Summer youth ministries keeping students healthy and connected during COVID-19
If you look at a typical youth ministry summer calendar, it’s packed with events and experiences: mission trips, camps, Vacation Bible School, bon fires and backyard grilling. These events create opportunities to build relationships as well as opportunities for discipleship. But this summer, youth ministry leaders have been scrambling to figure out what ministry looks like when summer programming is anything but typical.
We asked our youth pastors on Facebook about how their youth ministries have changed—or perhaps, have stayed the same—this summer. Here is what we heard:
“Our youth ministry looks incredibly relational. Running programming has gone closer to the bottom of our list of priorities, and spending time with students has moved to number one,” said Sophie Arland, Youth Pastor at Crossroads Church in Woodbury. “There has been no planning of services, events, and such. Rather, the question has been: How do we maintain and grow relationships during this season? Relationships with students and students’ relationships with God. The difficulty has been how to invest in those relationships and grow them while staying safe and keeping the engagement of students.”
The students at First Covenant in Red Wing gather outside at a weekly bonfire as they follow maximum size and social distancing recommendations. Knowing that youth ministry isn’t just about students, Mike Bechtold, Associate Pastor for Youth, also started a podcast for parents, talking about developing faith at home (www.redwingfirstcov.org/faithathome).
“Our group has been gathering every week for the last five weeks at our normal times and such, but we are doing more of a Bible study/group discussion format as opposed to our ‘traditional’ setup. We just started doing a game again last week,” said Jake King, Youth Pastor at Braham Covenant. “We’ve met outside until last week around the fire where we have tackled some of the deeper issues that are in our culture now. Being so far north there is a disconnect from many of the issues among students, but it has been very beneficial as it’s led to other biblical discussions. I plan to take the time to grow relationships deeper both with students and me and leaders and the students amongst themselves.”
He went on to say, “We also did a Q&A night which we haven’t done in a while, even before COVID. It really seems to help newer students click and feel like part of the group. Events are at a minimum for now, but I am planning some small group things like meeting at other leaders’ homes throughout the rest of the summer and fall.”
At United Covenant in Clear Lake, WI, Youth Pastor Zach Klein said, “We are meeting weekly all summer, which is actually a change.”
In order to keep socially distant, they’ve worked hard to create games that can be played spread out. They also split their group into two smaller groups to keep numbers down, but Zach noted, “Our numbers have grown since we started doing this!”
First Covenant in River Falls is still meeting weekly. Youth director Neil Vance said that rather than leadership team students hosting at their homes, “We are requiring that we meet at one of the parks in town where we are outdoors and there is enough room for everyone to spread out better.”
Linwood Covenant’s summer youth ministry is called “Summer Set” and has been meeting the last four Thursday nights in the backyard of the church. Chris Kelley, Associate Pastor of Youth & Families, observed, “We’ve had a smaller group (less than 20) each week, but it’s been wonderful to open the Word together, eat ice cream and play some volleyball together. Our current series is called, ‘Can I Ask That?’ It’s a series about questions students are often hesitant to ask. It’s been really good!”
No matter how youth ministry has changed this summer, it’s clear that two priorities are at the forefront: keeping students healthy and keeping them connected to Jesus and each other.