Youth ministry has been around awhile—we have decades of paradigm shifts in the books.
What started as a way to get illiterate kids off the street and into a new-and-improved morality morphed into a ticket to a pizza party and a gospel presentation. A resurgence in worship and introspection, and students leading students, wasn’t far behind. Motion backgrounds, digital countdowns, movie clips, and YouTube links have all taken their place at the table.
We’re all wondering when things will “get back to normal.” But what if this IS normal we speak of? Hear me! Before you read any further, this is NOT an online-ministry-is-here-to-stay/we-should-replace-in-person-gatherings/digital-church-is-good-enough post. It’s a simple suggestion: What if digital ministry is moving from a backup singer to the headliner?
We’ve used multi-media more than the average church. From live-streaming main church services to utilizing video-based teaching for kids and students, using a screen to lead spiritual discussions has been more the norm in our context. But it’s never been given a leading role. We’ve always emphasized a ‘humanity’ that our video strategies simply accent. A PERSON has always been driving ministry.
When we were forced to go fully digital, that all changed. The screen is driving ministry now. And, at least in my state, that’s not going to change any time soon. And I’m not sure it should. I have a hunch that COVID-19 only hastened what was already heading our way.
- We’ve watched the virus of busy-ness overtake our students and families. Suddenly, they could fit us into their schedule, and that’s because we went primarily digital.
- Small group leaders are amazed at how some students who’ve never spoken a word before are suddenly an open book. Because we went primarily digital.
- We tossed some of our “industry standards” right away (things like keeping junior highers and senior highers separated) and it didn’t tank anything. Because we went primarily digital.
I’m not suggesting digital ministry is what everyone should be doing. It’s not even a subtle hint that online ministry works better. I don’t believe that. But we won’t know the true depth and breadth of these ministry earthquakes until we’ve been on this journey a little longer.
What I AM saying is that moving our digital content from a supplement to a requirement will matter for us as we traverse the various stages of quarantine. And when “stay-at-home” orders have expired, our relationship with programming and content won’t. It might matter even more that digital options are not simply supplemental or copies of what we do “in person.”
When we were forced to go fully digital, that all changed. The screen is driving ministry now.Click to tweet
As we look to the future, we’re exploring in-home small groups driven by our weekly program on YouTube (Parkview Students Unscripted). We’re dreaming dreams about using our midweek gathering for a live viewing of Unscripted and then bouncing to live small groups, while using Sunday nights as a totally digital venue—from YouTube program to Zoom groups. We’re even considering how this model might boost our previous efforts to launch weekly in-home small groups with a monthly live experience.
I don’t know where all of this will land yet. And let’s face it, this is all just one big experiment right now. We’ve had to adjust multiple times in just a few short months to make sure we were maintaining engagement and relational equity. So who knows? Is digitally-driven ministry the new pizza party? Just like most pizza, with the right toppings, it could be. Also, like pizza, not everyone will love it—some might need to spend some time picking out the mushrooms. But with the right combo, I think this new pizza might just be here to stay!