In my 20+ years of youth ministry, I’ve seen shifts in programming that are often tied to shifts in the wider culture.
To stay ahead of the wave, we try to be proactive about rethinking the way we do ministry. When we’re ready to roll out new ideas, we veer away from “launching programs” and, instead, tell our ministry leaders and teenagers that we’re “experimenting” with a new approach.
Well, experiments aren’t permanent—they give us permission to take risks and try new things. Who knows, you may try something that turns out amazing and you’ve already done the hard work of “launching that program.” If it flops, it was just an experiment and you never have to do it again.
In our latest experiment, we’re re-strategizing how to take teenagers to a deeper level of discipleship when their time is so limited. Most of our kids have calendars that look like they belong to a vice president of a major corporation. They cram sports, band, church, homework, play practice, jobs, and more into the same 24 hours they’ve always had. Opportunities assault them more than ever before—this is our new reality.
So we 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.”
What can we do to get more time with our teenagers, and how can we give more of our time?Click to tweet
So, in addition to our weekend and midweek programs, we created an online small group. No travel time, no problem getting a ride, a short time commitment, and meeting for a limited number of weeks so everyone knows there’s an end in sight.
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. Right now we’re focusing 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 digital small group process:
1. With our launch group, we asked specific kids to join (as opposed to an open invitation) and shared our expectations.
2. Then we schedule a two-hour “kickoff” dinner together. There’s something about food that helps young people connect, and we want to launch connecting groups.
3. At dinner we remind them of our expectations, we pass out a schedule, and we give them any resources they might need—for example:
- Links to online resources
- Bible App
4. We plan to 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 our session, we’ll come together for a celebration dinner. We want to look back and get feedback (what was good, bad, missing, confusing?).
6. Then we’ll 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.
This article originally appeared in the ‘Reinventing Youth Ministry’ special edition of Group Magazine. Click here to request your FREE copy.