Have you ever had the urge just to stop something and start over again?
Me too, about our church’s youth ministry. It turns out wisdom is not hard to find at a conference (NYMW 2017) full of youth workers. I floated the idea past Neil O’Boyle, who 20 years previously had set up the same youth ministry I was now proposing to stop. After a long chat the overarching question remained, ‘why?’.

Everything was going okay. There was lots going on. Like many churches we ran Sunday discipleship group, mid-week Bible studies, 1-2-1 mentoring, regular schools work and an after-school drop-in. On reflection the answer was ‘I’m tired and I don’t have space to think. I am just keeping everything running’. In thriving, in my mind, ‘more’ rather than ‘better’, had become the indicator of success.

The wisdom helped. My radical stopping plan shifted from a full-blown stamping on the brakes to gentle intention taps to create space to innovate; learning to put down before picking up.

Then almost overnight my dream of 3 years prior became true. Like everyone, I was forced to stop everything.

Sometimes the dream has been just that, a dream. Other times the dream has more or less resembled a nightmare I’d rather be woken from (which is ironic because what I actually needed was sleep!). All in all, this season has actually been a ‘healthy pause’ for me; I have learnt a lot that I would never have had without it. Here are my 4 main points of learning

1.    I CAN DO ADMIN – A friend of mine always says, ‘You don’t do youth work to do admin, you do admin because you love those young people.’. There’s nothing like a global pandemic to force you to improve you admin. From writing brand new policies & procedures for online young ministry to daily devotions on Instagram, to organising 9 online youth groups at various times of day throughout the week along with an amazing group of volunteers + everything else. Doing admin has become something I actually enjoy (never ever did I think I’d ever write that!).

2.    ONLINE IS OKAY – It’s funny how little we’d thought about online youth ministry before lockdown. Had you ever heard of Zoom before? After 3 weeks and a load of admin later we began our online youth groups.

We saw previously unchurched young people leading prayers for their groups. New volunteers stepping up and leading every week with amazing fruit from the relationship built. Young people going deeper into God’s word than ever before. And, surprisingly, it was actually quite good fun.

Of course it wasn’t all plain sailing, after a month or so the need particularly for our younger boys to meet physically became very apparent as the zoom fatigue hit. But, online is okay (we don’t need to be afraid of it, a good safeguarding policy goes along way!) and we now have a load of resources that we didn’t have before.

3.    COMMUNICATE WITH PARENTS / CARERS – We should never see young people in isolation and secondly never underestimate how much better you can do your job of growing young people when their parents/carers talk to you.

Before lockdown I’d send the occasional email to share information & have a few short chats when parents were picking up their child. All I did at the beginning of lockdown was set up a WhatsApp group with all of the parents in. Later this grow to ringing parents up to ask how they, their child(ren) and family were, what I could do to help and how I could pray for them. Subsequently, parents are communicating more with me and I’m able to do my job of supporting young people better.

4.    GOD IS BIGGER – As we go back to in-person groups there seems to be a load more challenges (& admin) than before. Who knows what will be next? Yes, my practical learning of the past few months will help, but in this season of uncertainty, confusion and suffering, I’m being taught to hold on to God. He is Sovereign over it all and our hope in Him & His promises are secure in Christ. His plans, not mine.

Why not visit our Welcoming Children and Young People Toolkit page to think about how you might welcome back children and young people to your church.