ReGathering the Brood
I’m guessing that like us, you’ve had a tough year in youth ministry. While we started out doing a mix of online and outdoor gatherings, the spike in cases around November made us fully online for the rest of this academic calendar. As we were contemplating our monthly blogpost reflection on multi-church ministry, I realized there was a voice I needed to hear from, and maybe you did too: the kids who stopped showing up.
With the shift online many of the pillars of our group disappeared. Confession Time: I’m scared we’ve lost them for good.
I try to remind myself of the ways that our shift online also brought us new attendees (even from out of state), new opportunities (like connecting with kids in their homes), and creative ministry ideas (like care-packages and love pranks). And some of the most meaningful ministry we did this year was only possible in small intimate gatherings. But I’m sure many of you are feeling the same anxiety that I’m feeling right now: for the kids who didn’t take to online youth group, did we lose those kids forever or will they return when we are back in person?
So I decided to check-in with one of those pillars who for multiple reasons just didn’t have the capacity for online youth group. Here’s what her mom wrote and gave me permission to share:
“My teenager has been involved with OASIS since the beginning of high school. As a parent I’m grateful for all that I’ve seen or heard – the caring adult leadership, the silly games, the new friends, the hands-on experiences, and the conversations about life from a spiritual and Christian perspective with a synergy of nurturance, acceptance, and challenge. I’m also grateful that OASIS lives as a faith-based community that is not dogmatic, but open to and encouraging of questions, doubts, questing, and exploration.
While my kid has rarely participated while OASIS has been online (With school online, there are only so many talking heads in boxes one can take!), I’m grateful that they’re looking forward to in-person OASIS. What a gift, a blessing, an ordinary-life, extraordinary joy!”
I’ll also note that the youth referenced here was also serving in other leadership capacities on a committee in our congregation during this year. Which is always an important point to remember: if you want your youth to feel like they are included in the life of the church, give your youth meaningful leadership roles. So I knew she wasn’t completely gone. But it gives me some hope to think that maybe the kids who have “disappeared” didn’t actually disappear. Maybe they were just on sabbatical. Maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder. Maybe they are eager to come back full swing. Maybe we’ve created some healthy F.O.M.O. But come back to what?
In a completely separate conversation, this youth said that the thing she missed the most from youth group was our “Midnight Vespers” that we would do on every lock-in and retreat. On those over-night adventures pre-pandemic, knowing the kids will be staying up late anyway, we always close out the program around 11pm-12am with a simple service. We turn down the lights and light a candle. We sound a meditation singing bowl. We sit in silence. We sing a song. We read some scripture. We introduce a relatable theme that the scripture raises. Then we invite them to share a story or reflection on the theme. And we go around the circle giving everyone a chance to share. Then we close in prayer & sing a lullaby. Simple. And surprisingly effective.
And yet for some reason, I was completely shocked to learn that Midnight Vespers was the thing this youth grouper missed the most. Think about that for a minute. Sure she missed playing sardines and other silly games. Sure she missed her friends. Sure she missed the high ropes trip and the Escape the Room night and ice skating night. But the thing she missed the most about in-person programming was worship.
Sometimes, I get so caught up in the flashy fun of youth group that I forget the simple sanctuary of youth group is what makes youth ministry so unique, so impactful, and so much more than just another social club.
Sure, not all the kids who have “disappeared” will come back. But checking in with this family was an important reminder for me that even if they’re not present for our current ministry, our past ministry is still a part of who they are. And as we anxiously try to imagine whatever youth group will be in this new reality, it’s important to remember that the most important thing we can offer them is the lovingly inclusive community of faith they have been craving, the sanctuary that gives them space to dive deep into the big questions with people they trust, the act of worship.
Written by: Rev Jack Perkins Davidson