Technology has always been a fact moving and hard to hit target, but with the changes that have taken place since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, that pace has accelerated faster than any might have anticipated. Many believe the changes we have seen merely accelerated what was already coming anyway (Carey Nieuwhof and Thom Rainer to name just two). Yet, this does not really help us concretely get our heads around what to do moving forward.
For most the pivot began when church services and other ministries were forced online by the pandemic. I came a bit later to the game only jumping back into congregational ministry midstream during the pandemic, but hit the ground running with online ministry as a major feature of my current work. Many churches jumped light years ahead in their technology use in a short time. However, in doing so they stretched staff and volunteers beyond capacity and exhausted their creativity.
Getting your heads around the myriad tools and gadgets can be overwhelming as can the process of planning a budget related to those (sometimes expensive) new essential ministry tools. Rather than focus on the what, I’d like to spend our time focusing on the why. Our why should always be the primary focus we go after. If we focus on the why, we stand a much better chance of making deliberate and intentionally wise choices with our finite resources. Thus, the bulk of our time in this article will focus understanding the why before we get to recommending tools to accomplish the what.
In a big picture sense, while everything has seemingly changed, nothing really is any different.
The Gospel is still the Gospel. Jesus is still Lord. Our why is still building relationships with youth, within the context of family, aiding them to establish and/or grow in their own relationship with Christ and His church. With that in mind, our approach to the use of technology still needs to focus on building those relationships. The end goal of having young people who are disciples for life hasn’t changed, even if our technology use and programming has.
What have we learned about the people we seek to be in relationship with on behalf of Christ and His church, that will help us in our ministry? First I believe that we have seen that accessing the ministry of the church can and does happen at times we might not have been prepared for. Watching church from the couch on a Saturday night, over dinner Monday night, or at lunch on the job have all been experienced in the past year. Having previously spent nearly a decade in higher education, the conversation about synchronous and asynchronous learning has been real for some time. The church has simply joined the conversation.
During the pandemic, families have been forced to reevaluation their use of time.
Now as we come back out and begin steps toward more in-person ministry, as the church we need to be wise and not just rush to fill the schedules of our families back up again. There was always a tension the existed related to scheduling of discipleship ministry activities and family schedules. Rather than overwhelm families, asynchronous options allow us to produce content and guided materials that can be used with in a families’ schedules that avoids unnecessary added stress to fit those activities in at less flexible times. Intentionally designing our discipleship process for youth in such a way that the rhythm moves back and forth between church to home, better equips the home to be the on-going nurturer of the faith. This flexibility also helps relieve parents of the stress of fitting one more thing on a pre-set day or night.
The next thing that I believe we can learn is that bite sized content offered asynchronously that can be accessed and interacted with when individuals are ready can be a viable way to build community.
Nothing will truly replace an embodied presence of a fellow brother or sister in Christ siting together and digging into the Scriptures. However, this year we have been able to see how people can connect through the content we develop and still grow as disciples of Christ. Just today, I had an elementary school student share how he loves the videos that we have been producing for chapel each week. While it will be great to move back to having chapel in-person, taking what we have learned in producing chapel for the students and reorienting that toward a ministry for students and their families seems to be the next natural iteration of our work.
I’ve been a big proponent of confirmation and catechesis more broadly for a couple decades now, yet the technology that we have had to rely upon during the pandemic points to longer term solutions to what for many see as shallow catechizing. Taking a flipped classroom approach to confirmation instruction, where content is provided by video and other online tools between classes for families to digest together can be supported by what we do together (whether that is by Zoom as we have been doing so often as well as in-person). I might suggest that we maintain a combination of virtual as well as in-person time to help facilitate deeper dives into the material. Being intentional in how you structure the use of both will be essential.
Before jumping into specific tech tools, let’s pause and consider how to bring parents into the conversation.
Tim Elmore, in his recent book The Pandemic Population, discusses the impact that the pandemic has had on kids over the past year. Elmore points out that youth often feel postponed, pushes aside, penalized, and panicked. Our approach to ministry moving forward needs to take these concerns into account, and I believe the best way to do this is in dialog with the family as a whole. Bring parents into the conversation. Initiate a conversation about a restorative approach to the use of technology that involves both youth and their parents. Seek to strike the right balance, respecting the boundaries that families believe are necessary to recover the wholeness and health of their children.
Fuller Youth Institute, in their book Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, note that digital natives (the youth we minister to) see their screen time as a way to remain connected to relationships, where digital immigrants (their parents) tend to see screen time as a disconnect from relational connections. Now is a great time to have conversations to help both generations understand one another, developing your strategy for tech use in youth ministry as a reflection of that conversation.
Now finally some practical tools.
- BombBomb (bombbomb.com) for personal video messages
- Canva (canva.com) for basic graphic design (great for social media)
- Music for Video Production (https://seeds.churchonthemove.com/resources/music, https://churchmediadrop.com/downloads/category/audio/, & https://open.life.church/categories/316-worship)
- Church Media Drop (https://churchmediadrop.com/) Free media for and by churches
- Free Images (https://www.creationswap.com/gallery?l=1, https://www.freebibleimages.org/, & https://seeds.churchonthemove.com/resources/)
- Church Online Platform (https://churchonlineplatform.com/) Used for livestreaming services, which can also have creative applications for youth ministry
Great youth ministry opportunities lie ahead of us. The tools are there. Try to not get overwhelmed chasing after them all. Through the Spirit, focus on the why if sharing Jesus with those in your congregation and beyond. Make a plan and bring the Gospel to the next generation!