out and cheer for them as they go by. Consider having flowers for all the girls at the end of the parade and boutonnieres for the guys, and have them paired with cards from family and friends.  
  • Have a card shower for your seniors. Put out a call to all your friends, family members, church family, and neighbors asking them to write cards of encouragement to your senior. These can have fun memories, encouraging Scriptures, tips for the future, or whatever else you think will brighten their day. Give a deadline for the cards, and then host a graduation celebration for your senior where there is cake, balloons, gifts, and the cards.

How have you been caring for your seniors?

Ministry Planning in Uncertain Times

Our world is ever changing. A little over a month ago, and few of us had ever heard of the Coronavirus. Now, most of us have moved our offices and ministries into our homes and are hosting youth group gatherings through Zoom and YouTube.

With a changing world comes a change in the method and manner in which we do ministry. But the question is, “how do we do effective ministry and planning in times such as these?” Well, today I hope to give you some advice and tips for how to do this well going forward. This is not a catchall, but rather some tips that I hope help you to think creatively through where your ministry is at and where it is going.

Plan ahead

This is hard to do when life is uncertain and events, outings, and gatherings are being cancelled farther out than we would have hoped. That means that for some of us, summer trips have already been cancelled or we are preparing for that to happen. Let me encourage you to at least begin to brainstorm about what this summer will look like if trips fall through.

Begin to come up with contingencies: think through what it would like for you to host a mission trip in your community, consider if there is a local camp you could host a retreat at, think about hosting a multi-church retreat in your town.

But planning ahead is more than just about trips, it is also about normal programming. Many of us have already changed how we do programming, but have you thought about the long term? Do you have a plan for if your group cannot gather through the summer? Planning ahead can add more to your plate and yes, in many ways it is hypothetical, but it is also prudent and necessary. Think through what programming could look like if our present state continues. Thinking through engagement, leader training, and ministering to families in light of our current circumstances is beneficial now and will help you build a stronger ministry going forward.

Set yourself and your ministry up well

Many ministries are trying to do all the things right now. They have started using all types of social media, they have started live streaming, they are hosting Zoom calls every day, they are constantly trying to be relevant, and honestly it is leading to exhaustion and burnout.

The reality is that right now you should scale your ministry carefully. You need to put together a plan that is sustainable and usable after you get back into “normal” programming. To scale up to a large level that isn’t something you can continue for the long haul is not productive. You can always scale up, but if you start big and have to reduce, people will lose trust in what you are doing. Start at a good rate and build off of that.

Remember your people

During this period and other times of uncertainty, just because our rhythms have changed or because our schedule allows for us to do more doesn’t mean everyone else can. Your volunteers are feeling overwhelmed and scared, some are working extra hours, others have lost jobs. Because of this, we cannot expect our people to do all the things. We cannot mandate that they do more than they were before or even the same amount as their lives and rhythms are drastically changing.

But this also means we should be intentional about connecting and communicating with our people. This will look different than it did when we all could gather together, but it could be as simple as calling someone instead of texting. Sending someone a personal card in the mail. Clearly explaining the plan and how you will get there. Remember to care well for them as they care well for your students.

Set boundaries

Feeling more tired than normal? Working extra hours? Don’t have a safe place to call home because home is now your work space? That is the case for many of us. With our ministries going remote, we have seen an uptick in how much we have to do. For many of us, we are still trying to manage a normal schedule on top of learning new things, teaching in new ways, and equipping our volunteers and families.

All that means we are feeling tired and overwhelmed, and we need to make sure that we are not being set up to fail. In order to do that you must set appropriate boundaries. Some of these boundaries could include continuing to have normal working hours, hosting meetings and gatherings when you normally would have, taking time off when you normally would have, making sure to still invest in your family, and continuing to care for your own soul and health. You need to be holistically healthy to run a ministry and care for others; make sure you are doing that and setting healthy rhythms in our new normal.

Be willing to adapt

Have things changed for you? Are you doing ministry in a way you never thought you would? Are you challenging students to be more digitally connected when before you were calling for them to disconnect from media? Life comes at you fast, doesn’t it?

We must be willing to adapt, change, and overcome. Life has changed for us, which means our rhythm of doing ministry has changed as well. We are not changing our mission but simply the way we go about fulfilling it. We must be willing to adapt in order to further the mission. You may need to move to an online structure, you may not be able to meet together, you may need to care for your people in new ways. That doesn’t mean we throw in the towel, but instead find new ways to continue in the mission God has called us to.

Don’t take things personally

Have you had a conversation with an exhausted volunteer who is stepping back because you want too much? Has a parent emailed you demanding to know your plan for the future? Have you had a store clerk yell at you or a delivery driver give you a dirty look?

