‘Semper Gumby’ youth ministry in rapidly changing circumstances

“Semper Gumby, Always Flexible.” It’s an old phrase used by youth pastors and Marines alike. It’s based on the rubbery, super-bendable, green claymation character from the ’60s. The flexibility that Gumby was famous for is a necessity in youth ministry. In youth ministry, youth workers know that circumstances change quickly and that they must be nimble and agile with their ministry plans. Never has that been truer than now.

In a few short weeks, youth ministry leaders have had to figure out how to go from leading in person to leading from a distance. While the methods might have changed, the basic premise is still the same—connecting relationally with students and their families and helping them pursue their relationship with Jesus.

In the Northwest Conference, our youth ministry leaders have been incredibly creative as they’ve flexed to minister in these changing times. Some approaches are high tech, while others are low tech. Some meet weekly in groups while others are meeting one-on-one. It all depends on what their context, and their students, need. Here are some examples of how our people are reaching students:

Joey King (Crossroads Church campuses – Woodbury, MN) and his team are doing a full service with teaching and worship on YouTube and then doing Zoom small groups. They are also doing daily devos through Instagram live to help get students engaged in scripture daily.

David Strelow (Lewis Lake Covenant, Ogilvie, MN) is doing a daily verse that he texts students and then it’s open to discussion.

Jake King (Braham Covenant, Braham, MN) is utilizing Instagram posts, a daily verse with discussion and one-on-one texts. He suggests using the “Remind” app for texting because it allows for more than 20 people in a conversation.

Alicia Vela Anderson (Roseville Covenant, Roseville, MN) is trying Zoom youth group this Wednesday with worship, a talk and small groups. They’re also creating a youth directory to connect students and leaders. She suggests trying the Marco Polo app for the high school group to stay connected. Sunday School and confirmation will both be held online.

Her insight during this season, “I’m trying to find a balance between resourcing them and not over programming. I want to try and find a way to do a few things really well with high engagement rather than over saturating our students.”

Michele Thompson Arndt, church planter at The Crossing Covenant Church, Houlton, WI, is hosting a Tuesday Talk Show for their students. This week, she posed the following questions: a) What has been the hardest for you personally about the past 2 weeks? b) What are you learning? c) What questions are you asking about Jesus/your faith as a result?

Mikey Bechtold (First Covenant Church, Red Wing, MN) is providing several different touchpoints: Wednesdays evening he’ll be sending out a link to a pre-recorded youth lesson with some reflection questions. Thursdays he’s sending out a pre-recorded confirmation lesson with some sort of online form for students to reflect on what they learned. Fridays he’s sending out a link to a pre-recorded Zoom call with a student he interviewed to share their faith story and talk about how they are navigating this season of life.

He’s hoping to coordinate a few projects like a team of students to write cards to those in our congregation who are shut-ins, widowed, or live alone. He’s also planning on starting a young adult Zoom gathering on Friday or Sunday night.

Neil Vance (First Covenant Church, River Falls, WI) is doing a youth group Zoom call during youth group time Wednesday nights to do games, a short lesson and small groups. They also started a Bible study plan on the YouVersion app where students can leave comments and do a Zoom study Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays to discuss the readings.

Neil added, “I’m also reaching out to students individually over text/phone calls to check in. More to come I’m sure, but that is where we are started now.”

Geo Linna (Riverwood Covenant, Greenfield, MN) is meeting via Live YouTube Wednesday evenings and using the comment section to interact with students. They are encouraging whole families to watch, not just students. On Sunday nights, they host their Zoom high school Bible study. She’s also connecting with parents through weekly parent e-mails with links to things like Spotify and YouTube worship playlists, games and other things to engage the family.

In her words, “I feel like it’s a great time to help the families get faith in the home.”

Rocky Hovda (First Covenant Church, Willmar, MN) began making YouTube videos last week. He said, “Monday and Friday are called DISC: Dive Into Scripture Challenge and are short tools used to give you a verse to memorize and a short story on it. Wednesday night I have one called revolution2020 which is a full lesson and some discussion questions that hopefully either parents will do with their student or my leaders follow up with. Sundays is a scripture reading video to get kids in the word and then a batch of discussion questions and a game. We also have many kids and leaders engaging on Houseparty! I purposefully put the launch times of Wednesday night and Sunday mornings there to keep some regularity in their schedule if they chose to do so!”

Layne Johnson (Moose Lake Covenant, Moose Lake, MN) met via Zoom with their senior high youth. He shared, “We just talked about our week and shared prayer requests. Now with a better idea going forward we’ll have a lesson time and small groups if enough teens are able to join us.”

Eric Kuehner (HOPE Church, Grand Forks, ND) said, “We’re doing a lot of similar things that other groups are doing at HOPE Church. We have a prerecorded service that premieres at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday nights with worship and a short message. From there our leaders are engaging their small group students and having their small group sessions after the service—whichever platform works best for their group. We do a Survival Kit giveaway during service and deliver it the next day. We have a daily SOAP devo (SOAP stands for Scripture, Observe, Application, Prayer) on our Facebook and Instagram page.”

Sarah Holt (Bemidji Covenant, Bemidji, MN) has students giving daily devotionals on Instagram. Their youth ministry is a recorded teaching video and then small groups meet in Zoom for an hour. In addition, she’s making personal phone calls to small group leaders and coaches, and they in turn are calling parents. Confirmation is meeting via Zoom.

She stated, “We’ll add more later, but for now keeping them in their normal rhythms has been good.”

This is just a small glimpse at how youth ministry in the NWC has quickly and nimbly changed in just over a week. Please pray for our youth ministry leaders as they figure out how to do Semper Gumby ministry in rapidly changing circumstances