Energize youth ministry during COVID-19 and beyond

Every year, youth group calendars are packed out with exciting activities that provide teenagers with a safe way to have fun and grow together in the faith during those lazy days of summer. Students look forward to spending time with their friends from church and the opportunities to invite unchurched friends to special events.

With the COVID-19 crisis, however, youth leaders face new and diverse challenges. Leaders have used Zoom and social media in an attempt to stay connected with students, but, after months of screens, many are now hoping for ways to engage teens and help them enjoy the summer in the midst of a difficult time.

The Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware recently hosted a youth ministry forum to share creative solutions and guidelines for effectively — and safely — helping students to enjoy a fun and faith-filled summer. Many of these ideas can be used after churches begin re-opening.

Senior celebrations
High school seniors have dealt with one disappointment after another this year: most have missed prom, graduation, and a number of other common senior-year celebrations. Helping seniors feel seen and celebrated is a great way to encourage them.

  • Put together a celebration box for each senior and drop it off on their doorstep. Talk to each senior’s family to find out their favorite snacks, sports teams, and places to shop and eat, then purchase gifts and gift cards for their boxes. This kind of personalization will make the seniors feel special and cared for.
  • Encourage church members to write cards and notes for seniors. Mail the cards or include them in the celebration boxes.
  • Show seniors some love from behind the screen. Ask the senior pastor to give a “shout out” to each of the seniors during his sermon. Highlight each senior on social media.
  • Have a Senior Zoom Night — invite only seniors and their families and have graduates wear their caps and tassels. Play the graduation song (Pomp and Circumstance) as they enter the Zoom meeting. Show a slide show of photos for each student, starting with their graduation photos and going all the way back to baby pictures. Parents can write notes to their children and read them in the meeting. Either the youth leader or the senior pastor can deliver a “commencement address.” Finish with a time of prayer for the seniors. For an extra fun touch, order a pizza to be delivered to each grad right before the meeting!

Missions ideas

  • Youth can look for local service projects to reach out in the community.
  • Look for opportunities to serve church members. The elderly and shut-ins may really appreciate and enjoy this help from the youth, perhaps with yard work or other outside chores.

 Just-for-fun activities

  • Host a parking lot party. If your city’s stay-at-home orders are lifted, meet in the church parking lot and observe social distancing. Have youth bring their own snacks, throw open their trunks and just relax and “hang out” together.
  • Take youth to Tree Trekkers in Frederick County. This outdoor “aerial adventure and zipline park” is operating with precautions in place.
  • Host a Netflix watch party. Choose an appropriate movie and mail popcorn out the week to invite them to join. (Note: Each person much have a Netflix account to participate.)
  • In the future, consider combining your youth group with another local church’s youth group to create a larger sense of community.
  • Host a Family Trivia Night using Kahoot. Each person or team must have another device aside from the one they’re using for the virtual call.
  • Utilize RightNow Media if your church has access. Choose a study and send the links to the video and follow up questions. Reward those who complete the study with a pizza delivery.

Virtual Bible study and discussion ideas
After months of virtual meetings, it can be difficult to keep students faithful to attending online meetings and engaged in studies. Purposeful strategies can help youth leaders connect with students and their families in a meaningful way.

  • Use the right tool. Zoom is a useful tool, but beware of “Zoom fatigue” that can strike after students have used the tool for school, family, and church. Other meeting options can include Instagram (if your students have it) and Google Hangouts. Use Quikkast for announcements.
  • Find the best time and frequency of meetings for your youth group. This is key to succeeding online.
  • Create a playlist and crank up the music as your teens enter the meeting to boost excitement.
  • Keep meetings short (30-40 minutes is ideal).
  • Play online games together. Online games are fun (Google Slides is a great tool for this), but more hands-on games like scavenger hunts, charades, and trivia can be refreshing after a long period of screen-based activities.
  • Delegate parts of the meeting, including prayer requests, reading Scripture, and other activities.
  • Use visual aids, such as Canva or Sharefaith, during Bible lessons.
  • After each meeting, use YouTube or BIGVU (a teleprompter app) to send a short (one minute) video to parents to let them know what you’ll be doing in the next virtual meeting and what values or characteristics you’ll be discussing. This gives your program value in the eyes of your students’ parents.

Communication with students and parents

  • Utilize apps such as Clearstream, Text in Church, Remind, and GroupMe to send mass texts to students and their parents.
  • Send a text to each student right before the online meetings begin. Send another message during meetings to those who are missing. If a student is missing, send their parents a text to let them know their child was missed. Prescheduling texts and sending videos can streamline this process.
  • Send handwritten notes or cards to students. In a digital age when teenagers receive messages through text, social media posts, and emails, it is often exciting for a young person to get a paper note.
  • Make phone calls to students and their parents. This is a great way to check in on families and gain context that is often not available through text messages.

Other youth group ideas

  • Get custom face masks for members of your youth group and deliver them. This is surprisingly inexpensive and teenagers would be excited with something designed for them.
  • Create a “Stir One Another Up” campaign. Encourage youth to do good and send their pictures in to be shared with the rest of the group.

 COVID-19 has certainly created unforeseen challenges for youth leaders, but it is not impossible to stay connected, have fun, and build one another up in the faith. Whether online or in-person (but at a distance), youth leaders are still burdened with the incredible responsibility of caring for the young people God has entrusted to them. Creativity, flexibility, and, above all, prayer, can ensure that leaders, students, and parents are able to grow together in the body of Christ.

Compiled by Shelley Mahoney