For leaders of a certain age, until very recently, ‘Zoom’ was just a very old song by Fat Larry’s Band which contained the immortal line “Then my whole wide world went zoom.” Fat Larry’s Band was better known for their R&B riffs than their prophetic gifts but here we are in 2020 and we find that the “whole wide world” of youth work has (largely) gone Zoom. The coronavirus outbreak has, overnight, fundamentally changed the way in which the majority of youth work is being carried out as groups start to meet virtually, using mainly the video cloud platform Zoom as their go-to tool.
This unexpected turn of events has left us all playing catch-up so, whilst there is still lots to be learned about how online discipleship works wholesale (and Energize will be helping you process this over the weeks that lie ahead), we thought we would start with 7 things to help you navigate this digital world.
NB. Zoom isn’t the only video tool available for groups to use but, as it is the one most commonly used, we have provided a guide to using it.
See below for notes on services and devotionals but if you want to run a fully interactive session with more than a handful of leaders and young people then this is best done on Zoom. Skype and Facetime can be used for smaller numbers. Don't use Whatapp because everyone's contact details are visible and accessible.
Most of the content in this article is applicable to whatever platform you use.
In addition to tools for running group meetings don't forget that you can upload children's and youth services or devotionals to YouTube, Facebook, or similar. These can either be live broadcasts or recordings. Comments can be enabled if you want interaction, but do make sure there is a moderator to keep an eye on what's being said. The moderator can feed comments to a presenter (if live) but also delete comments that are inappropriate.
It seems vaguely ironic that the digital world that for so long has been something we have been wary of embracing because of safety concerns and the way it can be misused is suddenly centre stage. Most of us have long recognised the opportunities and threats posed by digital media and whilst now is the time to embrace the opportunities it also not time to ignore the threats. Do not compromise safety in a race to get ‘something up and running.’ If you need to take time to familiarise yourself with the technology and train your team, take that time. We strongly recommend that you run a trial meeting with leaders (or other volunteers) before going live with your young people so that you can check your settings and ensure that everyone knows what they are doing. You can find some good practice guidelines via the link below but these should be applied in conjunction with and with reference to your organisation’s Safeguarding Policy.
There is a tension between our need for connection and social media burnout. We must remember that some of the things we would normally do and the downtime that we normally have is not so readily available. Forty-five minutes to an hour is more than enough time to hang out in groups online.
Remember that, just as with regular meetings, online meetings need to be engaging, interactive and fun. The fact that you are meeting online might be exciting and novel for the first few minutes but after that, the usual rules apply. If the meetings are boring young people are likely to switch off - maybe not literally in the middle of the meeting but certainly in their level of contribution and their willingness to sign in next time. If young people want to connect with their friends digitally most of them can do that without your help, so your online groups aren't likely to be serving the need to provide a place where they meet their friends. That can be compensated for if the meeting is well run.
Online groups offer a golden opportunity for young people who are not currently connected to your groups to 'taste and see' what being part of a Christian community is like. Encourage young people to invite their friends to join your meetings and be prepared to welcome and cater for newcomers (and make this part of your planning process).
This has worked well in some groups. Start off altogether and then after about 10 minutes break up to watch a video online
Then come back together to discuss the video that you have watched and any other questions or prayer requests. This works well with older groups and also is a handy way of getting around the 40-minute Zoom limit (where applied). There is guidance on best practice for using rooms in our good practice guidance HERE.
We have added a new session to our Specials series which contains suggestions for games that would work well on a video call and fun challenges that young people can participate in at home. Check them out HERE.
If you have some suggestions of games and challenges that you’re willing for us to share with other Energize users please get in touch. You can e-mail us HERE.
Alternatively, feel free to post them on the Energize Users’ Facebook Forum. Click HERE to post or join.
There’s a whole library of articles and sessions on Energize which take well-known (and some less well known) movies and use them as discussion starters to help explore Biblical truths. In normal circumstances, time constraints might have restricted you to short clips; now, however, if there’s a film all your group can access (via a streaming or catch-up service), you can ask them to watch it in their own time and come back together to work through the discussion questions. This is great for older teenagers. There are some great movies on there that you could watch and discuss together. Check out our library HERE.
Don’t overlook the importance of involving parents and carers in what you are doing. That doesn’t mean inviting them to you on-line meetings but it does mean having their permission for the young people to engage with you online. Many parents will welcome having access to additional material that they can use as conversation starters or activities to run at home. To help with this, we have created a special series called Energize at Home which is designed to be used in the home. Subscribing churches can add parents and carers for free. Find out more HERE. Also don’t forget that Energize contains a whole host of resources for children aged 3-11, including loads of Messy Church resources that are suitable for running at home.
If you are struggling to move your meetings into a digital space then don’t despair. It’s time to utilise whatever tools are available. Whilst the postal service may seem terribly old school, don’t rule it out as a way of staying in touch even if it’s to send a personalised card of encouragement (when did your young people receive one of those through the post?). And, of course, press into prayer for your young people remembering especially those who, for whatever reasons, you are struggling to stay in touch with.