Just over a year ago, we had no vocabulary for some of the common things we are walking through now. It was not normal or even necessary to prompt people to socially distance. We didn’t have spots on the ground to help us know what “6 feet apart” looked like. We didn’t have signs on doors reminding us to put masks on. The messaging of washing our hands with water for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer before we ever touch our face has definitely been amped up. We are living in a time where due to this pandemic, we have more barriers and more sterile environments than ever before. It makes sense that we don’t want to create any spaces where this virus could be passed or grown, but with that we are feeling the effects of killing something else. These safer environments have made community hard to grow, be passed, or caught. So as we come out of these precautionary spaces, how do we begin to intentionally create opportunities that cause community to grow again? We figured out quickly how to socially distance, so how do we give just as much thought to socially nearing?
There is no doubt that there will be students and families that feel different levels of comfort as restrictions change from social distancing to socially normal. Consider helping to create transitions to help people feel more comfortable as they move closer to each other.
One way to make those transitions is offering spaces for both people who are still getting used to social nearing and those that are already socially close. I like to use the analogy of a swimming pool. There are some swimmers that are ready to dive in and by offering a deep end with a diving board, those swimmers will be as happy and content. However, there are some people that are scared of the water and need to be able to have the comfort of touching the ground and wading in. It makes sense then for pools to also come equipped with a shallow end for those who are not quite ready for the deep end.
There will be anxiety for some students and families as they return, so how can you create some areas in your ministry spaces that allow for deep dives into social nearing and those that are still wading in?
- Have areas in your large gathering that are still socially spaced for those that are needing that extra cushion of distance still.
- Use name tags to ease the discomfort of having to remember names when people have gotten taller or changed during the year that they may have been away, and to help welcome new students in.
- Play get to know you games as icebreakers to allow new opportunities to hear from each other. It will feel like a reboot of your ministry in a lot of ways, so don’t miss the opportunity to create social connections through games.
- Clearly explain the expectations of coming back on your website and regular communications. It will be very helpful for people to know what the norms are as they re-enter life with the student ministry.
- Encourage students to interact and share with one another at some point during each gathering, both large group and small group. This may seem like a no-brainer, but for many students for several months, they have only been expected to log on to asynchronous learning and have not engaged in real-time conversations with their peers regularly.
- Provide areas where students can interactively respond whether that means writing down prayers on a prayer wall or taking a challenge to do something that week. Students are needing small action steps to re-ignite their entrepreneurial hard wiring.
- Provide opportunities for students to begin owning their faith. Begin asking your students to do more than just show up and invite a friend. Encourage them to evaluate where they are and to help connect them to leaders and resources to “socially near” to God if they have become distanced.
- Consider having students and leaders fill out an information card to find out about things they want you to know about and how you can pray for them. Use those cards to help you re-engage with students and pray for them
- Treat this season as a reboot. Relaunch vision and communicate values so that those that are brand new and those that are returning will be on the same page.
- Consider having some opportunities outside of normal programming for small groups of students to connect with leaders and each other at places they normally frequent. Little pop-up events for small groups can allow for students that are overwhelmed by large groups to wade in easier.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 says: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
Paul said these words to a group of new believers that were going through hard times of persecution and Paul wanted them to know that it was important to continue to encourage one another and build one another up. Paul knew they didn’t need to be isolated from one another but they needed to be built up. We need to be built together in Christ and we need each other. Our students, families and leadership have endured isolation, frustration, apathy, and discouragement during difficult times. We as leaders need to make sure that they hear the hope of the gospel, encouragement from fellow believers, and that it’s okay for them to want to jump back in or wade in—we’re just glad they’re here!
Amy-Jo Girardier is the Girls Minister at Brentwood Baptist in Brentwood, TN. She has been serving in this role for 19 years and keeps pinching herself that this is what she gets to do for a job! She also is the founding editor of www.girlsminister.com, a website created to connect and resource girls minister, moms, and youth workers engaged in the girls ministry conversation. She is also the author of two Lifeway Girls video-driven Bible studies: Authentic Love and Faithful One. In addition to ministry, Amy-Jo loves using technology, passing on her love of technology to others, drinking coffee, running, serving on staff with her husband Darrel, and hanging out with her sons Scout and Skylar.