Welcome to where our world is at. People are fearful, tired, anxious, and isolated. That means that people will respond poorly and at times lash out, especially at those they are looking to for answers. It isn’t right or deserved, but we must remember the fragile state of so many in our world. Don’t take these moments as a personal assault, but be willing to still love and care for people in the midst of everything that is happening.

Care for your people

As was stated above, people are scared, alone, and unsure. It is in times like these that we must make every effort to care well for our people. Send texts, make calls, offer services like dropping off a meal or dessert, be willing to pick up items for others when you go shopping, write a letter, or simply let people know you are praying for them.

We are great at caring for people when we are physically with them, now we need to do it when we are apart. This is where our people will see that we love and care for them, and it provides us a real opportunity to show Jesus and His love during a difficult time.

Encouraging Students to Stay in the Scriptures

Before Coronavirus closed our programming, I was slated to speak to our high school students on studying Scripture. I was so excited to share; this is a topic I am passionate about. But at the same time, I struggled with the “how.” How do we impart passion for the Word to our students?

I think I’m still fighting to figure that one out. I also think it varies from student to student. Some will be more inclined to read, period. Some will be more interested in their Bible than others. Some may not care about the Scriptures until they’re older. Even though there might not be an easy answer, or a “one size fits all” solution, I don’t think that should keep us from trying.

The truth is that the Bible changes lives. The more time we spend in it, the more we come to know the God who wrote it. The more we know Him, the more we fall in love with Him. I had an illustration I had planned to share about how my husband Nick–who is also the youth pastor–and I met and became friends. Over time, the more I got to know him, the more I liked him, until one day I realized that I loved him. It wasn’t instantaneous–when we met, we were just two strangers. But over the years I came to know his character, his heart, and his passion for Jesus.

Falling in love with another person is amazing, but falling in love with God, that’s on another level. I long for students to fall in love with God, and for them to start that journey now. So how can we help them along that path? How can we encourage students to study and remain rooted in the Scriptures?

1. Lead by example.

This is so simple, and yet for many of us, so challenging. Whether we look at the Bible as a textbook, or a guide we study before giving weekly lessons, or something we barely have time for in the midst of our busy schedule–many of us struggle to make time in the Word a priority. But I believe the best way to encourage students to remain in the Word is to do it ourselves. If you are passionate about the Bible, that will be evident to your students.

I think there is a fine line between making this about a daily checklist and pursuing a consistent relationship with Christ. If we’re just doing it to do it, I think we’re missing the point. At the same time, there will undoubtedly be days we struggle to want to read the Bible. Our daily pursuit of God should not be contingent on our feelings, but it also shouldn’t be a religious duty we check off our list once it’s completed. Our efforts should be focused on daily seeking to meet with God and hear from Him, whether we have time to read a whole book of the Bible or only a few verses. I believe God will use the time we give Him to teach us and deepen our relationship with Him. Like any strong relationship, we have to be committed to putting in time and effort.

2. Share your story.

It’s one thing to tell students that they should read their Bible, anyone can do that. It’s another thing to share why you read your Bible. I think students need to hear the life change we have encountered through time in God’s Word. This is another way we can lead by example, and your story can take it from a religious duty to a personal recounting. How has the Bible, how has time with God, changed your life?

Students want our honesty, they deserve it. They can tell when we’re faking it, or just sharing a hypothetical story that we made up. I’ve seen how an honest, personal story can instantly harness the attention of every student in a room. They will latch onto it because they want to know how we’ve survived, how God is real in our lives, and if there’s hope for them. Sharing our real, honest stories is one of the best things we can do for our students.

3. Provide a way.

Some students may not have their own Bible. Some might have a translation they struggle to understand. Some need help filling in the blanks and answering the questions they have as they read. In as much as you are able, help them get the resources they need. Some students need a Bible; some need a new, more easy-to-read translation; some need a basic student-level commentary.

One of the things I encourage all students to get is a study Bible. Heck, I encourage adults to get study Bibles. More recently I’ve realized how much we as adults don’t know about the Bible, things we could easily uncover by reading the notes in a study Bible. Yet more often than not, we don’t look into resources, we just keep reading and ignore our confusion. Let’s not set that example for our students. Instead, let’s show them how they can begin to understand more and uncover answers to their questions during their personal Bible-reading time.

Whatever your students need to help them get into God’s Word and understand it, provide that to them. But while you’re doing that, I encourage you to challenge them. If they’re getting a brand new Bible or commentary, challenge them to use it and not to allow it to collect dust on a shelf. You are investing in them, challenge them to invest in their relationship with God.

[Not sure which Bibles to provide to your students? Check out this post for our top picks.]

