The pandemic showed our primary (in many cases sole) dependency on synchronous in-person gatherings. Some ministries were able to pivot to other ways of helping youth in their faith development; others stalled and were unable to adapt. It’s clear that we need to consider other ways of engaging in discipleship to allow for greater adaptability, whether it’s for individual or societal reasons.
There are 4 channels for consideration:
- 1:1 connections
- Synchronous onsite / in-person
- Synchronous online
No one channel is intended to replace another, rather they work as complements to one another.
This is the most conventional form of programming in youth ministry. The in-person gathering allows for deep interpersonal and social interactions. So much happens when a group of youth learn, share, and have fun together. Some suggest the program part of the youth group meeting is really an “excuse” for youth to gather and be with one another. Informal conversations become easier to start because of the attendees’ proximity to one another. Many youth remember the spontaneous and informal moments more than the program. They learn relational skills, and hopefully sense a place of belonging in the group.
While this is an effective channel in discipleship, it also runs the risk of becoming the most precarious format if the discipleship process relies exclusively on every person’s availability/consistency. Whether it’s because of other commitments (e.g. jobs) or health/safety concerns, the likelihood of a youth showing up for every gathering is low.
Real-time collaborative online engagement is becoming a vital part of youth ministry. The effectiveness of synchronous online engagement depends on how it complements/supplements synchronous on-site gatherings. Content and dialogue happen in a very different ways online compared to on-site. One method/delivery of content cannot be transplanted directly from one medium to the other. Understanding those differences is essential to successfully adapting methods that engage youth and program content.
Some have used the term “hybrid youth ministry”. Generally, this refers to having both on-site and online channels, however before a useful discussion can occur it’s necessary to agree about whether this refers to both onsite and online happening simultaneously and all interacting together OR the onsite and online components operating independent of each other. This distinction will influence how you set up both the online and onsite programs and the logistics of each. For instance, if you are hosting both onsite and online meetings simultaneously, you need to have at least 2 capable hosts (1 onsite, another online). While the two formats may have common elements, the experiences will differ and the hosts must adapt it to best serve their “audiences”.
Research has shown that mentoring relationships are one key to a youth remaining in the Christian faith beyond their young adult years. Having a personal and direct connection with a youth is still the best way to support them in their faith development. It allows for 2 things:
- for them to be known (cared for, belong)
- for you to adapt and personalize to their context
Mentoring is a key vehicle for faith development; a term CBOQ Youth uses for this aspect of discipleship is called “sharing life” (www.cboqyouth.ca/sharinglife). Conversations between mentor and mentee can be tailored to the individual mentee both synchronously (i.e., in real-time) and asynchronously (i.e., self-paced). With peoples’ complex schedules, these 1:1 connections are more likely to continue in meaningful ways (even when group meetings cannot). A mentor can adapt according to the needs of an individual youth even if in-person dialogue is not possible through digital communication(e.g., social media, SMS) exchanges.1. Sharing life on an ongoing basis allows for more frequent “bite-sized” exchanges and can help youth integrate faith discussions into multiple parts of their lives not only during youth group meetings.
1:1 connections also allow students space to process and deepen their understanding of faith because they encourage shared experience between mentor and mentee who are both working through learning tool(s): the asynchronous library (see below) or research/resources they curate on their own). This doesn’t involve the mentor in telling the student what’s right and what’s wrong, rather the mentor facilitates conversations that help guide the youth in learning how to understand the content and potentially discern which parts are helpful to integrate into their own faith development.
Asynchronous (self-paced/self-directed) learning allows the individual to take ownership of their own development. This is different than “homework” which are activities done for a pre-determined purpose (e.g., “Read this for our next Bible study”). Asynchronous is self-directed by the student (think of it as a “rabbit trail” they explore on their own).
While some students may know what resources to access, others likely do not. Having both online and physical resources/playlists allows a student to gravitate to what’s of interest to them. Essentially the student can curate a “library” that’s intentionally geared towards their personal pathway and interests. A mentor/guide can give suggestions and guidance, then allow the student to take their course as far and as fast as they’d like.
Much of this is predicated on your youth ministry’s understanding of what discipleship is (this understanding should come from the broader church and be applied to your specific age group). Identifying the core elements that your church defines as discipleship helps to focus the kinds of resources that are most helpful for each youth’s exploration of faith.
What’s vital about asynchronous engagement is it allows youth to learn how to take ownership in their own faith development. While the other channels are typically guided by leaders and can help reinforce and guide faith exploration, ultimately our hope is for youth to become disciples who can seek out ways of growing and learning.
You may already have some of these channels in place. Others will take time to develop. We encourage you to begin the conversation this summer—both within your own youth leadership team, with students, and with your church leaders—on how asynchronous learning can be adapted for your ministry.