Like many of you, I’ve got ministry friends all over.
When the rumblings of a quarantine first started, I reached out to a few of my closest friends to mine their perspective on what might happen. When reality set in, I reached back out to see what student ministry would look like inside our new reality.
I’ve known Dustin Ichida for 10 years, when he first dipped his toe into the student ministry waters. He’s grown into one of the best youth pastors I know. He’s building long-term health in his ministry, and the rest of the church is better because of it. I wanted to hear what he was thinking as we moved into lockdown mode. Below are some of the more helpful things Dustin shared with me.
1. Relationships are key.
Dustin saw the writing on the wall that a massive shutdown was coming. His first thought was actually a fear that students would think, “The church isn’t doing anything, so I don’t need them.” He knew if he was out of kids’ sight, he’d be out of their minds. So he wanted to let his teenagers know he was still there for them.
Students need adults to show up for them and with them. Dustin wanted his kids to know… We’re behind you 100%, even when we’re not at the church building … We’re more than “Sunday and Wednesday” people … We’re more than just, “Hey y’all, come to our youth thing.” Students didn’t have the program, but they still needed the people.
2. Online presence is the quarantine version of “go where students are.”
Pre-quarantine, Dustin was great at showing up. He built relationships with local schools, so he’d pop on campus for lunch. He’d make sure to go to their ballgames, frequent their workplaces, and meet them to go fishing (he’s in Jonesboro, AR, where fishing is a thing).
During quarantine, Dustin wanted to continue “going where students are,” so he launched online programming. He said, “We try to put something online every day to remind students that we’re here.” He started with Zoom meetings, but quickly learned that students experience “screen fatigue” just like working adults. So he transitioned to a daily Facebook Live.
Dustin and his team go “Live at Five” every Monday through Friday at 5 p.m. He says, “It’s sometimes spiritual, but it’s always fun.” He modeled his programming after Rhett and Link’s “Good Mythical Morning.” The shows are playful, including Nerf Guns, food contests, and virtual guests. Dustin says most students don’t watch live, but they watch at night while they’re watching other videos on TikTok and Instagram. You can join the “Live at Five Nation” on Dustin’s Facebook page.
3. Don’t forget about parents.
I’ve checked out some of Dustin’s “Live at Five” shows, and there are usually parents watching as well. Knowing that he’s targeting teenagers, I asked Dustin how he felt about parents watching. He said one of his biggest goals during quarantine is to win parents over. His hope is that when things return to “normal,” parents aren’t thinking, “My kid did fine without youth group for three months—does she/he really need it?” He’s hoping parents are another champion encouraging students to connect with Jesus, youth group, and the church.
4. Don’t forget about volunteers.
Dustin is filled with passion and vision to make disciples of teenagers, but he knows he can’t do it alone. I asked him how he translates his passion to his adult leaders: He said it starts with clear expectations when he’s recruiting leaders. He tries to communicate the ministry’s needs and what he’s asking adult leaders to consider. Dustin believes onboarding well and providing ongoing training and encouragement is the reason his adult leaders have stayed engaged.
Full disclosure—I’m the president of the Dustin Ichida Fan Club. He’s got a heart for students, but he understands the importance of giving equal attention to parents and adult leaders. He’s building the kind of ministry that’s healthy now and will be healthy long after God moves him somewhere else. He’s the kind of youth pastor that you need in your life when things go crazy and you’re not sure what to do next. Dustin is doing things right in the midst of a unique season, and I’m proud to call him a friend.