“Losing what we thought our summer would be, just sucks!” I said that to a student a few days ago and almost immediately regretted it. It’s true, the next few months are not going to look anything like we anticipated. No camps, no mission trips, and no fun with our students. With our world in the state that it’s in, we may not get to do some things, but does the summer have to suck? Nope! Not for us, or our students. It may just be a summer of opportunity.
We are all heading into territory that we have never before confronted. A summer during a pandemic. Many of us will either be planning a phase by phase summer or one that is completely virtual. Some of us may even be where I was for a bit and considering a “dark” summer and waiting this thing out until we can get back to whatever is “normal.”
A lot of us have, in the last few months, experienced screen fatigue, the roller coaster of student engagement on our Zoom calls, and maybe even some creative blockage when it comes to our TikTok video content. I have been working so hard against all this and as I look to what the next few months could look like, I realized something.
It’s not about opposition, it’s about the opportunity. This season is filled with the opportunity to completely reimagine our ministries and what we can do this summer for our students. Here are several ideas for each phase of this summer of opportunity.
Phase 1 Summer Opportunity
Continue To Gather Online
What has your online presence been like recently? Why not continue it and make it fun? Play some games once a week and send prizes like gift cards for Uber Eats and Door Dash. My students love food! Gather on Zoom for check-in time, then use the “Breakouts” feature for various things. I am looking forward to some virtual escape rooms like those that are popping up all over the place. Place groups or grade levels into breakout rooms with a couple of adult leaders in each. Give them all the same scenario (or make it a harder one for those high schoolers) and the first group out and back into the main session wins. I thought of rigging it to have my incoming sixth-graders win as a cool way to welcome them into youth ministry!
Get creative with a weekly competition. This could be done a number of ways on different platforms. Here’s an idea: Ever watch the show “Chopped”? Gather some random food items and put them in boxes. Deliver them to your students with a note not to open until instructed. Set a date and have them watch a video or jump on a Zoom call with you and your guest judges (adult volunteers, pastors, etc.) to give them instructions and a certain amount of time to make a dish using only the items in the box and a shortlist of other optional ingredients that they may have at home. Have them send a photo of their creation (or disaster) to be judged on creativity. Maybe even bonus points if they can get a parent to taste test. It should make for a fun time or even a mess!
Maybe your church, like mine, is working on ways to phase back into things during the summer months. Gathering in small groups in the latter half of the summer may be an option. Consider grade-level groups or what some churches might call cluster groups.
Grade Level Groups are pretty self-explanatory. Plan some fun events that can be fun and done in large or open-aired spaces. Invite one group in the morning and another in the afternoon, giving time between for coming and going. It can even be the same event for a week allowing for your entire group to have the same experience (and less planning for you). You could even have a trusted leader or student per group take pictures from each gathering to send to you, ultimately resulting in an awesome slide show to post at the end of the week, so everyone feels much more connected.
When you think of Cluster Groups, think of social common interest groups. These groups could be anything from gamers, to TikTok’ers, to coffee snobs, like me, that get together (in small groups of course) (along with a couple adult leaders) and create an accepting, Christ-like community where everyone is Like-minded, cared for, and connected. A lot of our students just want the opportunity to be together, and we can provide that space for them with purpose. A great thing about cluster groups is that they can also happen virtually over a Zoom call or Google Hangouts.
Now, these are just a few ideas that I have. I know that you might have other plans and creative ideas, but our challenge is to take this time as an opportunity and not opposition. There is so much that we are all grieving right now. I am right there with you. Despairing over a lost summer and personal time with our students is valid and affirmed. However, let’s look at what we can still gain. Let’s be hope for each other and our students in this crazy time. I’m rooting for you and in continuous prayer for you, your ministries, and your churches. Let’s band together, share resources, and make our Summer 2020 a summer of opportunity!
Brandon Sangster is a 2013 YMI Graduate with a decade of youth ministry experience in small and large church settings. With a heart for Christ and connection with students, he forges a culture of belonging, acceptance, and affirmation among the students in his ministry past and present. Brandon is married to wife Gianna, dad to 10-year old son Tyson, and serves as the Director of Youth Ministries at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando, FL.