We are in unprecedented times, wading through new waters and learning as we go, trying to recreate programing that we never imagined doing virtually! I have now been hosting virtual youth group for 10 weeks. What have I learned? How have I failed? Here is my take.
I miss being in our youth room with my high school youth each week. There is so much you can learn from seeing people in person that you can’t online. I think youth ministers and youth leaders learn how to read a room and adapt their programming accordingly. That is so much harder online, but the clues are still there—are they turning their camera off, hiding their face, not participating? We are exposed in a new way on video that I think is hard for both youth and adults.
I realized around week three that I have to use the youth’s location as an advantage rather than a disadvantage. What can I do now that they are in their homes rather than in the youth room? I asked them to find a baby picture and share them, and we talked about being gentle with ourselves during these hard days. Think of your baby photo and how you would treat that little person—you would be kind. They were touched by this and so was I. So much of what I say to them I need to hear too! Work with what you have, not what you don’t have. Flip the script in your head so it’s positive rather than negative.
I did a household scavenger hunt one week and asked them to run through their house bringing me items like ketchup, a Bible, a shoe, or a family member onto the screen, assigning points for difficulty. It got them up and got their families involved. We could have never done that in the youth room! I am thinking about having youth take us on a house tour: Cribs “Youth Group” Edition. I’ve not been to most of their homes, so this gives me a glimpse into their lives that I didn’t have before. I've utilized technology so we could do a movie night with Netflix Party, we play games online with Jackbox, and we have small group conversations with Zoom breakout rooms. Every week I learn something new; they are helping to guide me with new ideas and resources. This isn’t the same old youth group but online; this something new. Don’t try to compare it to what was; let’s create something new.
At the end of the day, I’ve realized that even with all the challenges and new ideas, youth group is about what it has always been about: a deep connection to each other, sharing how we are really feeling, and being together in any way we can! I’m making time to ponder our grief and sadness, time to look outside ourselves and pray for others. Asking youth to lead prayer, lead games, and lead conversations—these things make this time meaningful for us all. Asking about what they are looking forward to is a way to keep hope.
Let there be joy and laughter, let there be time for sadness, and make it authentic. I tell my youth every week that I am figuring this out with them and that I am feeling all the same things. We are in this together and that’s what matters most.