As COVID-19 changes the landscape of our lives, youth groups and children's ministries within Christian Reformed congregations have met the challenge of lockdown measures with creativity.
Jubilee Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in St. Catharines, Ont., normally sees about 100 children and teens at their weekly programs. When the church stopped gathering in-person, the church’s children and youth ministry coordinator Anna Bailey searched for a new way to connect. She contacted the families of Jubilee, asking for photos of their milestones, new experiences, family games, or new daily practices. These photos were gathered into a slideshow shared during online church. It allowed the isolating community to still celebrate each other’s daily lives. “I received quite a few emails and texts saying that people felt emotional and sometimes weepy seeing everyone's faces. We miss each other, of course.” Bailey continues to create weekly community-life videos.
“Everyone is in a fight-or-flight mode as we watch the tidal wave of COVID-19 hit North America,” said Bailey, who is also the youth ministry champion for Classis Niagara, a regional group of CRC’s. Church leaders need to recognize that everyone—including themselves—is reacting to the pandemic in different ways, she said. “We need to empathize with this stress, and meet our young people and families where they are at.”
Travis Deur, director of faith formation at Faith CRC, in New Brighton, Minn., maintains community carrying on ‘virtual’ youth group. At a particular time each week, young people log in at the same time to a video meeting. Snacks can’t be shared over the internet, but most everything else can. Deur said it gives a space to discuss “what we’re missing and mourning and also what we are grateful for during this time.” They talk about teaching videos they watched beforehand, chat with each other, and participate in fun activities such as home-based scavenger hunts, online games, and competitions. Deur and ministry partners are even exploring the possibility of a virtual marathon for fundraising. The youth understand that “we're not really social distancing, it's physical distancing,” said Deur. “I want to provide them with continued opportunities to connect with each other and build community and relationships.”
The youth group at Encounter Church, in Kentwood, Mich., has also migrated to online gatherings. Still, youth director Josh Pressley said the best thing is to get back to the basics. "I sent all of my youth and preteen leaders my master roster with every student's address and asked them to join me in calling and writing letters to students,” Pressley said. “The cool thing about letters is that kids don’t get mail anymore. So when they receive a handwritten letter, it’s special. This is the objective … to remind them that they are not alone, God loves them and is with them and that we are still able to be the church and do life together."
In Surrey, B.C., youth pastor Natasha Vedder and the youth of Fleetwood CRC had planned a skit for Palm Sunday. How do you put on a skit while maintaining physical distance? Each part of the skit was filmed outdoors, with only two or three people present at a time. Vedder then edited the pieces together. The compilation was shared during the church’s online-broadcast Palm Sunday service.
Physical separation during COVID-19 is a challenge for youth ministries but also an opportunity. These digital connections may continue past the pandemic, Deur said. There are unique ways we can build intergenerational connections right now, Bailey said. No matter how a church is engaging their youth right now—whether with innovative methods or a simple text message— every connection matters.