Recognizing the New Reality
And understanding that it’s really just the Old Reality in a new way.
This post is written by Jake Brown. Jake is one of our DYWC Field Team Members and is also the Youth Pastor at Discovery Christian Church in Broomfield.
Youth ministry in America is mostly being done online right now, and let’s be real here — it’s a huge shift. Some groups have thrived in this arena, others have faltered, and some have given up having an online presence almost entirely. It’s an uncharted world, and for many of us, we’re learning as we go. Sure, many of us are more tech-savvy than some of our other staff counterparts, but translating the feeling of a welcoming environment, exciting games, deep teaching, and small groups can be a challenge. It requires new thought processes. It requires innovation. And honestly, in almost direct opposition to the thoughts before this — it means going back to basics. Let’s talk about the basics.
Did you know that Jesus didn’t plant a single church? Unless you want to count that ragtag group of disciples following him around as a house church. If so then we’ll give him 1. Instead, he took all of his time to go around, discuss, preach, and ultimately disciple a handful of men and women. The number of people he directly discipled on an ongoing basis was small — probably less than 20, but they went on to plant dozens of churches and teach on a belief system that currently accounts for over 2 billion followers worldwide. Jesus’ decision to disciple followers over building churches, led to the Church being what it is today. So, how does this relate to the new reality? Well, it turns out that our new reality is very similar to Jesus’ reality.
What you built to get here is what’s going to continue you moving forward I think Zoom youth group is tough. I think Instagram live programs are tough. I think Discord servers (which we’re trying) are tough. Some of you are killing it — and props. If you’re a high production value, high quality, high energy youth ministry that is thriving because of this, don’t stop what you’re doing. I’m excited for you. That’s just never been me. I’ve always grown on the back of relationships, small groups, strong and long-term leaders, and intentionally reaching out to students. Every week, I have a handful of students show up to our middle school and high school youth groups over Zoom. We talk, we teach, we laugh, we pray, and ultimately, it’s a touchpoint I’ll continue to do.
For us, however, we built our ministry on the back of relationships. It’s what we’re good at. For us the most effective thing we’re doing right now is building small groups of 6–8 students with a caring adult, chatting about life, chatting about fears and anxieties, praying together, and knowing it’s coming again next week. We have groups meeting at 8 pm on Monday nights, another meeting at 2 pm on Tuesdays, and everywhere else throughout the week. Each of these groups is led by a caring adult, who is focused on building their group of students, and discipling the students they’re caring for. Don’t think that you have to try and reinvent the wheel right now. What you built to get here is what is going to move you forward.
The individual ask has been, and always will be, the most reliable form of communication. When all of this started a common thing I heard and even said myself, was that this was a great opportunity for us to do ministry. Students aren’t doing sports, they aren’t in plays, their time is far more open, and we can meet with them. Contrary to what many of us thought, although students are stuck at home, the number of things vying for their attention isn’t decreasing, but actually drastically increasing. I’m hearing more and more that people are getting exhausted by the number of groups, programs, classes, and products that are trying to move all of their marketing to online discussion in order to fill that gap in time. That means that people are still getting boatloads of emails, people are still committing to things on weeknights, and the demands on people’s times are still there despite the fact that we’re all stuck at home.
For me, I’ve noticed that when I send out emails, Instagram and Facebook posts, and mass texts they always grab a few kids. However, when my leaders and I are individually texting students to check-in and invite them to spend time with us, the number of students who show up increases drastically. If you’re reaching 30 students or 300 students the individual ask has been, and always will be, the most reliable form of communication. This is also a great time to empower your leaders to jump into the role of reaching out to students. This may be the season your leaders need to build those important relationships that will carry into the next season of ministry. This is the season to remember that amidst the noise — the individual ask has been, and always will be, the most reliable form of communication.
Nobody is going to applaud you if you’re burnt out at the end of this season. There’s a level of productivity and ministry you need to be doing right now. The church is a touchpoint that can bring hope and life to a culture that is anxious and scared right now. I applaud everyone who is doing ministry right because you’re bringing hope. That being said, if you’re taking this time to put in 60-hour weeks and trying to connect with every single student, every single parent, and making sure that every kid is reached by you every single week — you’re not gonna make it. When all of this is over, I believe people are going to come back to the church in droves, desperate for community. We need you to be ready for that. So, if that means that right now you’re reaching out to students, you’re connecting to parents as best you can, and you’re recognizing that not every student is going to be able to be reached… that’s ok. Nobody is going to applaud you if you’re burnt out at the end of this season. We need you when it’s over.
Finally, what you built to get here is what is going to continue to flourish when this is all over. This is really just a continuation of point 1, except with a little bit of forward-thinking. What if this is the time to go back to the basics of discipleship? What if this is the season to focus on your 12–20 and disciple them — knowing that the church planting and growing are coming later. Imagine if during this season your mid-week numbers were lower, your program was more stripped-down, but you were seeing life-giving relationships started between your leaders and your students. How many relationships like that would you need to see for it to be worth it?
For me, I believe this season is going to be a season of smaller groups, more intentional small groups, and a team of adult volunteers who are excited and empowered to do life with students whom they’ve been building relationships with this entire time. I’m not measuring our success by our mid-week Zoom youth groups(which I’m going to keep doing as a necessary touchpoint), but rather the number of kids connecting to caring adults outside of those groups, and let me tell you — right now I’m excited about what that’s going to look like. What you’re building right now is what is going to continue to flourish when this is all over. What kind of ministry are you building right now?
In all of this, please know that I’m praying for you, I love you, and doing ministry with you all is one of the best things I do. Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy, and when this is all over hit me up and I'll buy you a drink.