Chances are, your online ministry strategy is now the lifeblood of your ministry. But a time is coming (sooner than you think) when we’ll be allowed to gather in person for face-to-face ministry. What will you do?
Instead of waiting until we have permission to reopen, our youth ministry team is actively planning for it. We’re not going to open the doors before we should, but the moment the lockdown restrictions loosen we want to be ready to activate our plan. We don’t want to scramble because we’re not quite ready—so, maybe our work can fuel your own thinking… It’s not a perfect plan; it’s more like “strategic preparation.”
We’re encouraged by the writer of Hebrews to “not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing” (Hebrews 10:25), so we have a biblical imperative to prepare for a re-gathering. Yes, we could continue to extend our online strategy into the future, but face-to-face connection and community fuel spiritual growth. I know some people would be content meeting virtually forever, but we want to get back together!
Every church could push the envelope and start meeting now, citing “religious freedom,” but we want to be wise. I’m not going to tell you when to open, but we will wait to do it. Our community is watching. If we open our church doors just because we can, what does that communicate to business owners who’ve sacrificed everything to keep their doors locked? You don’t have to agree with that sentence—I’m just letting you know how we’re thinking through things.
One more aspect of “WHEN” is “How many can meet?” When we gather again, I can’t imagine that everyone will be able to gather all together, right away. It will be a “tiered” comeback. We think the first step will be groups of no larger than 50, then the next phase (weeks or months later) might be groups no larger than 250. There may be more phases, or we might be allowed to meet without restrictions after that.
When we have permission to gather, we have to ask ourselves:
- “Can teenagers and pre-teens maintain physical distancing?
- Can we ensure a safe environment for them?
- Can we do good ministry maintaining a physical separation of six feet apart?
In the way we open up to face-to-face ministry, we don’t want to become part of the problem, spreading the virus and disrupting lives. We’re not sure our middle schoolers can maintain a healthy distance, so we may test our gatherings with high school students to see what we can learn before gathering middle school students.
This is not a plan for the whole church—this is a strategy we’re pursuing for youth ministry. We want to be wise for our families, for teenagers, and for our adult leaders.
We’re speculating a little bit here. We’re asking questions like…
- How is life under quarantine changing us?
- How will kids view the focus of our teaching differently in the future?
- What is the new normal?
- How will this time affect the way we love God and love others?
- If physical distancing (social distancing) is recommended for many more months, how will that affect our ministry and gatherings?
- Even when we’re allowed back together, how do we minister to those who will continue to cautiously quarantine at home?
- What will we do to assure parents that we’re providing a safe environment?
Answering these questions will help us know what we will do, and what we will do differently.
Because we do not have an end date for physical distancing, we want to be considerate of where we meet. Here are a few of our options for groups of 50 or less:
- Church Building—Depending on the size of your group you may be allowed to have your whole group meet during Phase 1. If your group is larger, you may consider not gathering your entire youth group in one room, but sending each class (maybe even each class and gender) to different rooms in your church. Consider larger rooms where teenagers can maintain a healthy distance.
- Outside—Your parking lot may be the best option right now—have BYOLC Gatherings (Bring Your Own Lawn Chair).
- Drop-Ins—We’re considering using homes that have large garages. These homes could be places where students can “drop-in” without coming inside. Again, we want to maintain a healthy-distance environment.
We are currently recording a 30- to 40-minute youth ministry program and posting it online. When we relaunch face-to-face we will continue to record and post content because we know that even when we’re allowed to meet, not everyone will meet.
When we gather, each grade will gather in a room and watch the teaching video—at that same time we’re hoping kids who can’t come or won’t come will watch that same lesson online. After the teaching video we will break into small groups. Teenagers who are watching at home will be encouraged to link into their small group via video call (Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, etc).
Other things we’re thinking through…
- We’re planning for incremental gatherings.
- We’ll sanitize rooms before and after gatherings, as well as make hand sanitizer available.
- We’re asking if we need to provide masks, and if we need thermometers on hand. Some organizations are taking the temperature of every person who enters their building, do we need to do that?
- Our youth ministry is larger than 50 teenagers. When we meet, we will have different grades meet in different parts of the building, which means we want each grade to enter specific entrances to minimize incoming crowds.
- Greeters at the doors will wear gloves and a mask that we provide.
- We’re asking, “How long is too long for these gatherings?” We don’t feel the pressure to meet for the same amount of time as we did before quarantine.
- It was a quick pivot from normal life to lockdown life (video teaching/virtual connections with students and staff). It will not be a quick pivot back to our new reality. We’re considering how we will phase out our current strategy as we move forward into whatever we do.
These “thought points” aren’t comprehensive, of course. But they do represent how we’re thinking right now. Our strategy will develop and grow as the days go on. My goal is to launch well and lead well. We want to be “good shepherds” to our teenagers. Our final goal is not a polished product, but a plan that honors Jesus and cares well for teenagers. I hope this is helpful—if you have anything to add or if you have any questions, please leave those in the comments below.