Zoom, zoom zoom…….the joys and challenges of virtual youth ministry

Published by Barrie Voyce on

This week, our friend Emily Twigg, guest authors a blog about her experiences of doing youth ministry virtually:

“4 weeks ago I, like many others, had never head of zoom, kahoot, houseparty or drawful amongst many other games and video calling apps which have now become part of our daily lives. Yet these apps are also playing an integral part in enabling PSALMS’ ministry to continue to share the Christian faith with children and young people during Covid-19, using ‘sports, games and play’. Before social restrictions began the ‘games and play’ didn’t get much of a look in, but with physical sport not being allowed in groups and there being no sport on the TV, ‘games and play’ finally have their time to shine!

For a youth ministry organisation we did very little online or via technology up until a month ago, and for safeguarding purposes it was listed as a ‘last-resort’. Strange you may think, in the 21st century when young people (and let’s be honest adults too!) are glued to their devices and there is an app for EVERYTHING. However the phone seems to have become a bit of a ‘ball and chain’ and so to spend time away from it shooting hoops, playing football and actually talking to people has begun to be relished by young people once again.
For PSALMS, going 100% virtual during this time has seen unexpected joys, new challenges but has also highlighted more clearly the gaps and opportunities for our ministry. Below are 5 joys and 5 challenges I have experienced over the past 4 weeks;

The joys
1 – Still being able to see faces of the young people and faces who are pleased to see you! If they weren’t interested they wouldn’t show up, especially when they have to give you their full attention and can’t play on their phone at the same time.
2 – Having more interaction with parents, who are present and involved in our ‘family activities’ and groups rather than just dropping their child off and picking them up again.
3 – Seeing young people mix with others. We had to merge some groups due to several of our team being furloughed, but fun games have broken the ice and new relationships are forming.
4 – People stick to what they know. Yes there might be flashier videos and events out there which tempt people to go elsewhere for a while, but relationships are valued more and so more often than not your relationship with the young people, child or family will trump something else with better visuals.
5 – Opportunities to be creative. Has everything we’d tried worked, no, but it has given space to try out new ideas, think outside the box and show young people and families that we still care and want to support them. (The bottom of this article lists 15 games that work well for ‘virtual youth work’.

The challenges
1 – It’s a bit awkward! It’s also quite confronting especially for shyer young people who prefer to sit quietly.
2 – Not every family (or youth leader) has the confidence in or availability of technology and so there are some families we simply haven’t seen engage with us for a while. We have sent items in the post; however, they’re still missing out on that weekly interaction we used to enjoy with them.
3 – For younger children you are reliant on parents passing on information and logging on and being present so their child can take part. With there being so much on offer, your event can easily be forgotten.
4 – It’s not for every leader. I’ve witnessed some great zoom meetings, webinars and videos as well as some mega boring ones where it’s clear the person leading would like the ground to swallow them up! Not every youth leader is going to make a great ‘games show host’, so stick to what you’re comfortable, look at some ‘how to guides…’ and use other members of your team who may complement your hosting skills.
5 – Safeguarding. Technology is evolving as are hackers which means our policies have to evolve – ours changed several times in the first few weeks as we discovered new platforms, risks and sought out solutions. (for more information on safety online visit: https://www.gloucester.anglican.org/about-us/safeguarding/guidance-and-policies/)

Ultimately we still feel called to serve the communities we work in and to use our God given creativity to think of new ways to do this. There are joys and challenges, like every type of ministry however God’s spirit is not bound by situation or circumstance and during a time where people are struggling and searching, the church has a real opportunity to share and demonstrate God’s message of love and hope.”

Emily is a Strategic Sports Minister for PSALMS, a sports ministry organisation based in Gloucestershire who share the Christian faith with children and young people using sport, games and play.

(This article first appeared on the Diocese of Gloucestershire website )