Covid plunged our world into chaos in 2020, but it proved to be a catalyst for incredible growth in our students and change in our student ministry. One blessing amid the chaos was the freedom from expectations of how things had always been done.  Like most ministries, our immediate response was to move online. We bolstered our presence on Facebook to reach parents and began tinkering on Instagram.  After weeks of zoom lessons and online games, our students were mourning.  Transitioning to a hybrid of small home groups for those who felt comfortable and continuing with zoom as an alternative allowed us to continue ministering to our families.  Special events slowly emerged outdoors, as socially-distanced as possible.  We didn’t realize it at the time, but providing these outlets for discipleship and fellowship were bolstering our students’ physical and mental health as much as their spiritual health.  A deep sense of community was developing and continues to grow still.

Bethesda’s student ministry team really had a moment to pause and pray about what God’s will for our ministry could be.  Here is what He laid on our hearts:  Student ministry should be a bridge, not a destination.  This shift in our philosophy of ministry away from being program-driven meant more integration of teens into the church body through worship and serving that would give them ownership in the church now, and leadership in the church later.  As we moved back onto campus, we gathered for student services in the main worship building so we could more easily social distance.  God was opening doors for our students to have more access to equipment and training.  We believe that teenagers are capable and willing when given opportunity, and also significantly shaped by our expectations of them.  So we began turning more responsibility over to them and connecting them to adult leaders who could provide guidance without restricting creativity.

We already had a student-led praise and tech team, so the next natural place for them to take over was media and communications, especially considering gathering limitations during the pandemic.  Using Canva, a few students began making graphics for our ministry.  Before long, we also had students gifted in photography and videography willing to share their talents.  Soon, we had a student crushing it on Instagram (@bethesdastudents)  using stories, reels, and hashtags to build connections in the online community.  That student made it her own with adult oversight and encouragement.  Other students stepped into roles within our Connect team welcoming guests, our special needs ministry as buddies to our friends with special needs, and our kids ministry as worship leaders and classroom assistants. They are continuing to grow their skills and are contributing church-wide.  

Our students are doing amazing work and looking for even more areas to be influencers.  Typically our adult team opens lessons with a stage game, video clip, or some other hook, but this fall two of our seniors pitched the idea of creating videos to coordinate with the lessons each week.  They wanted to use our students to film lesson intros with an underlying plot line, so we give them access to the lessons in advance, and they meet to plan and write several at a time.  During our hang time before worship, they do all the shooting for the next week’s video.  After they edit, it gets reviewed and finalized.  Because there is a common plot thread woven through the weeks, it wasn’t long before students were  asking for a way to review or catch up on ones that were missed.  Having identified another opportunity, with an already established audience, they chose YouTube as the best way to share their content.  We hope you will check out  Bethesda Students on YouTube!

None of us were given a formula for how to thrive in ministry during a pandemic. By staying focused on the functions we wanted to achieve, namely worship, fellowship, discipleship, and outreach, we built a new strategy to achieve those outcomes.  Our goal has remained the same:  Teens who exit student ministry will have the ability to confidently defend a Biblical worldview and launch out as leaders on mission for Christ in their local churches and to the ends of the earth. But God is using our students right now to stretch His influence in our community, encourage our adults, and inspire our elementary students. We have 5th graders already planning where they want to serve when they move up to student ministry! Your story may be completely different than ours.  In fact, it probably should be.  Wherever you are, don’t be afraid to step back and give your ministry an honest evaluation.  It shouldn’t take a pandemic to take risks and make adjustments, but sometimes God uses what at first appears to be chaos as a catalyst that forces us out of our comfortable routine. For Bethesda, He guided us into something where our students are leading and growing in their boldness to serve the body of Christ and share Jesus in ways we never thought possible.

Brigitte Creech is the Student Ministry Director at Bethesda Baptist Church in Clayton, NC. She loves boat trips with her husband, Larkin, and fire pits with friends to re-charge from homeschooling her five, amazing kids.