4. Educate.

Pre-made Bible studies are great. They can help lead students through the text, drawing out important points and helping apply them to their lives. But what about the times students don’t have a Bible study on hand? What about when they go off to college and it’s just them and a Bible in their dorm room? Now is a perfect, and extremely important, time to teach students how to study the Bible on their own.

I encourage youth leaders to teach simple Bible study methods to their students regularly. This could be a yearly lesson–a refresher for those who have heard it, and an education for those who haven’t. This is an easy way to equip students to not just read the Bible, but apply it to their lives. A few basic methods include:

  • O.I.A., or Observation, Interpretation, and Application; ask what the passage says, what it means, and what it means for me.
  • Discovery Method; ask what I learn about God, what I learn about people, what the passage teaches me, what I need to obey.
  • S.O.A.P, or Study, Observe, Apply, Pray; read the passage, ask questions and write it in your own words, ask how to specifically live it out, write a prayer of response.

Students may gravitate toward different methods. Some may enjoy color-coding with pencils or highlighters. Some may want to keep a journal, while others may want to discuss with a leader or friend. Help students discover a method or methods that work well for them. Whatever they decide, encourage your students to always start their Bible time with prayer. Nothing will help them understand the Bible more than the Holy Spirit. I encourage students to start by asking God to help them know and understand His word before they dig in.

I would also encourage students to write down any question they have that they cannot find the answer to, but challenge them to look on their own first. If they can’t find an answer, encourage them to bring their questions to their parents, to you, to a leader, or another pastor in the church. This will not only help them wrestle with their faith and what they believe, but also build community and relationships with their parents and adults in the church.

5. Direct and encourage.

Besides struggling to understand the Bible, students may also struggle with knowing what to read. They may start at the beginning and get lost in a genealogy or particularly difficult text and then give up. We can help by guiding students into what to read. If you know a student well, you can give them a suggestion or two based off of their current context. Another option is to provide a list of suggestions and let students choose based off of where they’re at in life, or what they’re interested in. I’ve listed some suggestions below.

  • New to reading the Bible, or don’t know much about Jesus: John
  • Curious about the beginning of everything, or enjoy studying history: Genesis
  • Interested in the early church, or how the church began: Acts
  • Life is difficult, or feel like you’re struggling: Psalms
  • Want to grow in wisdom: Proverbs
  • Struggling to see that God is working or has a plan: Esther
  • Want more information on the Gospel or Christian life: Romans
  • Current events worry you, or need assurance that God is in control: Daniel
  • Struggle with feeling like you need to “earn” salvation: Galatians
  • Want to be a leader in the church: 1 and 2 Timothy

Remind students that they can find the book they’re looking for by using their Bible’s table of contents, and that they can uncover more information with notes from a study Bible or commentary.

6. Invite and equip parents to join in.

Not all parents are believers, but for those who are, they are the primary disciple-maker in their child’s life. They may not see it that way, instead believing you or your small group leaders fill that role. But they are the ones who spend the most time with their child. Their lifestyle, habits, and relationship with Christ are the examples their child sees the most, and will most likely emulate.

I encourage you to keep parents in the loop–if you are teaching on Bible study methods, providing Bibles and resources, and challenging students to study the Word, inform their parents. Parents can follow up throughout the week, do a study with their child(ren), ask and answer important questions, and model consistent Bible study. You can also provide resources to parents to help them feel equipped to guide their child(ren). Parents might not know where to turn for answers to tough questions, so make sure to share helpful resources, including yourself.

7. Cover your students in prayer.

As I mentioned before, nothing will help students more in their Scriptural study than the Holy Spirit. We can give them all the tools, tips, and answers, but without the illumination of the Spirit, they won’t get very far. Pray that they will hear from God, that He will capture their hearts and their attention, and that they will be drawn into deeper relationships with Him.

And pray for yourself, that God would help you educate and encourage your students. Ask Him to show you how to best guide your specific students in their study of His Word, and in their relationships with Him. He knows their hearts, their needs, their struggles, and He can provide–for them and for you. God has you in this place, as their leader, for a specific purpose, and He will empower you to lead well.

Have a tip for encouraging students to study the Bible? Share it by leaving a reply below!

Coronavirus: Tips and Resources for Ministry Leaders

Over the past couple of weeks Coronavirus became very real for many of us, and in the coming weeks will be a reality for all of our churches and communities. This virus has left churches and youth ministries scrambling to figure out what to do and how to respond.

I have seen responses ranging from fear to faith, condemning to affirming responses, arguments to flat out fights, and this was just in pastor and youth ministry groups on Facebook. Isn’t it interesting how in the midst of a global and local pandemic, we can so easily revert inward and become exactly who we don’t need to be?

This week I want to offer some ways to engage with what is happening, tips on how to care for your people, and resources to help you navigate the current situation. My prayer is that we respond with love, compassion, and understanding during a tumultuous and trying time.

