It feels like we’re in a particularly weird place, even in this, the weirdest of years in living memory.
Schools have re-opened in a variety of socially distanced ways, the National Youth Agency have declared that Youthwork is an Essential Service – meaning that some of the latest Government rulings don’t apply, and we are teetering on the verge of a new lockdown (at time of writing new annoucements are coming thick and fast)
We recently conducted a short survey of youth ministers across the county asking them about what’s been happening, and what their plans are moving forward.
Over 90% said that some form of youth ministry had continued during lockdown, but the majority of this was online. Most of those surveyed had already re-started for the new term or had plans to re-start soon, with almost everyone planning on some forms of face to face work – whether that be formal groups, mentoring or socially distanced social activities.
There is clear guidance from the NYA about how to do this practically which can be found here: NYA.org.uk/guidance/
That will help with how, but the big question left is “What?” Some of our mainstay youth group activities are going to be challenging in a COVID-secure format (you can’t play sock-hockey if you have to stay 2m apart, can you?). We need to be considering what the needs of young people are as we get back into the swing of things:
1 – Socialisation
Now they’re back at school, some of the social interaction challenges we had earlier in the year have gone, but in most cases they are locked into form or year groups – being able to interact with people from other years and even schools is important. With organised sports and socialising at home restricted, youth groups provide a perfect opportunity to meet up with others outside the school bubble.
One of the opportunities we might want to explore here is whether we can meet this need for other young people outside of our established church groups? If there is no “open access” youth clubs near you, providing a space for young people to socialise might be a literal God-send for them and you.
Obviously running open access clubs is not something we’re all experts in – so if you do feel God’s calling then do seek out support from those experienced in this kind of thing. The Door in Stroud, Gloucestershire Youth For Christ, The Rock in Cheltenham can all give you some advice.
2 – Space to off-load
For all of us this has been an incredible 6 months, and things aren’t abating. Those in the throws of GCSE and A-Levels have no idea what the future of their exams are going to be; others will have lost family members and friends; all will be suffering some level of stress and anxiety which for many will have become hard to manage. Normal is still a long way from “normal” and uncertainty is very disconcerting. Providing a safe space for young people to talk openly and honestly about what’s been happening, how they’re feeling, and their worries is vital. Don’t forget, its also Ok to be Ok – some people will be doing alright, and might even be thriving at the moment. Providing them with space to celebrate and not feel guilty is just as important.
3 – Discipleship
How do we follow Jesus in all this? Looking after physical and mental wellbeing are both critical, but as youth ministers we need to ensure that spiritual wellbeing is heavily on the agenda. I don’t know about you, but my faith has been shaken all over the place in the past 6 months. I’ve experienced God in some surprising and exciting ways, but also felt his absence frequently. The stability of church has been ripped away from us and there are times when I feel like I’m floating in the ocean on my own. Young people are no different, but how do I help their discipleship when mine is being transformed too?
Some of our traditional resources seem to be inadequate at the moment, and it feels like we’re all crying out for ways in which we can help young people connect with God. YouthScape and Youth For Christ have resources you can download which work in both online and COVID-secure settings, whilst Youth and Children’s magazine is now online (but you still have to pay for it). The Children’s Society have recently published a 7 week resource pack Exploring Mental Health which is free to download (but in my experience needs adapting for the current restrictions).
Do remember to network and share ideas (successes and failures) through other youth ministers. Join the Glos Diocese Youth Ministry and/or Glos Christian Youth Workers Facebook Groups to be part of the community.
4 – Relationship
The desire to meet back together is clearly very strong, and its important that we do meet, re-build relationships and seek out new ways forward. Its also great to find ways to connect with young people 1-1, maybe recruiting some volunteers willing to mentor young people in this way (with the right training and guidance obviously). Relationship building (or re-building) with young people, you and your team is really important. For some of us this is going to take time, and I don’t think we should try to rush this part (remember the Forming, Storming, Norming group dynamic – even a previously established group needs time to re-form).
One of the biggest challenges for some of our churches will be in finding volunteers – people have moved on, disengaged or are shielding because of age or health issues. Without Sunday services to put out an appeal or chat up a potential volunteer over coffee its not going to be straightforward to find new team members. How about connecting up with another church locally – this could be a church with another youth minister and/or youth group or even a church without any young people but with a willing volunteer? Perhaps this is the time to look outside the walls between us?