Ways to Connect During Coronavirus: Next Generation Discipleship Edition

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by Rev. Jessica Jones
Canon for Next Generation Discipleship

Many of you may be facing the issue of how to best support your students and small groups during social distancing. This is a difficult time for many and when students face the unknown, or their routine is disrupted, it can cause anxiety and have ongoing ramifications. 

We have the opportunity during this time to encourage students and to provide some ongoing normalcy in routine connection. It may be that parents are going to be working while students are home for the foreseeable future. It may be that tensions run high within the home during this pandemic. You may be able to be a peaceful presence for them, able to listen, reassure them, and pray with them. We thought it might be helpful to share some ideas for how to connect during this time.

Please note: The Gulf Atlantic Diocese does not specifically endorse the individual websites or authors of the external links mentioned below; please consider carefully and theologically what you can utilize in your own parish. 

  • Utilize free group meeting software. Small groups and youth groups can use Zoom for free during this pandemic. Consider all of your small groups (even newly created) ‘meeting’ online at the same time for Sunday school or Youth Group, then breaking into groups for discussion questions or extended prayer. See Zoom’s offer to sign up for free. 
  • Consider changing topics. We know you had a great series planned for Lent this year, but considering what students are facing today, perhaps shift gears to meet that need. Fear, anxiety, the problem of evil, God’s sovereignty, faith, how to pray, lament, death, etc.– these may be more appropriate topics in the midst of the pandemic. Some passages that might help: Romans 8, Psalm 91, Philippians 4, Matthew 28, Isaiah 41, even Daniel 3. 
  • Discuss the impact of change. How are their lives being disrupted? How can we draw connection to the overly busy lives the world leads and our need for rest? What does our resistance to stopping all planned activities say about our ability to be still? How can we take this opportunity to truly rest and be still before the Lord. 
  • Communicate social distancing as a positive. Instead of viewing the cancelations as threatening, view them as acts of solidarity. We, as a united people, are sacrificing so we can give our hospitals, doctors, nurses, and elderly a fighting chance. How does this shift your thinking and how you view these changes? What else could be done? How does this encourage community, empathy, and loving one’s neighbor? This generation values social justice, purpose, and service. How can you help them see how they can have an impact here?
  • Communicate with parents. Send them some talking points for the many nights at home together. Perhaps think of things to do as families, yet also as a church community such as family challenges, or game nights as families, yet everyone uploads their score to a youth group tallying google form (Yahtzee, anyone?) or upload videos of it onto Instagram. There are a ton of free subscriptions to various things now that everyone is on house-arrest; send links and challenges home 1-2/week. Here are some additional things families can do; perhaps you can get creative with how to do them together and add in some theological connections: group chats, blog posts, online prayer requests and prayer sessions, set up prayer partners, encourage gratitude chains and have everyone bring them upon return to church, or encourage online Bible app usage.  
  • Use apps to communicate. GroupMe, Marco Polo, Remind, and Instagram are great apps to use to communicate. Have your small group leaders or teachers communicate routinely with every member of their group. Perhaps they could send encouraging Scriptures, or ask for prayer requests, or jokes of the day. Your goal is to keep connected. 
  • Host a movie night. Get the popcorn! Google has an add on for Netflix (“Scener”) that enables you to watch a movie as a group, complete with group chat. Click here for more information. 
  • Download Youth Ministry. DYM has games and social media blasts that may help you during this season, offered a la carte or for free in some cases. They are offering special resources for next gen leaders. For example, get a group online using Zoom, share your own screen, and play a round of Dead Cat together!  
  • Build a playlist. Since you can’t worship together physically, you can worship together remotely! If you need help with this, ask a Gen Z student to set it up for you. Consider songs that speak to them and for them, not necessarily your favorites. Choose songs that build faith and cast out fear. Then pray for each student in your group. 
  • Virtual worship. Depending on what your church leaders decide, you may find it helpful to lead your students (virtually) through evening prayer, or morning prayer on Sunday mornings. See this blog we sent to Clergy with ideas for how to have alternative worship options; talk to your clergy about how they are proceeding and perhaps offer to lead a small group for worship consisting of your students or their families. 
  • Create a stable environment. Even the parents may not be able to answer difficult questions. Someone in leadership at your church should consider communicating with families regarding how to speak to children and youth during this time. Here’s a document that might help.

    Additionally, recognize there are a few relatively common responses to crisises you may see in children/youth (“students”); knowing how to assure them will help:
    • Some students are stressed without a plan (Prov 3:5-6);
    • Some students will be stressed if they can’t help (Gal 6:2);
    • Some students will be frustrated over loss of time and opportunity (Colossians 3:23);
    • Some students will overreact due to their emotional connection to situations and people (Psalm 139);
    • Some students will be frustrated that they aren’t in school (John 14:26);
    • Some students will feel anxious without a way to feel safe (Deut 31:6, Joshua 1:9);
    • Some students will simply be desperate for connection, the loss of which will feel like rejection (Psalm 34:18);
    • Some students might feel helpless, especially if enough isn’t be done proactively (Romans 8:37-39);
    • Some students will be optimistic no matter what and the lack of peace regarding the situation will be what is unsettling to them (John 14:27);

Which ones are in your small group? Which ones are in your family? How are you helping them change their perspective and turn to the Lord? 

  • Build on their desire to be purpose-driven. This generation wants to seek social justice and help those who are vulnerable. This is one role of the church as well. How can you enable ways for them to do so safely? How can you encourage them to be generosity driven during this time?
  • Begin and end with prayer. It is important that they see and hear you leading through faith, not anxiety. Cast your cares and commit to trusting the Lord through this. Don’t allow people to fuel the idea that this is punishment, but instead redirect focus on the question, “To whom do we turn when bad things happen?” and then model that.
  • Remember your role. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to pastor. Guide them in their difficulty. Be present for them as you can. We talk about ‘showing up’ in life, and here is a perfect example. Let them look back on this season and remember you as an ongoing, non-anxious presence, able to pray with them and keep them focused on Jesus.

 A group of us are meeting for “dinner,” conversation, and games online with students who have been active in the diocesan ministries, on Thursday nights at 7pm until the social distancing restrictions are lifted. Please join us, even if you’ve never attended. It is simply a way we can stay connected during this time, especially for those students who don’t have a youth group. Email me for more information. 

If there is anything you need, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Let us know how we can be praying for you and how we can help.