Much like the entire world, we’re still staring dumb-faced at the last few months and wondering, “What just happened?”
Truth? I don’t know if we’re “winning” at anything right now. I’m just grateful that I have toilet paper in my house. I CAN definitively say we restructured our entire ministry paradigm in four days. We decided on a Friday at 11 a.m. that we would attempt an online ministry model, and by Monday at 4 p.m. it was happening. Since then we’ve just been trying to catch our breath… Here’s what we’re doing to measure our effectiveness.
1. We didn’t just move our face-to-face programming online.
We developed a new hybrid model of our in-room programming crossed with a YouTube show that felt a little like daytime talk. And while we do pay attention to how many people are tuning in (which is NOT as many as we had for our face-to-face programming), we’re more concerned with engagement. What does that chat look like during the show? And what are they talking about? Are kids jumping into our online small groups afterward? How are leaders “gathering” in other ways outside of the YouTube show? (Group Me chats, on our Minecraft server, and so on). What’s the average length of time a teenager is present for our virtual ministry? What moments during the format show an increase or decrease in current viewers or chat content?
2. Next, we built an engagement strategy for our leaders.
We knew this would be a tough transition for some of them. So our “Leader Huddles” include more fun and connection time. We’re making more individual phone calls (yes, actual calls that involve human voices) than ever. And we’re writing postcards, sending gift deliveries (with permission, and observing all current government guidelines for our area), and planning prayer intercession times. We’re inviting our leaders to measure their effectiveness with students in new ways, too. It’s not about how many kids are showing up. (We want to be aware of kids who are missing and reach out to them, of course!) It’s also about maintaining a spiritual presence in the lives of our teenagers, even when they aren’t responding. A lack of response to us does not necessarily constitute a lack of response to Jesus.
A lack of response to us does not necessarily constitute a lack of response to Jesus.Click to tweet
3. Then we focused on safety measures.
We crafted a strategy to provide ease of access for teenagers to jump into our virtual programming or an online small group, but we wanted to ensure safety and security from online “bombers.” We have multiple moderators during our virtual chat, but one has the sole responsibility of viewing every single comment. The safety moderator does NOT engage with online chatter. He/she simply reads everything and decides when someone’s comment needs to be deleted, a user needs to be placed in time out (or even blocked). Likewise, in our small group Zoom calls, we have volunteers whose sole responsibility is confirming all adults in the room are approved and kids are abiding by our safety guidelines. This in addition to the safety protocols Zoom is continually enhancing on their end. (You can read our safety strategy here)
4. Finally, we’re dreaming about what reintegration looks like.
What started as a “have to” moment is now a “want to” strategy. Considering how digital ministry assimilates with in-person programming, what re-entry stages are needed to successfully start meeting together again. and how might we use online small groups to offer access for all students regardless of their schedules? And how will we navigate summer trips, senior recognition, and overseas mission ventures?
Writing an overview of what we’ve been doing reminds me just how much work we’ve done in the last month or so—and it’s not even the tip of the iceberg. It’s no wonder we’re all tired, off our games a little, and still wondering if what we’re doing is working. Here’s the measuring stick—at the end of all this, God’s word never returns void. While we’re busy tracking engagement and thinking about the “next thing,” Jesus is busy taking our ashes and making something gloriously beautiful with them.
P.S. If you’re looking for training on making your virtual youth ministry highly interactive and experiential, check out Rick Lawrence’s second “Interactive Virtual Youth Ministry” 4-week coaching series here (the first one sold out).