It might only be June, but fall is right around the corner. After the past year or more of COVID conditions, racial and social unrest, a spike in mental health issues, and political strife, the start of this fall’s student ministry could look less like a kickoff and more like a hard reset. Consider these four strategies to prepare for your students and for their ministry among their peers as you plan for this unique fall.
Keep your expectations in check
In many ways, we’re starting over. The hit-and-miss year of pandemic places many of our relationships at a starting line. Whatever your feelings—and we are collectively experiencing the full range of emotions right now—remember that you are not alone. Your students are experiencing the ups and downs, too. Name the guilt and fear and find a healthy way to process grief, frustration, and anger. Focus on the impact of your ministry, one faithful step at a time. Set aside the numbers and timelines of the past and keep moving forward.
Know your audience
The bounce-back from COVID is different for each of us. We cannot innately know what each of our teens are experiencing in the aftermath of these difficult days. Will your youth be ready to meet in person? Will you meet inside or outside? With masks or no masks? Do you expect to have students who are not vaccinated, or who are particularly vulnerable? Before you commit to a schedule, consider and even research the needs of each of your youth and plan accordingly.
Partners, pairs, trios—small groups are an unthreatening way to ease back into coming face-to-face again. Establish trust with predictable activities and lots of options. Allow teens to define their comfort and commitment levels within these groups. Strong, Jesus-centered relationships can blossom in these cozy zones.
Reintroductions are in order
In many ways, students will be re-meeting each other when the masks start to drop. There could be facial hair and braces-free smiles hiding behind those masks we’ve been sporting for over a year now. Our face mask may not be the only mask we are shedding during this season of change. We are seeing ourselves in new ways. Pave a path for students to accept who they are and identify their influences and biases, and then gently push for growth.
This fall is the time to embrace some new things and cut out some old ideologies and programs. Be transparent about the challenges you will face as you move forward in ministry together. Ready, get set, go—follow the resilience and strength of the Holy Spirit.