What on earth do you want to hear from a children and youth ministry director in 2022? I asked that in the PC(USA) Leaders Facebook group and had 37 comments in a matter of two days. There are so many question marks with how to reach our young people that their requests ranged from “how do you start from scratch” to “how do you convince people it’s okay to volunteer, even when they feel like they’re too old.”
Like so many other things in your ministries already the answer is singular: Relationships.
You do not start a Women’s Circle with one person putting an announcement in the bulletin saying, “let’s do this,” you start with an invitation to people you already know a little bit and find a common conversation or task to sit around.
The same is true when your congregation decides to reach out to the community – any part of the community, not just young families, or young people – you need to start by finding common ground.
While other churches took big losses in their youth ministry during the heart of the Pandemic, we were able to pivot our middle school group to Zoom. Typically, we end our program year for them in late April, but they continued to meet, week after week on Wednesdays, because they knew it was a safe space to explore what they were going through together. We structured it with a quick check in, a group game and then just a virtual hang out space that morphed into playing a phone-game that could be played by all and talked through during breaks.
The game needed at least six people to play it well, so when we fell short of that they started calling their friends to jump into the zoom and onto the game. Suddenly we hit the max of 10 players, so I just sat back and watched and caught up with them while they played.
I never invited these “bonus” students – they were invited by a friend for something they had a little interest in. When we started back in person in the fall of 2021 our middle school group was twice as big as when we went into pandemic.
You cannot start a family ministry from scratch if you do not have families on the inside already, just like you would not start a clown ministry without a clown in your midst. (Not a far jump from youth ministry to clowns, trust me!) Take the time to find out what the young people or families in your church have interest in, capitalize on it and then begin inviting others in.
For us this summer it’s the Bubble Bus – we have literally planned an evening where we are buying popsicles and will have the Bubble Bus in the parking lot. That’s it. Our families are excited, and they are inviting friends – folks that would not have crossed our paths before.
By putting relationships at the front of your public-facing ministry you will then be able to incorporate them better. It’s what you would do for those already in your midst, you just have to be willing to push beyond your comfort levels.
But it just may be worth it.
Director of Children, Youth and Family Ministries
First Presbyterian Church, Kirkwood
*Yes, this is his official staff photo in the church photo directory