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A Digital Small-Group Strategy In the Age of Social Distancing

In the shadow of a virus pandemic, digital strategies for doing youth ministry are more important than ever.

Necessity breeds invention—so now is the time to try some new ideas. Treat this season as an opportunity for experimenting with new approaches to connecting with your teenagers.

In our latest experiment, we’re re-strategizing how to take teenagers to a deeper level of discipleship when their time, and even their physical presence, is so limited. We’ve looked at our ministry and asked, “What can we do to get more time with our teenagers, and how can we give more of our time?”

I thought about the online trend in leadership development—online cohorts and distance learning led by seasoned leaders at a premium price. You get one-on-one time with a respected leader who’s experienced success in an area where you want to grow. I thought: “Let’s try that with our teenagers.”

So we’ve created an online small group. No social contact, and no ongoing commitment to extend the group past the pandemic restrictions. Originally, we launched a three-month pilot group—a small cohort of six to 10 teenagers who meet every other week for an hour via Google Hangouts. With that initial experiment, we focused on the discipline of reading Scripture. I’m taking cues from a post authored by Jen Wilkin on the Gospel Coalition blog.

Here’s our process:

1. With our initial launch group, we asked specific kids to join (as opposed to an open invitation), and shared our expectations. Now that all our kids are living under pandemic restrictions, this idea could be extended to the whole group.

2. For our initial kickoff, we scheduled a two-hour “kickoff” dinner together. That’s likely not possible now, so you might schedule an online “BYOS” (Bring Your Own Snack) digital hangout. Food is a connector, even when you’re not in the same room.

3. During that initial kickoff digital gathering, you can remind your teenagers of your expectations, send them a schedule, and give them any digital resources they might need—for example:

  • Journal
  • Links to online resources
  • Bible App

4. Meet virtually six times over the next three months. We chose to use Google Hangouts, but there are other options such as FaceTime and Zoom.

5. At the end of the pandemic restrictions, come together for a celebration dinner. Look back and get feedback (what was good, bad, missing, confusing?).

6. Then decide if this experiment is worth trying again.

There will be tweaks, and as you’re reading this, you’re already thinking of how you might do things differently. That’s okay… I’m sure we’ll change and sharpen this experiment over the next few months. And if we discover it doesn’t work, or a new idea works better, we’ll definitely concoct a new experiment.

You might not be ready to start a larger digital gathering, but this idea is transferable. Encourage your small group leaders to digitally gather their small groups, if even for a short time. Connection is key in this unprecedented time. Kids will be looking for something to do, some will be lonely and we don’t want Netflix to become their youth pastor.


Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

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A Digital Small-Group Strategy In the...

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