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How to Lead a Hybrid Youth Ministry

By Tim Smith August 31, 2020

Hybrid youth ministry is the future–at least until we get past COVID. If you can manage hybrid youth ministry, you’ll have a huge impact over the next six months.

Yes, our current ministry season is bringing with it new challenges and, for most of us, new points of decision that many of us have never had to work through. We normally choose between options within an existing system of ministry: How many worship songs? What should our next series be? And then, without warning, we were asked to step back and dream up a new manifestation of ministry.

Navigating doing youth ministry in a way that includes in-person and online-only students will likely require unique solutions for each context. It’s going to require us to revisit our values and develop a whole host of new ideas.

REvisiting our values

Avoid judgement (Matt 9:36)

It will not do any good to spend time mulling over how students or parents should “get over themselves and…” or declare that “if they were really committed, they’d…”. Our call as ambassadors for the Gospel is to bring and be the Gospel to those who, like us, don’t deserve it.

Let’s not get stuck in the trap that tempts us to avoid the hard work of contextualization because people aren’t doing or being what (we believe) is best for them. It is possible to infantilize our parishioners, so bringing your plans to seasoned ministers and other church leaders is a necessary step as we plot the way forward.

Intensity and Intentionality (Luke 15:8–10)

Each student has infinite value. They are made in the image of God. Whether they are online or in person, they are souls that belong to Jesus. Don’t let upcoming opportunities for ministry be ignored because they look different than what we are used to. Our God, the hound of heaven, is forever in pursuit of these students. Let his love live in us.

Hospitality (HeB 13:1-2)

We don’t know from where students are coming or where they will end up. When they are present with us, we must roll out the red carpet. Not as a bribe or to manipulate them into loving Jesus, but as a true expression of love. Take care in how you receive your online students. Your hospitality tells them more about your heart (and God’s heart) toward them than your words ever could.

Excellence (1 Cor 3:8–15) 

Now is not the time to get lazy with our teaching or programming—quite the opposite. Now is the time to dig deep and Sabbath intentionally. We must respect students’ time instead of wasting it with garbage programming. It’s okay to make mistakes and come up short in this season. Have grace on yourself. But it is not okay to use this season as an excuse for sloppy work.

Watching for God (John 5:19)

As we experiment with new manifestations of our ancient calling, we must consistently and prayerfully be watching what the Father is doing. Rest assured, he is at work. The gates of hell will not prevail against his church, but we must watch him and join him. It will not do to frantically and anxiously busy ourselves with activity. Move with the Spirit, not out of fear for our jobs, loss of students, or challenges to our identity. 

creative ideas for hybrid ministry

  1. Think through your event part by part “in the shoes” of your online participants, not just your in-person students. You won’t be able to catch everything, but your attention and forethought is an expression of love.
  2. Appoint an Online Student Liaison. Have a leader as a host for the online students. This liaison can lead their small group, but most importantly, they monitor the experience and act as an advocate for the online students. This liaison can also debrief the youth group each week with leadership to discuss successes and growth areas from an online participant’s perspective. It may be good to rotate this role so online participants get to spend time with different people, and the culture of the youth ministry is more effectively impacted in favor of online participants.
  3. Whenever possible, try to play games that include online people (Jackbox Games is a good option). When that is not possible, the online group should break off and do their own games. (Some ideas are papergames.io or https://www.maryhannawilson.com/games-video-chat/.) Use the same care and attention to plan their games that you use to plan in-person games.
  4. Take steps to ensure students are properly free to fully engage the topic/discussion. Speakers should wear a mic. When there is large group sharing or feedback from the crowd, there should be a mic passed around (with disinfectant wipes). If there is large group sharing, online students should be able to share through technology (like being connected via computer to the projector), or at least through the liaison. There should be a special effort and space made to call on the online group to share.
  5. If a small group starts to meet in person, but is missing a member or two, have all members bring their devices and use them all simultaneously with each mic on mute except for one. This might help with the technical/social challenges associated with a hybrid small group.

Mastering the hybrid youth ministry will require you to revisit old ideas, be creative in developing new ideas, and pay special attention to caring for individuals along the way. Don’t miss an opportunity to have a greater impact, even during such a challenging time.

About the Author

Tim Smith

Tim Smith is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Redeemer Anglican in Jacksonville, Florida. He has served as a youth pastor for 10 years. He is focused on sharpening and serving the Church as it disciples students to know and become more like Jesus. When not doing youth ministry, he and his Wife/Hero,…  Read More