3 Ways Online Church Doesn’t Meet Your Students

Bryant Westbrook
March 18th, 2021

This season of youth ministry has been different for all of us and I think it’s incredible to see how many ministries have adapted new ways of reaching students into their programming. The church I help lead went completely online, probably around the same time many of your ministries did, and we still offer online content. I strongly believe in utilizing the tools we have to reach students on whatever platforms accessible. I believe we should be doing whatever it takes to make these tools and platforms successful. In today’s student ministry world, it’s almost a necessity.

This is where I am at in my relationship with online resources, we’ve tried to hold sight of the idea that online attendance hopefully, eventually ends with in-person attendance. Here are 3 ways  I’ve seen online church not be as great of a benefit vs. in-person youth ministry.


I recently had a mentor tell me something I found to be true, “Student ministry is relationally driven no matter what way you try to explain it.” There was a lot of truth in this statement. Students often engage at the level of relationship they have with a leader or the pastor.

My wife is a high school math teacher and her school is still almost 100% online, so I asked her opinion. She voiced that for her, much of teaching math is about building relationships with her students. Although her students show up for class online, they often hide their screens and don’t engage in conversation. She also said that even the students that have A’s in class aren’t as involved as she’d like them to be. It stems from the lack of relationships being built.

For us youth workers, it’s safe to say we’ve experienced the same thing. In-person, we can build strong relationships around community, fun, games, and teaching students how to follow Jesus that’s more beneficial than online.

It doesn’t work for every student

Let’s be real, engaging students online is a struggle for a lot of youth workers. When I first started doing Zoom meetings almost all of our students would show up on screen.  But as the months kept going, I discovered things weren’t as great as I had hoped. One reason is an assumption many of us make, we think students are tech-savvy because they are young. We think they are experts at getting online and staying engaged through a tablet, phone, or computer. Realistically, the students that aren’t tech-savvy aren’t having genuine conversations that engage them to grow deeper in faith. Assuming students are tech-savvy is something we must get past doing. We got to make a way for them to engage in real conversations that hopefully lead to them taking a step in their walk with Jesus.

Students hide themselves

One thing I ran into a ton in our ministry was students can attend an online gathering and use a fake name, such as “iPhone” or anything else, for access! This allows students to be fake, avoiding real conversations with their leaders. This reason alone is why students can fall between the cracks and stop attending. 

Something to consider.  If you are doing limited online ministry, or exclusively online, I want you to know that your willingness to try something new is amazing. Your work is not wasted and you’re planting seeds for future growth. If you are using online, come up with ways to make it uber engaging! Use online hosts to set up the content, play silly games that make students laugh, give students ownership of the services by giving them roles like scripture reading.  

In short, work to make the online experience unique to your context.

Bryant Westbrook

Bryant is currently part of the Next Generation staff at Pathway Church in Wichita, KS. Bryant has served as a missionary in Alaska, program staff for youthworks, youth pastor and has a passion for student leadership. He blogs regularly at bryantwestbrook.com and his contact information is bryant.westbrook@pathwaychurch.com

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.