I am so looking forward to the death of a very specific phrase. You’ve probably said this phrase. It’s a 100% true statement. It’s deflating to say. “COVID changed everything.”
Again, it’s true. COVID has changed so much in so many different ways – for good and for bad. COVID took how we traditionally did ministry (on-site of the church) and forced us into new areas and digital ministry. That isn’t bad, online worship can be really great, it helped people stay in the habit. However, many ministries stopped meeting for 6-12 months, and they may not have recovered.
Being in these positions, you need to restart. But where do you start a restart? Here are 3 things I have done in Youth Ministry that have helped us get off to a good restart.
Do a Self-Evaluation
If you are looking to restart a ministry, one of the biggest obstacles might be the thought that you must start from scratch. That’s not true! You don’t need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Very rarely is nothing working. You do need to find what to keep and what to get rid of, though. Find out what is working and what can be better. Here is a self-evaluation exercise that I have use all the time:
- On a sheet of paper, put the name of the ministry you are evaluating
- Answer, “What is the purpose of this ministry?” 4 “Hallmarks” that I’ve used in evaluating ministries are 1) Teaching 2) Fellowship (relationships, games, fun) 3) Service/Missions 4) Worship. You may have other ways to describe your ministry’s purpose. Our church has a very specific vision statement that all our ministries are molded around – so when we ask this question we see if it fits our vision. It is okay if there are multiple answers to this for some of your ministries or if you only have one purpose for some ministries.
- Answer, “Does this ministry actually meet this purpose?” You need to be honest when doing this. That’s the only way to get an honest evaluation.
- Answer, “What are the needs of the people this ministry serves?”
- Answer, “Does this ministry meet those needs?” When you answer this question, don’t jump to HOW you can meet the needs – simply answer if it DOES meet the needs.
After answering these questions, You may find many things. You may see how well a program is running. Hopefully you will see areas for improvement. You may also find pieces that are not working or that need to be ended. After answering these questions, formulate an action plan with some steps to move forward. An honest ministry self-evaluation will help you know what needs to be restarted, rejuvenated, or completely changed/ended. You can do this as an individual, with your leadership team, and a mixed group of leaders and students.
There may be other factors that need to play into this Self-Evaluation. Do you have enough Adult Leaders? Do you have the means to make changes? Do you have a budget? If so, how much? These questions and many more may help you evaluate and make your action plan for moving forward. I like to do an informal mini-evaluation quarterly on the ministries I am responsible for, but make sure to do this formally each year (typically in May/June).
Focusing on Relationships In All Things
When I went through the self-evaluation for our Senior High Youth Nights coming out of COVID shutdowns, I noticed that of our two purposes – Fellowship and Teaching – that only teaching was being met. And when I mean met, I mean MET. Like hour long Bible study and discussions MINIMUM (our Youth Nights are 6:30-8:30pm, but only structured from 7:00-8:30pm). It isn’t bad to have that kind of teaching, and it still happens now every now and then, but it did not allow our purpose of Fellowship to be met.
To change this on our restart, we decided to make relationships, community, and fun the more important priority of our Youth Nights. We made a commitment to do an ice breaker or team builder (or both) every time we met BEFORE our Jesus Time. That might be a classic ice breaker, it might be a round of trivia, it might be a challenge course, riddles, or something else to get them better connected to each other, the Adult Leaders, and to me.
Our teaching time went from a long teaching message with questions to a note card with 1 Bible verse on the front and 3 questions on the back (I do have other questions that aren’t on the note card that we discuss together). We have simplified the time and while we may still spend more than 30 minutes on Bible study, we won’t have missed our time building relationships. Pushing more towards discussing in the Bible study has kept pressure off me and let God work through His Word in the hearts of the youth there.
The Gospel is shared through the Holy Spirit’s work in the word and through people. If we do not show we care about people, they are less likely to pay attention to our teaching, doing (service/mission), or worship. Many kids lost some aspect of relational development during the pandemic – so having them grow in Christian community with each other and with you as a supportive adult is important.
In my opinion, this is where restarting needs to start in earnest. We need to spend time helping young people deeply understand their baptismal faith. But we also need healthy relationships between peers and adults. Jesus’ ministry wasn’t spent just in teaching. He spent time getting to know the people He was teaching and serving. He ate meals with them, went to weddings with them, walked with them, and more.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Communication is big, whether you’ve made small tweaks or big changes. Something I started doing coming out of COVID was making a “What Your Youth Can Expect” sheet. I send it in with a letter each August as we get ready for weekly Youth Nights. It includes the time, what we do, and more. This school year it included a part about how we were going to focus more on relationships and ice breakers.
Do I think many parents read that? No – but at least it was there for them to read. Over communication is the best kind of communication. When we made a whole-sale change to confirmation, we didn’t do much communicating and that was a mistake that took a year and a half to remedy. Communicate all the key program components and then some. You can even include information that helps key parents into faith conversations they can have in their home. Communicate the changes you are making or are planning on making not matter the size or scope with parents, students, and anyone else you feel needs to know.
As you look to restart, revitalize, and reshape your ministry, remember that God is with you. Remember that no matter the decisions you make that Jesus is still at the center of everything we do. Programs come and go, but what stays the same is God glorified, good, and working in all things. It’s all about Him – He will make it so.