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Student Ministry: What We've Learned and How to Plan for the Fall

  • Brett Connolly Executive Search Manager at Vanderbloemen
  • Updated Aug 11, 2020
Student Ministry: What We've Learned and How to Plan for the Fall

With uncertainty surrounding the upcoming fall semester, church leaders are navigating what it looks like to prioritize the safety of their students and families while also maintaining a highly effective ministry. They’re faced with unprecedented challenges and decisions throughout this process with social distancing mandates, so I brought together a panel of leaders to discuss what family and student ministry will look like this fall. The panel included:

Levi Yancy, Student Pastor, Grace Point Church

Justin Wilke, Kids Director, Grace Church Reno 

Ben Windle, Life Strategist, Author, Pastor

Elle Campbell, Founder of Stuff You Can Use

Shifts & Trends In The Fall Ministry Calendar 

  • Some leaders have taken a break in the summer and others have been holding worship events inside their buildings and meeting in smaller groups. It's up to each church and ministry to consider what’s going to be best for their students and parents in this season.
  • Many ministries are incorporating pre-recordings, Zoom small group meetings, Zoom breakout sessions, etc. for the fall semester curriculum. One panelist mentioned creating small pre-recorded pieces of content or activity instructions that parents can use with students throughout the week. Rather than only having God based conversations on Sundays, student leaders are providing resources to equip parents to talk with their kids about the Bible on a daily basis. 
  • To keep parents connected to church and each other, some churches are hosting a parents' rest event where they can come to the church and watch a movie or just sit and talk. This creates a way to care for parents during COVID-19 who have been homeschooling and balancing work and parenting
  • Significant events that are typically in-person in the fall may need to shift to being online fully or partially. Many leaders mentioned planning events like Netflix parties, Drive-up events, and Zoom scavenger hunts. 

How to Serve Students Where They Are

Church leaders have found it helpful to serve students where they are and be even more intentional and creative in caring for them during a time when they are not able to meet in-person. With everything being moved online, it’s vital for student and family ministry leaders to acknowledge the fact that their students’ online viewing habits may have shifted because online materials and videos have become diluted over time. Also, Zoom fatigue is becoming more common as we spend more time on virtual events. 

Another way to serve students is by implementing as many touch-points as possible throughout the week. It provides them with more opportunities to engage with others as well as view and read materials throughout the week. A few practical ways to do this include:

Restructure online materials and content. View online materials and content from a 7-day perspective rather than one single-day event. Leaders can even take their message and break it into smaller segments and post them throughout the week. Have activities, journal time, and online small group chats scheduled throughout the week to mix up the activities and improve engagement.

Take the sermon plan and break it into smaller sections and post them throughout the week. This not only offers more opportunities for students to seek God, but it also combats their Zoom fatigue and shortened attention span.

Take time to continuously invest in yourself. As leaders, if you aren’t filled with a new and fresh perspective then the materials and content that you put out will reflect that as well. Remember to take breaks, do activities that energize you, and take a big-picture perspective, remembering that this season is new for everyone, and more importantly, this season is temporary.

Assess the temperature of your students and families. Seek out the moments when your students and families need you to be in the pastoral care mode so you can walk at their pace. Intentionally seek out ways to check on your students and families by scheduling 1:1 conversations simply to check-in, sending out surveys, and asking for feedback often.

Find the balance between content and connection. Right now, it’s easy for leaders to lean more towards content creation rather than connection. Although both are important, during a global pandemic it’s essential to foster a genuine connection with your students, so they know they are truly loved and cared for. Remember, right now people are overloaded with content and craving connection.

Lessons Learned During COVID-19

  • It’s going to be a slow journey to get people re-engaged at the level they were prior to COVID-19. Remember, if you set a goal, and you don’t hit it, it’s ok. Manage your expectations throughout this season and remember that it’s a process. 
  • Examine the tone, posture, and narrative that you’re communicating with your students and families. You may naturally want to deliver a message that everything’s okay, but be sure to take time to address the reality that many people are experiencing a certain level of grief. That process looks different for everyone. This means the people you’re serving and leading aren’t a problem to solve; they are in need of support and care. Using this approach requires leaders to address what their community may be experiencing emotionally.
  • Take care of yourself to prevent burnout. It’s common for leaders to feel the pressure to be everything to everyone you serve; however, leaders must care for their mental, spiritual, and emotional health during this time.

Right now, there is no clarity on what the future of school and student ministry will look like. As a leader, it's smart to plan tentatively during this time and keep the purpose of your ministry top of mind. What important lessons has God taught you during this season?

To view the discussion visit,

Photo courtesy: ©GettyImages/Zinkevych

Brett Connolly is an Executive Search Manager at Vanderbloemen, which serves teams with a greater purpose by aligning their people solutions for growth: hiring, compensation, succession and culture. Through its retained executive search and consulting services, Vanderbloemen serves churches, schools, nonprofits, family offices, and Christian businesses in all parts of the United States and internationally.