I don’t know if you realize this, but there is no going back to how things were. We are going to be different when we are allowed back into the public. I really believe that the church won’t be gathering in person for a while. I think when all of the pandemic stuff hit first and we had to move to online, my first thought was triage mode and we needed to pivot hard and fast in order to move everything online.

It was putting a band-aid on a bullet wound type situation.

Now that we are going on week 6 of this I am realizing (and planning) as if this is going to be our reality for the foreseeable future. We first had to think short-term just to get our feet under us, but now that this might be until the fall (it really could be in our area) we need to stop thinking so short-term.

In another post for DYM I wrote about not comparing what we were doing in attendance to what we are doing now, and that still is in play, but we also need to plan to move forward as if this is not a short-term thing we are doing until all is going back to normal. Like I said before, this is a new normal, there is no going back, and the sooner we as leaders begin to plan, make strategy, cast vision and lead in a way as if this is going to be an online ministry for quite a bit, the sooner we will be able to lead better, adjust and still be effective in how we reach students in the name of Jesus.

In my opinion, right now youth leaders should be:

Coming up with a long-term online engagement strategy. How are we going to keep students engaged with online service? How do we keep students in online, digital small groups? How are we going to keep on reaching new students when we are not physically meeting? These are the questions we need to be thinking about for months from now, not just weeks.

Coming up with short-term goals that set up longer online ministry wins. In our team meeting on Monday, I told our team we are no longer treating this as if we are going to be done online in a few weeks. We are going to come up with short term goals for each campus in how they are going to build up their ministries to 75% of hat they were running before the virus hit and they should come up with practical steps to reach that goal by the end of May.

Why 75%? Just a number I thought would be reachable and not lose momentum if/when we do get back together meeting in person.

Why at the end of May? I am all for short-term goals for further down the line goals. It gives us some measurable markers in a deadline of time to see where we are in our ministry.

How we keep leaders engaged and encouraged. This is about the time where volunteers will start to get discouraged because the shininess of online groups is wearing off. Being relational without physically being together can be difficult. So what we need to be thinking about is how we are going to keep encouraging our volunteers for the long haul. We should start thinking through how we can keep them going and setting them up well to lead online.

For us, our goal is to connect personally, every week with each one of our volunteers who serve in our ministry. Is that a lot? Yes. But are our volunteers more important than ever right now because they are connecting with students in order for groups to happen right now? Oh yes.

I like to ask 3 questions in every meeting:

  1. How are you doing? If we get to the other questions awesome, but we want to care for them as people first.
  2. How are you doing as a leader right now?
  3. Is there anything you need from me to set you up better?

The point of all this?

It’s time to stop thinking as if this is only a few week ordeals in our ministry. The sooner we adjust our vision and strategy for our youth ministries online, the more effective we will be when the shininess of online engagement begins to fade (which for us is right about now). Even if church gatherings are allowed again sooner than later, awesome, we go back to our strategy when we were meeting, but at least we will be thinking forward and prepared to do this for the long haul and get a leg up now rather than weeks from now and we are falling behind in the online world of engagement.

But keep going. No one here has pastored during an epidemic before. This is all new. Be encouraged, be faithful, keeping loving students.