The writing is on the wall: COVID safeguards are here to stay through the fall, if not longer. “Plan B” is set into motion as we forge ahead with youth ministry during this season. While the ministry may feel largely the same at its roots, meaningful youth programming is a completely different story. Leaders across all disciplines encourage agility, employing a “shift-and-pivot” approach, but even the definition of “meaningful” continues to evolve as students’ needs continually change.
After weeks of prayer, assessment and discussion, it’s go time for another season of youth ministry. Here are three essential elements my students need right now that I’m intentionally infusing into the programming for this fall:
- Students need to take a breather
Masks, social distance, plexiglass—this is everyday life for our teens. It is separate and stressful. Take a bona fide break. Plan for ministry programming to be relaxing, refreshing, and refueling to the spirit. Laugh more. Focus less. Let up on the intensity and allow space to be. Invite your students to Sabbath moments. Provide resources for self-care and soul-care.
- Students need to take a bow
The triple threat of health concerns, social issues, and the political season give many opportunities to say the wrong thing, often publicly on a variety of social media platforms. Adolescent brains are hardwired to hone in on the things that go wrong. Plant an encouraging voice in their ears and hearts, pointing out and lifting up the many things they do right and well. Give grace and praise freely. Be a positive force in your students’ lives—they will follow your example. Create new and safe methods to celebrate each other: joyful gestures, emojis, and good old-fashioned applause can make a large impact.
- Students need to take a long view
Today’s students have 24/7 access to each other and worldwide news. Gen Z teens are natural skeptics and are facing monumental shifts in the social, political, and economic landscape. Mental health issues are at an all-time high. Above all, our students need hope. Lead them to pull back on the lens and take a wider view. Share long-range stories. Don’t miss an opportunity to tell them the life-changing message of hope that comes with knowing Jesus—and then abide together during the unpredictable and chaotic short-term.
This fall’s kickoff feels more like a soft start as we feel our way through it. Keep your students’ needs central as you plan and share life and ministry together.