Youth Ministry Hardships | Connecting in Covid-Culture
For many of us, communication has become… challenging during this quarantine. In fact, I wrote this post weeks ago, then kept updating it with each new bit of advice, caution, order for quarantine, and shelter-in-place. At this point, many of us have had to learn, on the job, the remote options for communication. I’m going to break this post into two parts: communicating with adults (parents, staff, committee members, etc.) and communicating with your teens. First…the adults.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)
You may not already know this acronym, but I am sure you have lived it. “Too Long; Didn’t Read” sums up my life right now. I need information. I need to know details and deadlines. What I don’t need are a dozen communications stating they know I am bored and are requesting “just 10 minutes.” As a parent, pastor, and professor, I get more electronic communication each day than I can possibly manage. I triage once in the morning, deleting half of what I receive reading only the subject line.
Then I postpone what I can and address what I must. I skim… everything at this point. I’m probably not supposed to admit that publicly, but I know I’m not alone in this. I even skim when I know I should read carefully simply because there is so much and I am so weary of the daily electronic onslaught.
So how do you still get important info out to the adults in your ministry without getting lost in the noise? Brevity. Be as brief as possible.
If extensive details or explanations are necessary, offer a two sentence summary at the very beginning of your communication. Name the main point of this communication, any action item with a deadline, and allow your people the courtesy to move on.
My daughter has a first-year teacher, anxious and working hard to communicate well. She wrote a 1500 word email AND had a five-page attachment redundantly explaining her email. It was peppered with doses of encouragement for parents and her own confessions of falling short. OK…say it once if you need to and then move on. Don’t make me read that for five pages! The same thing applies in ministry.
After brevity come the bullet points. Assume your leaders and parents are competent. Once you have named the reason for the communication and offered a brief rationale, important details can follow in bullet points. They are easier to read, digest, and respond to as needed.
Close with a blessing. No need to offer a full blown sermon in email. You don’t need to lose your voice or pastoral presence. You can close with a scripture, a word of encouragement, a prayer, or other blessing as you see fit.
In this time of overcommunication, brevity, bullet points, and a blessing will bring you the greatest chance of engagement and actually having your words read.
U THERE to BYE
Adolescents are digital natives. If you don’t know that term, look it up. This is a fundamental insight for YMin 101. Adolescents always navigate technology better than the adults around them. It’s OK to be the adult in the room AND not know everything. Your expertise lies elsewhere.
Ask your students which platforms they prefer. For some, Zoom is second nature. Others have been living on Google Classroom, Chat, Hangout, and Connect. That’s all before we get to Instagram, gaming systems, and good old fashioned calls to each other! Once your students have named what they prefer, call up your trusted ministry friends and ask them to play around with the technology with you.
It’s totally cool to ask teens which they like best, but it’s not cool for you to log on and not know the basics of that platform. My kids recently changed the virtual background on Zoom to giant squirrels. If I didn’t already know about this feature… well, thank goodness, I did.
Many students have stumbled through this quarantine. There was a baseline assumption that they would be fine since they already spent so much time online. This is not necessarily the case. Research is showing that technology enhances relationships IRL, but does not replace them. They have class assignments, choir practice, dance, virtual workouts for sports, and almost every imaginable option out there.
What they’re missing is unstructured time and unstructured time together. We youth workers have been so anxious about the delivery and content of faith formation that we are forgetting that hangout-and-do-nothing-time is priceless.
Try having space for youth to just hang out virtually. Let them know you’ll be there for a couple hours and they can come and go as they please. Use the chat rooms that some platforms offer for small groups to connect or kids to just chat. Safety rules still apply. Look for another adult to be present as youth jump in asking “U THERE?” Or stepping away with a simple “BYE.” Youth have had to navigate school and extracurriculars while sharing space and devices in their households. Do not interpret it as rude when a youth leaves abruptly after typing “BYE.”Perhaps they have a parent telling them to “get off now!” and they have learned to go with little notice.
Nothing replaces in person time interactions. This will only apply in these unusual circumstances but…be cautious and know your community when it comes to trying in person time. Even with the best of intentions for physical distancing and trying to communicate, “the drift” happens. What is the drift you ask? It’s that unintentional gravitational pull that people have to be close together.
Youth struggle to be in the same space and not gather. So do their parents! If you are uncertain, either for health reasons or policy reasons at your church, err on the side of caution. It is less than ideal, but our newfound knowledge of sending video updates to parents, and scheduling Bible study or youth group time via Zoom is still an option.
When you do gather in person again, and that time will come, be certain to communicate in every possible way, as clearly as possible, what your plans are for the immediate and long term. Do not leave it to your students to let their parents know. Something will get lost in transmission.
You will likely need a hybrid model, with some attending in person while others remain isolated. Different families will have different responses to reopening based on many factors. You may not agree, but assume every family is doing what they believe is best for the health of their child and family. This includes not only physical health but mental and spiritual health, too.
The next step in communication will be finding creating ways to support families in transition as we youth workers do what we do best, love Jesus and adolescents as we foster faith formation.
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.