Learning in the lockdown: youth ministry now and later
Jenny Barnard asked a number of youth workers around our Diocese to share what they’ve been learning about youth ministry in lockdown.
Many of this year’s plans for Capital Youth have been put on hold until we can physically meet once more. However, it has been inspiring to see young people continuing to be welcomed, engaged in faith and experiencing God as youth ministry adjusts to the current situation. As far as we know so far, over thirty parishes have launched a new form of youth ministry online since the lockdown began and many others are finding ways to continue to support young people in schools and communities across London.
The Children and Youth Ministry Support Team are now holding twice weekly online meet ups on Zoom and Facebook. These have given us the opportunity to hear directly from youth workers about the highlights and challenges of adapting their practices as they continue to show care and support to young people in their communities. Below are some of their reflections, which help us to focus on what is important for youth ministry now and what the implications are for the future.
The art of self-forgetfulness in youth ministry
As traditional ways of youth ministry have been forcibly taken away, it has been important to acknowledge the ‘loss’ which many have experienced. Youth workers too have had the unsettling experience of being dislocated from usual practice.
At one our online meet ups, Temitope Taiwo, a community youth worker from Christ Church Roxeth shared his experience of setting up a new online youth group, which didn’t take off as he’d hoped. Asked how he felt, Temi shared some profound insights:
“In this time, the metrics of where I would usually find value in youth ministry is moving from the numerical and aesthetic features of youthwork to the values of the kingdom – joy, peace and righteousness. We get to practice the art of self-forgetfulness. I get to see, it was never me or the building that drew the young person, it was always God and I get to practice that self-forgetfulness; where comparison and self-concern give way to Christ-centredness.”
Temi made an important point: lockdown gives us the opportunity to pause, reflect and re-evaluate our ministries. Yes, we are all busier than ever trying to connect with people – but, perhaps, we might find this time drawing our attention to the quality of our engagements with young people rather than the quantity of our contacts – something that is perhaps more difficult to do when we’re focused so much on numerical growth.
We have heard stories of young people who were not really engaging with church before, choosing to participate in online bible studies and discipleship groups. We are also hearing of conversations and discussions going ‘deeper’ than before and also at a faster pace. Perhaps this is because the typical ‘casual small-talk’ or ‘ice-breakers’ do not translate easily into online work so there is a more direct route into faith discussion. This re-calibration raises questions around whether the online medium– for some young people – is a better or preferable way to explore faith and the Bible.
Nikkita Robert (St Leonard’s Heston) says:
“We’ve been having weekly Bible studies on Zoom where interestingly, we are seeing some young people that we wouldn’t normally see on a Sunday morning physically in church. We’re journeying through the theme of ‘identity’, looking at how we are moulded and shaped by God. We are also using YouVersion Bible plans to learn even more about God’s word together.”
Jez Day (St John’s, Chelsea) says:
“We ran a youth Bible club on Thursday evenings and have moved it to Zoom. When chatting to the young people I’m surprised how many don’t really communicate during the week so actually having an hour for them to catch up, play a game and do a bible study has been great.”
Jacob Holme (St. Andrew’s, Fulham Fields) says:
“The few young people that we do get online after virtual Church want to really dig deep into the Bible and faith. At their request, we are doing “deep theology”. I was so surprised when they asked to really dig into deeper ground and thought it might only last a week, but no – they really have engaged, asking the big questions and discussing them as a group.”
Parent involvement in youth ministry
Youth workers are seeing increased engagement and interest from parents. In some cases, parents are choosing to engage with content being created specifically for youth as well, which may be a positive sign for faith formation at home (nb. Church of England’s Growing Faith initiative).
Youth workers have also been more in contact with parents than they otherwise would, as they have implemented new social media policies. Ben Nicholls (St Pauls Hammersmith) said:
“I realised I didn’t really know the parents of a lot of our young people….what I want in lockdown is for faith to be made real at home. For parents to start passing on the faith at home…I’m excited to see what happens.”
James Kight (Christ Church Mayfair) comments:
“My focus has been on producing video content that is easy for parents to use, and then encouraging them to use it. Then limited Zoom Bible studies for the older youth are much better than nothing, and parents seem very thankful. I don’t think anyone is an expert – we are just trying our best to get God’s word out to the families at church!“
The youth ministry team at St James Muswell Hill has made it a priority to partner with parents to make young disciples. For the first 3 weeks of lockdown, the youth team phoned every family simply to ask how they were and how they were managing, and sent an email to parents each week with resources and updates – something that many churches are doing if they’re not running online youth groups.
Exploring faith at home, in family context might well open new opportunities for youth ministry in the future.
Youth ministry for ‘The One’
Some young people are choosing not to engage with online youth work, James Wood (Uxbridge Parish) says:
“Zoom chats are useful, but they do not replace real life face-to-face youth work. Not all young people are able to get online. Some, though not every young person, are digitally disconnecting, so as to focus on family and school work.”
In a time where we know young people are dealing with multiple losses due to the pandemic it is therefore of crucial importance that church communities continue to reach out to young people in whatever way they can. How present we are now with young people during isolation will have a long term implication on how they think of church post lockdown.
Zoe Phillips (Christ Church W4) writes:
“In all of this, I have been reflecting on what youth ministry is for and trying to discern what is needed right now. I’ve realised that most of my young people are fine; they are in strong homes, they’re self-starters and resilient. For some, engagement in our WhatsApp group is enough ‘youth ministry’ for them. For others, youth ministry has looked like me chatting through what a good, healthy weekly routine could look like for them, calling up to check in, dropping off care-packages with resources, activities ideas and chocolate, supporting their ideas, researching how to improve their internet connection and having those informal, but real chats whilst playing games online together on Discord (reminiscent of the youth group chat had over table-tennis or pizza).”
Other youth workers have told us that they are finding practical ways of connecting with young people. All Hallows Bow have delivered craft packs of Lego, origami, and sent British Sign Language videos based on a bucket list of things the young people had said they wanted to learn in 2020. Urban Hope at St Stephen’s Canonbury have delivered baking kits for young people to take part in a Bake Off at home.
These simple acts help young people to know that they are cherished members of the church community.
One of the key areas of Capital Youth has been to hear the voices of young people and for their views to impact Diocesan governance structures. One of the benefits of new online youth activities are that young people are perhaps being seen and heard in ways that they weren’t before.
A group of young people from St Stephen’s Twickenham have been trying out different ways to connect with God at home, which are being shared in an Instagram series called God Time.
Youth Alpha online at HTB has seen 55 young people register; a big increase on the number they would have expected for a normal term-time evening course.
Aaron, an intern involved in putting together HTB’s online youth content commented:
“The most important thing is to get the youth involved. On Sundays, youth lead worship, on the podcasts they are part of our conversations, on gaming we have this kid that is a proper pro at Fortnite, they get involved in leading/praying at the prayer/creative club, and we have three youth that are leading the small groups in Youth Alpha. So for us, in order to make this work we need to keep the youth involved.”
There may be uncertainty about what youth ministry will look like post lockdown, but there is so much that is good to be found in the innovative and creative ways that youth workers are continuing to minister to young people. It doesn’t always require a ‘high tech’ approach, just a heart and commitment to want to see young people find and explore their identity in Christ.
Featured photo: Allie on Unsplash