Ask Rooted: How Are You Planning for Fall Ministry in a Pandemic? Part II

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COVID-19 has thrust the world into a new normal—and for youth ministers, this means re-thinking our established ways of doing ministry. We asked friends of Rooted from various contexts to share how they’ll be launching gospel-centered ministry this fall. Read Part I here.

Kerry Trunfio, Director of Youth Ministry, Youth Education & Local OutreachOur Savior Lutheran Church Topsfield, MA

As we plan for the Fall, we are asking parents and students to give us grace as we walk through this season together. At this time, we have decided to offer an in person and remote option for our middle and high school students. For as long as the weather and COVID-19 regulations allow, we will host our traditional Sunday School in person outdoors on Sunday evenings. This will include a time of fellowship and gospel-centered teaching.

One evening each week, we will also offer an online virtual hang out for our students. These meetings will alternate weekly as an offering for middle school and high school students. Throughout the week, students will have the opportunity to read through a book or section of Scripture, and then during a part of our virtual meeting we will discuss what we have read.

At this time, our traditional Fall outreach activities, such as a trip to a corn maze or a minor league baseball game, will most likely be virtual events such as movie nights using Netflix Party and game nights using Zoom. In the midst of the unknown, we are grateful for a God who is faithful in every season.

Clark Fobes, college pastor at Sunset Church in San Francisco; Rooted Steering Committee Member; Host, Thanos to Theos podcast

For our college group, the biggest concern is learning how to care for the incoming college freshmen who were intending to move away for college, but are now forced to stay home for the first 1-2 semesters of their college career. Since so much of their student life has already been disrupted due to COVID, we are trying to provide them with community and connection to regain some of what theyve lost. To do this, we are going to be “relaunching” with more adult leaders who can gather with college men and women in smaller groups, through a combination of Zoom and in-person socially distant gatherings in my backyard. Weve invested a lot of time and money into setting up our backyard to be a space for people to gather, as the personal connection is whats missing most from these studentslives that would otherwise be so saturated with communal life.

Well no longer be doing weekly large group gatherings, but switching off every other week between large group on Zoom and in-person small group gatherings. While we want to obey our state regulations for COVID, we also want to stay relationally connected in a time when it feels like weve already lost so much. Were hoping this decentralized way of ministry will be both relationally beneficial to allow them to gather in person more regularly, but also to raise the bar of discipleship as groups learn how to function on their own apart from a regular, large gathering dependent upon pastor or leaders.

Stephen Yates, Assistant Pastor to Youth, Intown Community Church in Atlanta, GA; visiting instructor, Covenant Theological Seminary

Like many other ministries, we are planning on hosting our small groups in backyards in our community, with some students choosing to Zoom in. We are producing an in-house curriculum uploaded to Youtube, along with a leaders’ guide to help our small group leaders teach our students. Our biggest challenge is the potential loss of the growth of our students when they interact with students of different grades and genders (our small groups are split along these lines). We are trying to design socially-distanced activities for multiple small groups, or even our entire youth group, to do once a month in lieu of one week of small group to help foster these interactions. We hope this rhythm of both deep and wide connections will minister to our students in this difficult time of isolation.

Jared Burkholder, Youth Pastor, Bethel Bible Fellowship Church in Emmaus, Pa.

We are planning to enter into September using an online model. I will prepare and record a video lesson for all of our students and families to view on their own time. Each week our small group leaders will connect with their groups though a video conference platform (i.e. Zoom, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, etc). They will discuss the lesson using small group questions prepared for them. I believe this model will give the students the benefit of meeting with their groups while also keeping them safe. It also allows for flexibility with our leaders and groups because they can meet on the night which works best for them. I have gotten a good response from our small group time back in the spring, so we will simply be removing the large group Zoom call, which often felt awkward.

Still, we are not forsaking a time to gather together as a larger group. Each month we will plan a social gathering where all the students will be together, socially distanced of course. We will be doing activities like mini-golf or ice cream socials. These events will happen on a Wednesday night in place of an actual youth group meeting. I believe it is important to gather together as a roup even in these challenging times.

The other obstacle we faced was how to do a fall retreat. The solution we came up with was to do three mini-retreats. These would take place on a Saturday, utilizing various locations close to us. We are blessed to have several parks and a denominational camp nearby to rent for a day. These mini-retreats will provide some of the same things we offer on a typical retreat: Gospel-focused teaching, games, food, and fun times with friends. We are hoping to keep the costs for these mini-retreats to a minimum for the students and families but in total no more than our typical retreat price. I am excited to try this new approach to fall ministry. We are praying for God to be glorified and for teenagers to know Him better.

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