Youth ministry under lockdown - how does it work?

With Greater Sydney (and now some regional NSW areas) under an extended lockdown, many youth ministry teams have had to once again decide how to keep discipling young people amidst the restrictions. We found out from three youth leaders what they’re doing at their churches – Ruth Lee from Cornerstone Presbyterian, Hugh Prattis from Penrith Presbyterian, and Mike Eastman from Epping Presbyterian. Some are finding the challenges easier than others, but all would appreciate your prayers.

What is your church doing about youth ministry this term?

Ruth: In light of the lockdown we’ve moved Cornerstone Youth back to our CY Online Campus that we set up last year on Zoom. Given the restrictions it was the best way to stay connected to our youth during this time and run youth group in some sort of capacity.

Hugh: We decided to run online instead of cancel to keep continuity and at least some Christian input for our non-Christian youth. We assumed lockdown would go for just a few weeks, although that looks less and less likely as we go on! For that reason we planned to hold our first few weeks online and then return to in-person. We planned our activities and studies, at least for the first half of the term, to be run in either format.

Mike: Friday night youth group has moved to Zoom. A Sunday afternoon Zoom session has also been set up to maintain connection with youth and to discuss the Sunday sermon. Leaders are also contacting youth regularly through the week with Bible verses and reflections, also providing a channel for youth to ask questions and share.

How do you make youth group engaging online?

Ruth: It’s been so encouraging seeing the creativity of our CY leaders. We’re planning to run our Bible studies on Daniel as planned while incorporating creative elements such as dramatic Bible readings over Zoom, using helpful online tools like Zoom shared whiteboard screens, Google Jamboard, sharing videos and using prepared PowerPoint slides to annotate questions. Other elements include engaging activities like playing with Zoom virtual backgrounds and filters, and some groups are doing dress up nights over Zoom.

Since we’ve combined our two campuses on Zoom for an all-in time we can get close to 90-100 connections on a Friday night so we’ve planned leaders to be on Zoom support to spotlight/pin different people who are speaking and to play background music while youth arrive online to help avoid that awkward silence! We’ve also allocated particular leaders to be on ‘welcoming’ so youth get a shoutout when they enter the room to help them feel more included amongst a large group online.

Hugh: With difficulty! I think it's possible to have genuine fun and engagement over online forums, but I've yet to experience it. That's part of why we want to return to in-person ASAP. Some problems we found in the first week were: connection issues, issues of people speaking over each other and having to moderate who speaks when.

Mike: We have condensed the Friday night meeting from 2.5hrs to just 1.5hrs in order to avoid ‘Zoom fatigue’. Talks are provided live with a PowerPoint presentation shared on screen (Term 3 is ‘hearing the Parables of Jesus’). We utilise breakout rooms for discussion. The whiteboard function is used outside of the talks to allow people to draw or write responses.

Using Zoom reactions and the whiteboard feature we do word games and trivia style icebreakers.

But most importantly – we lead by example in showing them that hearing and applying the word of God IS engaging!

How are your youth and the leaders feeling about lockdown?

Ruth: As lockdown has been extended there is a mixed feel amongst our leaders and youth. Some are doing ok and enjoying not having to travel in for school/uni/work or going to extra-curricular activities, while others are struggling with mental health or the stress of being around family all the time. There’s also a bit of concern among our senior students in regards to completing exams and the HSC during this season.

Mike: We are blessed to have a leadership that is resilient and comfortable with being at home (some uni students, some professionals who have been working from for over a year now anyway) and I am very familiar with lockdown myself! The youth are generally coping fine. Those who are more socially connected are missing the ability to meet up with friends – even at school. Perhaps the greatest concern raised by youth and families is the increasing dependence on devices and tech - which makes it hard because we are using these same means to talk to them!

What can we be praying for you during Term 3?

Ruth: We’d love your prayers and especially for the mental health of our youth and leaders. Especially for our Year 12s who are feeling a bit anxious about the Trial HSC exams that have been pushed back.

Please pray for our leaders as they manage leading studies online.

For our youth as we look at the book of Daniel this term, please pray that they will have a firm resolve in their faith, to stand firm and live out a life that’s distinctly different to the world. Also for our youth who are on the fringe - that we can look out for them and help them feel included in an online forum.

Mike: Pray for the youth to hear and accept the word of God during lockdown – and that their lives would reflect this more and more each day. Pray that the church will continue to support youth ministries and to include the youth and youth leaders in the life of the church. Pray for the mental health of teens and of parents as lockdown continues. And pray for the salvation of high school students in the local area and for opportunities to reach them to be opened up, both during and after lockdown.

Hugh: Please pray for God’s mercy in removing coronavirus!