There is a tremendous sense of hope in starting over, but that eager anticipation is often accompanied by daunting tasks. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel rejoiced at the opportunity to return to Jerusalem after a seventy-year exile, but there was plenty of work needed. With the helpful leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, the people of God re-built the temple and protective wall and renewed their covenant with the Lord. They were re-unified and spiritually revived.
As churches continue to emerge from the challenges of the pandemic, it’s important to assess what and how we need to rebuild. Some groups have been able to meet in person for months and others might still be returning gradually, but we can all take stock of our situations and evaluate how to grow and refresh. As we continue to nurture youth programs in the wake of the pandemic, it is essential to focus on strengthening student relationships. This is an opportunity to foster recent friendships and renew old ones through a variety of activities and methods.
Opportunities for Restoration
Building back after Covid shut-downs (or any sort of tumultuous event) provides youth leaders with a chance to try new things. In a way, this is an opportunity to hit the “organizational re-set button” on programs. There are likely to be some elements of programming that we realize needed changing. We can let go of certain components, and others can be adjusted as we examine what “normal” should look like post-pandemic.
Rebuilding youth groups is not going to be a total start from scratch process, since a solid foundation is hopefully in place already. However, leaders can view this as a chance for rededication and renewal. Group dynamics might change, and it’s important to see that they are altering for the better. It’s also essential to take time to discuss ministry goals, the value of programming towards those goals, potential adjustments and plans. Leaders and teens should meet together to evaluate how restoration will take place.
Renewing Existing Relationships
Every youth group is different, and each group is going to be in a different stage when it comes to rebuilding and returning from the “exile” of shut-downs. As we consider how to re-build and restore, there are several methods we can employ to strengthen relationships among teens and revive the spirit of a group. Consider team-building activities that can bring together youth group veterans and newcomers and establish a sense of community and trust. Perhaps host a game night or go on a group hike, or try an escape room experience (there are some “DIY” escape room options online, if none are open in your area). This is also a great time to begin a new Bible study or study series.
If there are some in the group who still prefer minimal contact or cannot meet in person, this could even take place in a hybrid format or with an online option. Refreshing old things can even involve physical meeting space. Get everyone involved in a youth room make-over, whether it means rearranging furniture, adding a pool table, or even re-painting the walls. Be creative with choosing the ideal relationship builders for the specific needs of your group members, and have fun!
As youth groups re-build, it is critical to recognize and take advantage of openings to welcome newcomers. This includes chances to bring outsiders into a group, as well as techniques for incorporating new students who have arrived since Covid. Many people at this point are looking for ways to become socially connected. This is a powerful moment to share the good news of Jesus with young people.
Youth groups are a wonderful avenue for establishing friendships. If leaders are seeking to grow groups, think about hosting special events in which existing members are strongly encouraged to invite friends. There might also be opportunities for youth groups to get involved in community project such as tutoring or sports, which could be avenues of spreading the word about ministry events.
For students who are new to a group, it’s important to make sure that they feel welcome and included. In larger crews, it might be helpful to deliberately pair newcomers with another student or two, allowing them to build connections and establish friendships. It might also be a good time to start (or re-start) a “council” of sorts, and invite new student leadership, if appropriate. Incorporating newer attendees insight into planning and events helps them to feel invested as part of the team, and facilitates fresh energy into groups.
Wait Upon the Lord
Patience is essential throughout any rebuilding process. The reconstruction of the Jerusalem temple took over four years to complete, and that was a relatively “brief” time span. As leaders, we need to remember that we are not in control of all details. There are many elements to consider when refreshing an area of ministry. The most important thing to do is remain constant in prayer. We cannot grow discouraged when numbers or programs don’t seem to boom immediately. Allow room for mistakes and allow time for ministry to develop. Rejoice in new moments to share the Gospel. Recognize that we do our best to nurture relationships and expand youth groups, but ultimately it is God who acts to build His church.