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

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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. Look for Part II of the series on the blog tomorrow.

Josh Hussung, Pastor of Youth and Families at Grace Community Church
Ministry will definitely be different for us this year, but I’m excited about it! We will have a mid-week, large group youth gathering with music, prayer, and teaching. This will be done in our chapel with social distancing and masks. We will also have a Bible reading plan for students that covers the portion of the Bible we will be studying over the course of the school year.

Our small groups, which normally occur immediately after large group time, will be held via Zoom. Where our small groups had previously involved Bible study, we have moved all of the Bible teaching to that large group time. Small groups will include sharing and prayer with up to eleven people. These online meetings will be shorter than usual, since most of our students are still in school online all day. Small groups will also have periodic in-person meetings (outdoors and with distancing) to help students feel connected.

Chelsea Kingston Erickson, Pastor of Youth and Families at First Congregational Church in Hamilton, MA.
When COVID-19 hit last spring, I was touched by the participation we saw on our weekly Zoom calls for middle and high schoolers. Still, I know that students’ tolerance for online meetings only goes so far. So we are prioritizing meeting in-person outside for as long as possible before having to take things virtual again. We’re envisioning hosting outdoor small groups in the fall semester and then again once the weather warms up again in the spring, with a short winter session on Zoom in between.

Here in New England where I serve, we have to contend with the weather a bit more than in some other contexts, so outdoor ministry will not be simple for us. At the same time, I’m always impressed by just how hardy New England kids are! They don’t flinch at braving the elements if it means being with their friends (and they’re pros at dressing for the weather!).

We are working to create an outdoor set-up for small groups that includes more of a vibe than our summer small group setup has. We are arranging for large tents, campfires, and possibly even outdoor heaters to help guard against the light rain and cold that can set in mid-fall. We’re working with our health team to determine whether we can provide single-serve hot chocolate and allow kids to roast marshmallows (on sticks they bring themselves). We’ll encourage students to dress for the weather and even bring a cozy blanket to wrap up in as the nights get cooler.

A big value in our ministry is hospitality, or as our student leader team often says, “extending the welcome of Jesus.” I’m hoping we can create something of an après ski scene that will draw students into warm community. With many fall sports canceled, we recognize this could be a missional moment for us to extend that welcome to some of their friends, as well!

Matt Ballard, Student Pastor at First Baptist Church Sumter in Sumter, SC
I am using the uniqueness of this fall to serve our students and local schools. I am giving the students a “back to school package” as they start a school year in a very unique way. It will simply have a devotional, some candy, and a short note that I wrote. I am also bringing some breakfast and a poster with notes from the church staff to the faculty at some of our local schools as they also start a school year in a very strange way. While I would consider doing these things for students and teachers in any season, I feel that there is more urgency and need in this season. This may also open a door to get involved in some schools that were difficult to get into pre-COVID.

I am also using COVID-19 to make more of an emphasis on small group discipleship over large group gatherings, as meeting with a small group of people is more COVID friendly than trying to plan a large group gathering. In my experience, while students need teaching from the Word, they come and stay for the relationships—and COVID-19 has intensified that desire. While I am absolutely for large group gatherings, life-on-life discipleship is my passion and this can be a sustainable ministry strategy during COVID and post-COVID. Colin Marshall and Tony Payne wrote a book about this ministry philosophy that in some ways “envisioned this pandemic.” Beginning in September, I am going to be meeting with my adult leaders who are interested and will begin modeling for them how to disciple students with the Word.

Lastly, I am also wanting to help students be in community as there was no summer camp, there will be no fall retreat or normal weekly programming, and they won’t even have normal community at school. They are longing for face to face relationships more than usual. A youth pastor once told me that fun and games are like icing on the cake in youth ministry—but they should never be the foundation of a ministry. Along with the small group discipleship emphasis, I am planning on having the students come to play games and hang out (probably socially distant games), providing a place for them to connect and grow in safe and real friendships. We hope this may also reach some unchurched students.

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