2021 marks 13 years in student ministry and, in so many ways, the last year has made me feel like I’m in year one all over again! There has been so much to learn and so much to adjust for, it has been exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time.
2021 looks to be another year of adjustment as many will look to get back to the normal we had before 2020. The normal gatherings. The normal trips. The normal events. The norms we had when things were consistent and planned and we could expect what was coming in 30 days; the next 3 months; even the next 9 months of a school year.
But if there is anything that I have learned or reflected on from 2020 it is this: perhaps the way we were doing things may have not been the best way to do those things. That until we are forced to consider a different way, we will most likely revert to the comfortable way.
2020 taught us that while different might be more difficult to start, it may be more effective to reach your ultimate end goal. The question is did we learn from 2020 to set us up for a more fruitful, more effective, and more kingdom-focused 2021?
I’m not sure what circles you run in or what conversations you have been having about student ministry in recent years, but I have been a part of so many discussions revealing new modes, new models, and new structures for doing student ministry. Ideas that break the mold of what has been considered “normal” and, at face value, seemed to be super challenging to shift into and establish as our normal.
But 2020 released us to try stuff that has not been normal to us. 2020 forced us to consider what truly empowering and trusting volunteers truly means. 2020 caused us to leverage social media in new ways that we hadn’t attempted ever before. 2020 reminded us of the value and the essential nature of deep, authentic community in the lives of students.
And 2020 did this by rattling our “normal” like a Boston Terrier trying to get out of their cage when you come home from work. Ok, that wasn’t the best illustration, but I thought the picture of a silverback gorilla breaking out of their enclosure might not be the best either.
Regardless of what 2020 altered or forced into your student ministry, I hope that you learned from it. I hope that you gained perspective from it. And if you haven’t had time to learn from it, stop and reflect today!
For me, there was one main theme of learning for me. There was one strand that kept permeating the surface and it’s quite simple: Normal isn’t worth going back to if New is better going forward.
If normal wasn’t working the best, why would we go back to it if new has opened our eyes to something better? If normal was mainly catering to our comfort then why wouldn’t we stick with the new that more concretely creates opportunities for growth for students?
Trust me. 2020 is not the year that I will look back on and recall it as the banner year of ministry for me. But we did some things in 2020 that we had to do because of 2020 and it will make us better for 2021 and beyond.
So, in order to avoid writing a blog post of epic length, I have broken things up into a few parts. Learnings and a few things we altered in three major areas of our ministry that I think has helped our student ministry be better.
I don’t come from a huge church with a massive budget and multiple staff. So, for much of what I learned, it was a shift in my own personal approach to these things. They were shifts that had to be sustainable for me if I wasn’t going to burn out and find myself loathing the work that was placed before me.
So, here’s what’s coming up:
Part 2: Make Leaders the Lifeblood
Part 3: Dig into something Digital
Part 4: Capture the power of authentic Community
These are just my findings. I would love to hear yours. What has 2020 taught you and what are you going to do differently in 2021 because of those learnings?
Geoff Cocanower is a husband, a son, and the Associate Pastor of Student Ministries at Hope Missionary Church in Bluffton, IN where he leads the team of adults who minister to high school students as well as young adults. In addition to contributing to the DYM blog, Geoff co-hosts a podcast focused on the issues, questions, and blessings of leaders who aren’t in the driver seat of the organization called The Backseat Leadership Podcast. Interesting fact about Geoff is that he is a high school football and volleyball referee in his spare time and is a legacy member and loves all things DYM. You can find Geoff online here!