Finding Your Focus
You belong here. It’s one of the phrases that has marked our youth ministry over the last year.
Families saw it as they entered our programs and their students lived it. Everything we did reinforced belonging. Imagine a safe place to develop healthy relationships with others, process emotions and celebrate the victories. That was our goal, and we were moving in a good direction.
Then we hit a small bump in the road: A global pandemic.
This was particularly troubling because we had to redefine what it meant to belong here. The “here” we knew was taken away.
Students weren’t coming to our programs on the weekend.
They weren’t being greeted by a familiar face who knew their name.
They weren’t connecting in a small group that pointed them to Jesus.
The need to belong was still there, but the question that kept us up at night was where do they belong now?
Students were already drifting away from authentic relationships, and the pandemic only accelerated that.
- Hanging our with friends on the weekend was replaced with late night video game chats.
- Socializing between classes was replaced with making awkward eye contact with others on zoom.
- Connecting with their small group was replaced with watching our services on YouTube or ChurchOnline.
Social distancing quickly turned into social isolation.
Our former view was obstructed, and we didn’t know where to aim our focus.
Like many churches and youth ministries, we pivoted. We tried new things and experimented with different mediums to get our content out there. We took chances we never would’ve taken had our hand not been forced. But we had to. We had to discover where students could belong while we were all stuck at home because the need was greater than ever.
Then it hit me. The “here” wasn’t the building. It wasn’t our weekly programming. It wasn’t the creative content we put on social media.
It was being connected to an authentic community. Being in a small group who knew their name. Having a consistent leader who could remind them of their worth and point them back to Jesus.
Pre-pandemic we were doing small groups weekly in person. Then we pivoted to doing groups only on zoom. Then after a few months we added groups meeting outside. Eventually we’ll be back doing weekly small groups in person.
The way we execute small groups may change, but the consistent theme in all those styles is that students have a place to belong. They belong in small groups.
Students need authentic community because they need to see the light of Jesus shine into the darkness of their world. And they need to see that up close and personal.
When it comes to finding your focus, look for the thing that helps fuel your mission and then pour gasoline on it. Distribute more of your resources, time and energy into it. Don’t be so tied to the way you used to do things. External circumstances will affect the way we accomplish our mission, but the mission itself can not be compromised.
Our mission is to help youth connect with God and create a space where they belong. The way we now do that has changed, but that’s okay. Because it should change. We should adapt to our current circumstances.
It’s like Andy Stanley says, ‘date the model, but marry the mission.’
Maybe for your church or ministry in this season, you need to take a chance and date a new model. That came out weird, but you know what I mean.
Experiment with new ways of doing things that help fuel your mission;
- Start a new outreach program,
- Reimagine the way you run a small group ministry,
- Restructure your staff to better reach your community through this digital age.
Finding your focus will require you to take a 10,000 foot view of your ministry, and asking yourself, “What will fuel our mission?” Then try a new model. Try seven new models. Do whatever it takes to point your people back to the mission.
What you do is too important to do otherwise.
Josh Niemi is the Middle School Director at Lifepointe Church in Raleigh, NC. Josh is a leader, a creative and a communicator who is passionate about helping students find their purpose and identity in Jesus.