We were on a roll.
Our youth ministry programs had seen steady growth for a couple years. The children and youth were in a regular pattern of coming weekly. They were coming in large numbers –about 80 to 100 each week. Our Wednesday after-school Kids Club alone had a regular attendance of around 50 weekly. Our small building was being pushed to its max and our newly-acquired bus was getting worn-in quickly. We were having meetings to discuss management of the crowds. Due to the significant number of children we see living in trauma, we were about to take new steps in behaviour management. We also had plans to expand our youth programs in areas of leadership training, mentorship, and job readiness.
We were on a roll.
There was growth in the Gospel. All those kids attending were hearing a Bible story, working through a lesson, or discussing how to apply the Bible to their lives. Our Kids Club was heading into the home stretch of a three-year journey through the main stories of the Bible. Our Boys and Girls Clubs had just finished up a series on Romans and were going through some of the prophets: Jonah was complete, and Daniel was begun. Our Youth Group was a few weeks into t
he Life Explored program. We were in regular discussions about our teaching strategies and methods. We were continually asking ourselves, what is the most effective way to reach these kids with God’s Word? And it was working. They were hearing the Good News. Discovering Jesus. Clearly God was blessing us as we rolled out our plans.
And then, a jolting halt. COVID-19 pulled the brakes.
The COVID-19 virus stood firmly in the way of our rolling youth ministry. It seemed to be against everything we stood for. Social distancing?! Our youth ministry was thriving because we were breaking down the barriers of social distancing! We were packing the building full. Feeding hungry tummies after school. Hugging those that needed a hug. High-fiving teens as they beat us in basketball. Building relationships. We were creating a physical safe space for the youth in our neighbourhood and it was centred on the open arms of God’s love. But, in a momen
t, our methods and activities had become unsafe.
This was not in our plans.
A jolting stop in ministry work is rarely asked for, but is often a blessing. At the very least it is a time to stop and reflect. A time to pray. A time to witness God’s power and control. As a youth ministry team, we had to regroup, rethink, and adapt. We knew that our essential goals didn’t have to change. We still had to proclaim the Good News. We still had to build relationships. And we still had to serve and love our neighbours. We just had to change our methods, try new things and venture along different paths.
And so, we restarted.
We went into the March break thinking we would be making plans to grow our ministry according to our original ideas, but instead we came out of that week with a whole new youth ministry. We had no intention of growing. It was a maintenance project; just an effort to survive the storm. Kids Club would now be produced on YouTube, with its same elements of fun, singing, prayer and Bible story. The older youth would “gather” online and connections would be made through messaging. Safely conducted door-side visits would be made to bring things to families and to check in on their health and needs. We brought school supplies and lesson material. We brought groceries and weekly fresh bread, games for the kids, flowers at Mother’s Day, books and Bibles. No hugging, but lots of smiles. For two months and counting our youth ministry has looked like something we never could have imagined or planned.
And we’ve grown.
By Erik Hoeksema, Youth Worker