Pray and trust God.

This is a no-brainer, right? Wrong. It is easy to let fear and panic overwhelm in our hearts and minds, even as we present ourselves as calm, cool, and collected. Remember that even in the midst of the unknown, God is ever sovereign and still in control. He is neither surprised nor caught off guard, but instead is empowering His bride to continue on and be the vessel that loves His world.

Be understanding.

There is a lot going on with the Coronavirus. People are scared and worried. People are consumed by fear and are overwhelmed. Still others are reacting with skepticism and cynicism. In all things we as shepherds and caretakers of our flocks must seek to love and care for them. Hear their thoughts and fears. Listen to their input and be willing to understand how others are feeling and why they are feeling that way.

Affirm your church’s decision and don’t break down others.

We all have reasons for the decision(s) we and our leadership have made and will make. Please stand by the decision and uplift it, especially if it is made by those in leadership over you. The weight of making these decisions is extremely heavy and not something done on a whim. I know many pastors who have agonized over the decision to move to online church services or cancel all together. The potential financial hit is enough to overwhelm any senior pastor.

But even more than affirming the decision your church and ministry is following, don’t accuse or condemn other churches who are not doing the same. Regardless of others’ decisions, let us still be the body of Christ. Let us love each other and look to assist and share resources and information. Rather than question people’s faith and their commitment to their people, we need to understand that everyone is looking to respond to something we have never responded to before.

Don’t forget the easily forgotten.

There are many people who, due to the nature of the virus and the advice of our government, are staying away from large groups. Our elderly congregants are very restricted and isolated. People who deal with anxiety and chronic fear are scared of what is happening. You may have church-goers who are quarantined. And there are people who love to be around others, but because of social distancing, cannot. Check in with these people. Call them, FaceTime them, ask if they need anything. Organize, love, and care for those who could easily disappear.

Remember your college students.

Many colleges and universities are suspending on-campus activities and sending students home. This means that our college ministries are now in a great position to minister to our students. Their lives have been disrupted; some seniors are unsure of whether they will graduate now. This is a prime opportunity to care for these students and let them know they are loved and valued. Send them a text, host a Zoom gathering, or if you’re still able to, meet them for coffee. A little intentionality will go a long way with your students.

Care for your community.

In as much as the next days, weeks, and months may feel uncertain for us as church employees and volunteers, this new normal provides amazing opportunities for us to care for our communities. My senior pastor has put it this way, “This our opportunity to be good neighbors.”

Let me encourage you to think about how you could care for first responders, hospital workers, nursing homes, students who won’t have meals now that schools are closed, grocery store employees, and whomever else God brings to mind. You may not be able to go to into all these areas due to restrictions, but you can open communication lines and see how you can come alongside and love them. Let us love our neighbors as ourselves, especially in times such as these.

Resources

Download Youth Ministry – The DYM team has put out some free resources to help youth ministries love, care, and minister to their people during this time. There are lessons, tips on streaming videos, social media resources, videos, games, small group resources, and much more. There is also a really helpful article that they put out entitled “5 questions parents can ask their kids about Coronavirus” to help students and children process through their emotions, thoughts, and feelings.

Restream – This is a great resource if you are looking for a product to stream your services or programming on a different platform than Facebook Live or Instagram Live. There is a free option as well as two paid options depending on your needs.

LiveReacting – This is a resource that allows for you to create interactive Facebook Live videos. You can load pre-recorded videos, play games, create polls, and more all through this one platform. There is a free trial version if you just want to try it out, as well as monthly subscription plans.

Outreach.com – This organization is offering a free live streaming service for churches that plans to go live on March 20th. Check out freeonlinechurch.com to submit your email to be on the list of people who can sign up when it launches. This is a great option for smaller churches or youth programs looking to stream services and content.

Ministry to Parents – This is typically a subscription-based service that any youth program should sign up for, but with everything going on they have put out a really helpful article on talking to families about fears and the Coronavirus. This not only offers helpful steps, but it also has additional links for more information and resources.

Parent Cue – Another great resources to always be engaged with, Parent Cue has put together a really helpful article on “Managing fear and anxiety during a health pandemic.” It provides great talking points, helpful links and suggestions, and suggestions for managing life going forward.

Red Cross – The Red Cross has put out an article to help cope with this present reality. This article is extremely helpful for thinking about those who are dealing with fear, isolation, stress, and all the emotions coming through this time.

Church Leaders – Church Leaders shared a very comprehensive guide for dealing with the Coronavirus as a church. This is also available for download so you can have it handy to give to your staff teams. This can be easily adapted to your church and context, and it is super beneficial to have a ready-made guide to help build out your plan.