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Challenges of Youth Ministry During Covid Spur Deeper Study of Scripture.

In high school ministry, effectiveness is often measured by relationships. For our high school ministry, Young Life, it is no different. All youth ministries have struggled and been forced to adapt during Covid quarantine. This unprecedented time of social distancing has shone a light on the need for human connection more than ever! We sat down with Lamar Simms, our Director of High School Programs, to discuss some of the challenges and highlights of the past 7 months. Holly: Lamar, thanks for taking time to talk with me today! Take me back to March of this year and tell me how things were going with your program pre-quarantine. Lamar: Back in March I was finishing up my 3rd year at Sunshine running the high school program, Young Life. When I took the role on, we had only a few consistent high schoolers and by March of 2020 we were having a consistent 25-30 coming weekly! I was also able to show up at a lot of their school activities like sports games. With high school ministry I always try to meet them where they are. Some of the best conversations happen when we are going to their environment and doing things they enjoy. I was planning a lot of trips to various activities such as the movies, or basketball games, or going out to eat. These are all ways to keep teens engaged in a positive way and build relationships. Our weekly gatherings were also a lot of fun and we were getting a lot of teens coming.

Holly: So when quarantine began, how did that affect your programming? Lamar: Well, for the immediate months of strict quarantine, everything went online. I was running an online bible study weekly and also dropping off meals and care packages to our teens. Once restrictions began to lift, I was able to start taking some teens out in small groups. I can now take 2-3 teens out at a time and do activities such as basketball or meeting at an outdoor restaurant. In March I had also just begun to develop relationships with some of the 8th graders that would be transitioning into our high school program over the summer. Since we haven’t been able to meet in person, it’s been a struggle to keep them engaged. Holly: How have the social distancing restrictions affected your ministry? Lamar: In so many ways! Prior to quarantine, we were all able to meet together or I was able to split the group into 3 groups of 10 to take field trips. Since high schoolers thrive on togetherness and social interaction and it’s been challenging to replicate that online. Now that we can meet in smaller groups, I am spending way more time trying to see all of my teens individually. Some parents don’t feel comfortable with their children leaving the house at all, so we have to find other ways to connect with them. We’re still running a weekly Bible study and offer homework help on Thursdays. Lamar on a zoom call with some of the teens. Holly: That sounds pretty challenging finding ways to keep them interested and engaged. Lamar: Yes, it’s challenging to give each relationship attention and the incentive of social gathering is taken away so I’ve had to switch my mindset to quality over quantity. Thankfully, some of my most serious and consistent teens have grown during this time. I have a Bible study group that has been meeting for a couple years and we’ve maintained a consistent weekly Bible study. Holly: What are some of the highlights from your Bible study group? Lamar: One thing that sticks out the most to me is when they began identifying how the Old Testament stories point to Jesus and our need for Jesus to come to earth. I remember we were talking about the story of the Tower of Babel and how humans had fallen so far away from God that they were trying to build a tower to reach him (Genesis 11). Our teens identified that this story pointed to our need as humans to have an earthly example and connection to God and that points to Jesus coming to earth in human form. It really encouraged me to see them make that connection on their own! It shows a deeper knowledge and insight into scripture.

It really encouraged me to see them make that connection on their own! It shows a deeper knowledge and insight into scripture. "

Holly: What else are you studying with the teens? Lamar: We just started a study on How to Read the Bible, which takes them through short video segments and then opens for discussion. We talk Lamar was able to take a few teens out for ice cream recently at local black-owned business. about ways that our first encounters with the Bible shape the way we view it and read it. We discuss the importance of knowing how to study the Bible. Oftentimes we are told to read the Bible but we aren’t taught HOW to read the Bible. Because we are not taught how, the Bible to many of our youth looks like instructions to build a rocket for NASA. By giving our teens the tools for reading scripture we are not only encouraging them to read the Bible but also the tools to get something out of their engagement with God’s Word. Holly: That’s so encouraging to hear! What are ways we can support you? Lamar: I would love it if you would pray for our youth to follow Jesus and pursue their dreams in a way that brings honor to Him and resources to their community. Also, pray for me as a leader to stay encouraged during this difficult season.

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