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Going Back To Online Youth Ministry?

If you're approaching the reality of doing digital ministry yet again, we're going to guess that like us—you're probably not super-excited about it.

To be honest, this probably won’t be the last time you’ll need to—please don’t say it—pivot.

As you approach the thought or reality of doing digital ministry yet again, we’re going to guess that like us—you’re probably not super-excited about it. 

A few weeks ago, Brett called up Charlie, Candice, Ashley, Crystal, and Leslie from the Orange Students team to talk about some new ways we can all tailor our content to help students develop a personal faith through digital ministry this winter. As we talked through the daunting idea of more months of digital ministry—here’s what we learned. 

Change Up Your Format

You’ve probably noticed how difficult it is to get kids to stay engaged through a 15-minute or longer online session. There are a few things you can do differently this time around that will keep your program fresh and students engaged.

Vary Your Content Length

There’s more reason now than ever before to vary your content length. We came out of a world where we sat for an hour, or we did something for an hour, or for 30 minutes. But in the digital world where our students are, you can consume content as short as 10 seconds, 15 seconds, and on up. 

What used to be a 15-minute talk can now be broken into smaller sections. Watch two minutes, discuss a question. Watch another two minutes, discuss a question. Or—just provide a two-minute teaching to discuss in groups!

Vary Your Content Frequency

Your students are digital natives. They’re in this space all the time with all the options—what they watch, when they watch, how long they watch.

As youth leaders, we can accidentally be pretty restrictive: Meet me here at this time, for this long, doing this thing. Maybe more than ever there’s opportunity for us to vary the types of content we create, and the length of content we create for our students.

With Digital Ministry: Think Daily, Not Weekly

Don’t just show up once a week. Coach your small group leaders to show up more than once a week too. You’ll build trust when you show up digitally throughout the week. Instead of restricting your opportunities for engagement with students to one time and one place, create a range of opportunities for a student to engage with your ministry throughout the week. You’ll build trust when you repeatedly show up outside of “regularly scheduled programming.”

Questions to Ask Yourself About Digital Ministry

Ask yourself these questions as you think about how to reach students in the digital space:

  • What platforms are they using?
  • What times are they online? (Hint: it might not be Wednesday at 7 p.m.!)
  • When have I noticed that students engage with their leaders or on social media?
  • What days do most of my students engage?
  • What videos are they talking about online? What creators or influencers are they talking about?

 Now that you have a firsthand look into their digital lives, pay attention, take notes, and start emulating some of the content you see them consuming. Lucky for all of us, authenticity still beats fancy production—especially digitally.

Invite More Conversation

Are You Pushing Information or Inviting Conversation?

Instead of constantly pushing information out to kids, invite them into a discussion. Inviting them into a discussion helps them develop reasoning skills, thought processes, and new ways of considering ideas. This is especially important in digital ministry. If your social media or communication channels are only pushing information, you’ll miss a chance to have a conversation and risk your students tuning out completely.  

 Crystal Chiang said something that stopped us in our tracks:

“In my own ministry context with my own group, I’ve gotten very good at behaving as if I’m the fountain of spiritual knowledge, and if they will just come to meet with me, then I will pour that knowledge into them. But I think especially in this season with students being in their houses more, being away from friends, away from school, away from church more, we’ve got to get better at leading them to lead themselves spiritually.

We’ve got to get better at introducing the idea of: What does it look like to have a personal worship time, not just a corporate worship time on Zoom? What does it look like to learn something for yourself from the Bible instead of having someone teach it to you? What does it look like to seek out community even on the days our small group isn’t meeting? 

I think that we would miss it in 2021 if we didn’t start having those conversations about leading yourself spiritually and leading yourself toward devotional habits and a more grown-up faith.”

Don’t Underestimate the Chat Box

The introverts in your group may still not feel comfortable speaking up over Zoom or online, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to say. Instead, remember to prompt discussion in the chatbox too.

Rethink Your Small Group Sizes

Now is a great time to make sure that every group is small enough that leaders can consistently connect with students. If digital ministry is more about consistent connection than what happens during a gathering, leaders should ideally have a roster that contains few enough students for them to create real and meaningful connections throughout the week. If you need more volunteers, we created a quick guide to get your recruiting conversations off to a great start.

Use Your Resources

The energy that goes into innovation is exhausting. This is a difficult season, with more challenges than we’ve likely ever experienced at one time. 

You’re a hero just for being in ministry right now, and more than ever we all need each other to survive and thrive in a difficult ministry environment. 

If you’re an XP3 High School or Middle School curriculum partner, you have access to: 

  • An Orange Specialist available to consult, coach, and help you make the most of your curriculum and ministry strategy. 
  • Strategy Sessions with other ministry leaders hosted by your Orange Specialist. 
  • New Digital and Home Group adaptations to your XP3 curriculum.

Our Orange Students team creates high-quality curriculum for leaders who know they can do more with the right resources and team. To check out our age-specific curriculum for youth ministry, head to thinkorange.com/xp3. You can start a trial for free, and get access to a ministry specialist who can help answer all your questions.

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