In the past week the majority of parishes have moved to meeting online – using pre-recorded videos, live streaming and applications that allow video apps to continue meeting together around the word of God each week.
But it’s not just the formal Sunday meetings that have had to adapt. The way we minister to our teenagers has had to shift just as quickly. While young people live and breathe in the digital world, caring for youth online has many of its own challenges. Particularly as we consider how youth leaders can maintain safe ministry guidelines and work well with parents to keep their communities strong.
Many are doing very creative things online and offline to take advantage of this new season of ministry.
Crossfire, at St Paul’s Castle Hill, is taking the opportunity to share content throughout the week rather than just focusing on the usual Friday. They are sharing videos online every day, then live streaming a condensed version of their Friday night program.
“The same God that you worshipped last week… is with us today, as we deal with Coronavirus and the ramifications,” says youth leader Emma Sibley.
The same God that you worshipped last week… is with us today,
Similarly, Christ Church, St Ives has developed a weekly calendar of resources for their teens that is also available to equip a wider community of Australian youth. They have developed a bi-weekly six-minute podcast, which shares what God is doing and acts as a “mythbuster” for key questions. Each week the church is also sharing a weekly devotion and recording a shorter youth "church" service.
Youth minister Josh Hayward explains that the focus is on keeping the existing structures of meeting and opening the word on Friday nights and Sunday mornings functioning. “We are trying to help them facilitate community, even if we are locked down in our homes, and answer big questions," he says.
He explains that the team was cautious about jumping into an online platform for small groups due to safe ministry issues posed, and are instead focusing on producing video and audio resources that will help the teens in their community, as well as teens across Australia.
"We really wanted to make Jesus great and build disciples of Jesus – not just in St Ives, but more broadly for less-resourced churches."
And it seems to be working. Last week 250 people tuned in to their online service – over 100 more than their average weekend.
However, not all churches are focusing on replicating an in-person program digitally.
While many groups are focusing on the content you can consume, others are structuring their groups around engagement – aiming to provide ways to meet, discuss and share the word of God. Lots of groups are turning away from live streaming and towards regular small group “chats” or “hangouts”.
Kristen Young, a key youth leader at St Paul’s, Lithgow, St Thomas’, Wallerawang and St Stephen’s, Portland, says the decision to turn to Zoom to connect with youth was to keep things "as normal as possible".
Waitara Anglican is preparing to record their first Vodcast
"Although we couldn't meet in person, we could still get together, find out how everyone was going, read the Bible and pray,” she says.
Toby Macgregor, youth minister at Village Church Annandale, says this is a key time – not just to be considering how to launch a digital ministry, but to focus on pastorally caring for people.
“Our strategy is to be equipping [our youth] for personal faithfulness, the same as when we could meet face to face regularly,” he says.
“This is not the time to be going digital because everyone else is – that may not be right for your flock. We must be continuing to ask, ‘How are we raising our young people to live lives following Jesus not on our strength but on the strength of Jesus?’”
Macgregor is convinced that, for his teens, it will become increasingly important to have moments of personal discipleship. “Digital is a great platform for ministering to groups [but] we must be careful not to forget that each person matters. This is one of the great challenges we are facing in a COVID-19 world.”
"We must be careful not to forget that each person matters"
It's a big learning curve, and there has been lots of collaboration
There is also an emphasis on helping each out and providing shared resources between communities.
Young says she has been helped by several ministry Facebook groups, where resources have been shared freely. They have also been encouraged by the model of the US.
"Youth ministers are sharing content and ideas – we are all learning lots and it's fantastic to see what others are doing, too. We are so grateful for God for these gifted people who've been a great blessing to us.
That said, Young admits it has been a steep learning curve which has led to many chaotic moments.
She shares some of her key tips for running a youth group discussion online:
- Make sure you are meeting together safely – "virtually, but publically". Shut down 1:1 chat messages and disable screen sharing
- Don't be afraid to use the “mute all” button!
- A good internet connection is key.
- Be patient!
Amidst all the innovation, churches are also focusing on how they can encourage their leaders.
Josh Hayward says it is important to remember that many of a church’s volunteer leaders have had their own lives turned upside down. "As leaders lose jobs, do uni online and stop feeling safe leaving the house, it is important just to remind them that God is in control," he says.
"It is important just to remind them that God is in control"
But amidst the chaos the gospel is still being shared with our teenagers each week, and for that we can praise God.
If you are looking for resources for youth leaders, there are a few great places to start:
Header Image: St Paul's Carlingford Salt Youth Group, who are running an online episode each week, with video chats and Bible studies each friday night