Updated on May 11, 2020: We are all learning that the timetable for re-launch changes weekly, even since the publication of this article on April 29. It is our prayer that your student ministry is able to return to as many of its scheduled summer activities as possible, including events that involve travel and lodging.
Every city, town, community and church has its own paradigm when making decisions to reopen. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we must carefully consider what is safe (not simply allowed) as we “love our neighbor” in the example of Christ.
The following ideas are simply ideas. Many are untested and untried, while others have been discovered during the time of sheltering in place and may continue to be effective during a gradual return to the church building. Hopefully, they will stimulate thought and raise other important questions and considerations.
Before you begin, consider these ideas:
- To what aspect of “normal” do you want to return?
- To what aspect of “normal’ do you not want to return?
- What courageous step might you take to add or remove a ministry during this time of change? View this time as a time of opportunity.
- Keep in mind that what adults do in moderation, teenagers often do in excess. Guidelines pertaining to distancing and safety need to be closely followed, rather than carelessly dismissed, by all leadership.
- Include students and parents, as well as youth workers, in the planning and execution of the re-launch.
- Be giving and forgiving, for mistakes will be made. Very few procedures are carried out perfectly; very few ideas are perfect.
- Don’t discard all you have learned to connect with your teenagers when you were faced with the challenges of being separated from them.
Who’s first to return?
- Is there a group that isn’t susceptible to illness? The church is an interconnected family. Every age group is connected with other age groups through siblings, parents, grandparents and those who work in the various ministries.
- When the relaunch begins, would mature students be good candidates for being trained to serve alongside adult ushers and greeters, repeatedly cleaning door handles and common surfaces in the worship or Bible study areas?
- It may not be possible to have all areas in or near the youth area cleaned at once. Consider assigning building entrances close to students’ respective small group Bible study classrooms in order to minimize contact with others. The students could then watch live-streamed worship in their classrooms and go home.
- Parents are key players in making decisions concerning when they feel it is safe for their students to return to a church building or to gather in groups.
Bible studies/Wednesday nights:
- Depending on the size of your youth group, divide your group into teams (2-3 students can be a team) and utilize a hybrid approach while continuing to meet online. Gather by teams in homes or other locations so students can enjoy a bit of community, but not be in close proximity to the entire group. Or alternate one team (or several teams) being present on-site at the church, while the other team (or teams) join them virtually from homes or other locations.
- Consider outdoor gatherings as opposed to meetings inside a building.
- Even when we are able to gather again, it may be the time for hybrid events of all types, allowing students to gather virtually with the Bible study groups that are meeting on site. Students may make this choice for a variety of reasons. Are we flexible enough to allow it? We would undoubtedly reach more students than by providing only on-site opportunities.
End-of-school year activities to take place in families or groups of families:
- Host a virtual graduation ceremony, similar to the virtual proms or other events that have become popular during the pandemic. Involve family members in each home.
- Develop traveling “graduation ceremonies” to be held in the front yards of graduating seniors with their families. Take lots of photos!
- Create a “Class of 2020” video with clips of each senior (and perhaps significant family or adults) in his/her cap and gown with a background accompaniment of “Pomp and Circumstance.” Include a brief challenge from the pastor or youth ministry leader.
- Create a “graduation box” of items graduating seniors would enjoy. Enlist youth workers or other adults to safely drop these boxes by the homes of graduating seniors.
- Plan “lake parties” if your students enjoy boating. Boats automatically limit the number of students who could participate with the adult who drives the boats.
Summer activities foremost on the minds of those in student ministry:
Camps/Mission Activities: In the event you are unable to attend your scheduled camp, the following ideas may be helpful
- Host “Stay in town” mission events in your community rather than leaving your city for mission trips.
- Create a midsummer “stay at home” camp where students are at the church campus most of the day, yet go home each evening.
- Consider an end-of-summer retreat if physical distancing guidelines have been lessened..
- Virtual youth camps are being planned by various organizations.
VBS is a church-wide activity in which our teenagers often serve. Perhaps there are teens whose parents might be willing to host a backyard VBS at their home. Visit with your VBS director to volunteer to help in your church’s strategy for this vital event.
The valuable resource of adult youth workers:
- Meet online each week with your youth workers. If you have only one youth worker, include other adults who are interested in students. Let them select the day and time they are available. Allow someone to provide a brief Bible study lesson for them since they serve during the Bible study hour.
- Encourage your adult workers to contact students each week. Rotate these students so a variety of adults can contact each student.
- Encourage adults who have not been able to attend youth gatherings to do so through an online platform as you host virtual youth gatherings.
- Youth workers will need training on safeguards and safety when they return to the church building.
- Include other adults (not just your Bible study leaders) when you return to your building. You will need help in making sure new guidelines are followed.
- Encourage adult leaders to involve students in contacting senior adults who, for an extended period of time, may need assistance and encouragement.