Why COVID-19 Just Might Revolutionize Student Ministry

in Covid-19 on March 23, 2020by Keith Parker

Two weeks ago, we had never heard the terms coronavirus, social distancing, or “flatten the curve.”  COVID-19 has hit hard and fast, and it seems that everyone has been affected. From small businesses like hair salons, gyms, and restaurants to large gatherings like concerts and churches, everyone is scrambling to figure things out.

In response to this new normal, my social media has been lighting up with creativity.  Like many youth pastors, I follow a number of friends, colleagues, churches, and youth ministries on social channels like Instagram and Facebook.  As I have witnessed the church’s response to this COVID-19 crisis and subsequent self-imposed quarantines, I believe this to be true:
COVID-19 just might revolutionize student ministry.

Before I share some of the reasons I arrived at this conclusion, let me say that this is NOT a post suggesting that churches should go online and just give up meeting together in person.  One of the core values of the church has been and will always be the gathering of believers for encouragement, prayer, community, and teamwork.  If you’re expecting a post about how technology should eradicate church buildings, this isn’t it.  But I do believe this crisis has the potential to change student ministry and church forever, and here’s a few reasons why:

  1. COVID-19 has reminded us to put people over programs

Too often, student pastors become event coordinators instead of shepherds of their flock.  With Sunday morning programming, Sunday nights, Wednesday midweek programs, and “other duties as assigned,” oftentimes we end up maintaining and keeping the plates spinning.  For many of us, COVID-19 has meant no physical meetings and no programs to coordinate and oversee.  This new chapter has forced us to figure out how to do ministry on a more personal and relational level.

It’s tough to have flashy programs and crazy games through social media and livestreams.  And to be honest, I’m not sure Hollywood-quality productions are what people are looking for right now.  As they sit in their homes, they are craving connection, meaning, and hope.  These needs are met through personal interaction, not flashy programs.  I believe this may be the greatest takeaway from this crisis.  People are more important than programs and always have been.  I’m thankful for this reminder, and I’m hopeful it will last long beyond the quarantine.

2. COVID-19 has required innovation and growth

In times of great adversity, innovation and growth win the day.  Youth Ministry has always been on the cutting edge of ministry, and this crisis is no different.  I’ve absolutely loved seeing the different ways youth pastors are innovating and reaching out to students through this weird season.  My social media feed has been littered with youth pastors going live with their students, inviting families to participate in games and worship, praying together in Zoom calls, creating content and delivering it in new ways, and honing in on what’s most important.

As we later emerge from our homes and return to normal gatherings, I pray that we remain as committed to innovation and growth as we are now.  Comfort and growth don’t coexist well.

3. COVID-19 has forced us to ask great questions.

As we have been navigating this virus, I have seen pastors and leaders asking some great questions that I hope will direct the church in new and exciting ways.  Here are a few questions I’ve been pondering in this unique season:

  1. What long-term impact / changes will this quarantine create when it comes to people interacting with church?  What if things never fully go back to “normal?”
  2. What precedents is the Church setting right now that may or may not be sustainable in the future if things DO return to normal?
  3. What are we learning that will forever change how we do church?  And is that good or bad for the long-term?
  4. What are we learning about our ability to disciple others?  Is this highlighting a weakness of ours in that the “average” churchgoer is still looking to us for spiritual growth instead of growing on their own and discipling their families?

Student pastors are also asking about new ways to engage and inspire students, not just talk at them.  I’ve enjoyed seeing student pastors engaging their students in these unique and creative ways, finding ways for them to read Scripture, participate in games, encourage their friends, and own some of their spiritual development through online Scriptures and devotional thoughts.  

4. COVID-19 has created new avenues for connection

Our church, like many, posts our sermons online for people to check out if they can’t be with us physically for one reason or another.  When COVID-19 hit, we quickly made the decision to forego our physical gatherings and move to online worship services.  We chose to pre-record our services and edit them as one video, then post them at a specific time on Sunday morning through social media.  

We average about 2,000 in attendance each Sunday, but our first week’s Sunday service got over 12,000 views on Facebook alone, not even counting our app or our website.  There are so many new avenues for connection that we were unaware of.  
I texted my LifeGroup from our summer camp to see if they’d be up for doing a Zoom call.  Some of these students haven’t darkened the door of our church building for months, but they logged on for a Zoom call.  It was great to see their face, and it made me realize that this is a new avenue for connecting with students that I hadn’t tapped into.  Perhaps a periodic online meeting would connect students who are playing sports or involved in other extracurricular activities that prevent them from coming to our Midweek program.  I might have never stumbled across this truth without COVID-19.

5. COVID-19 will force financial responsibility

I believe some of the biggest impact of this virus will be financial.  Many people are laid off as businesses are closing and people are forced to stay at home.  I know many youth pastors who are fearful and anxious about their financial futures, and many who have already been laid off because their church can’t sustain their salary in this downturn.

Though the fallout will be tough in the short run and I don’t want to minimize that, I believe this crisis will encourage our churches to be more fiscally responsible moving forward.  COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of financial stability and responsibility, which I believe will be healthy in the long run.  

I believe COVID-19 might just revolutionize youth ministry.  How about you?  If so, how do you see it changing in response to this virus?  I’d love to hear your thoughts or your answers to the questions I’m pondering in #3.

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