An image for a blog post about how to engage students beyond zoom

It has been several weeks of creating ways to do ministry differently. I imagine by now you have problem-solved some of the challenges of the virtual video platforms and researched solutions. Many groups are experiencing 40% – 60% of their students engaging weekly through the platforms. You may be seeing the same thing and are asking the question, “How do I engage students beyond Zoom?” Below you will find 5 ways to engage your students beyond Zoom.

How To Engage Students Beyond Zoom

Write Them A Letter

There is something energizing about receiving a handwritten letter in the mail. Many of your students may have never received one. This is a powerful opportunity to speak value and encourage them. You can order stamps and note cards online and never have to leave the house! When you write them, be specific. Try to stay away from an, “I miss you and hope you are doing well” kind of message. Tell them how you see God working in their lives. What is it that they bring uniquely to your group? What do you miss about not seeing them? Highlight the qualities of their character for which you are grateful. These kinds of notes are ones they keep. Recently, I had a former student who is now a young adult post a picture on her Instagram story of her Bible cover upon which I had written her a personal note. On her story she wrote, “Sometimes you just need reminders of the past to have strength for the future.” You may or may not see the impact of your words. But you can trust God will not waste them.

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Create a Mind, Body, and Spirit Challenge

In this season, helping our students develop wholistic healthy habits is valuable. These habits can help them increase their emotional capacity to cope. Many students are significantly less active right now. They are feeling the effects of the lack of physical movement, even if they cannot articulate it. Physical activity and social connection impact their emotions, coping ability, and their sleeping patterns. Creating a challenge is a proactive way of helping them to engage their mind, body, and spirit. And, who does not like a friendly competition? You can gamify the challenge to increase participation and accountability. Create a daily challenge that contains three elements- mind, body, and spirit. Each day they have 3 activities to do that engage each of these aspects of their beings. You could do weekly challenges or a month-long calendar. You can create a system where they keep track of their participation in the challenges and earn points. Do not feel the pressure to create this all yourself. Ask a few students who have been less engaged to help you and keep track of the points. This is another layer of involving them in ministry. Examples of challenges that engage the mind: read a chapter in a book of your choice, draw or paint something that inspires you, memorize a scripture. For engaging the body: plank for 5 minutes, take a 15-minute walk, or do 2 sets of jumping jacks, squats, and sit-ups. Examples for engaging the spirit: google a scripture with an emotion you are feeling and write it somewhere visible, text 4 people an encouraging text, spend 5 minutes praying for others, or make a list of 7 things for which you are grateful.

Utilize A Group Messaging App

Students who are hesitant to join in on Zoom may feel more comfortable engaging through written messages.  Seeing themselves on the video could create a challenge for them to be themselves and be present in our virtual gatherings. With their world completely changing, the extra energy it takes for them to engage on a video platform may just seem too much for them right now. There are a number of group messaging platforms available. GroupMe and Slack are two options that are free. The main thing is to find a platform that allows them to talk together. You may want to split up your ministry into small groups or middle school/high school depending on the size. You can also invite a couple of students to help you with starting a few conversations a week. Give them some conversation-starter tools such as: “Would You Rather” questions and “Choose Your Top 3”. You can get both of these books on Amazon. The students could also ask for prayer requests and even write a prayer for those who give a request. How cool would that be!

Have Personal Conversations with Them

One of the things we miss out on the most by not gathering physically is the personal conversations you were able to have with your students. Do not fear. You can still do this. Get out your database, create a system, and call or text them each week. Make sure you follow your church’s child protection guidelines. Carve out a couple of hours each day to just talk with students. You can get in your comfy chair and put your feet up. Depending on the size of your group, you may be able to talk with all your students each week. Or, you could invite your adult leaders to help. The goal is that each of your students has a personal touchpoint with an adult weekly.

Deliver Goodie Bags

In this season, it is easy for students to feel isolated and invisible. Goodie Bags communicate “I see you. You matter. I’m thinking about you.” Depending on the size of your group and budget, your goodie bag could have one or two items or multiple items. When filling the bags, think about fun, stress-relieving activities such as silly putty, stress balls, snacks, and devotional activities. Our church recently delivered goodie bags. The items that got the most reaction were the mini (5×6) chalkboard and a chalk pen. We asked them to write a scripture or positive message on the chalkboard every few days that would help them navigate this season. We then asked them to share it on social media – if they had access, of course.

This is a crazy season! Take heart, God has given you what you need to minister to students well. Do not feel like you have to do all of these ideas. Pick one or two and go for it. We believe in you! You can engage students beyond zoom.

Kirsten Knox, Senior Director of Ministry Partnerships

Kirsten Knox is the Executive Director of Youth Ministry Institute. Kirsten was part of the second class to complete the Youth Ministry Institute two-year coaching and training class in 2009. She has since been a coach on multiple occasions. Kirsten Knox is married and a graduate of Asbury University with a degree in youth ministry.  She began working in youth ministry in 2000, serving Pasadena Community United Methodist Church for a decade and still ministers to young people at Radius Church in St. Petersburg, FL. Click the social links below to engage with Kirsten.

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