We may have experience connecting young people to Jesus Christ. Today’s challenge is that this experience has typically been primarily in real life (IRL). Covid-19 has taken most of that off the table and moved us into a digital world of outreach that’s much less familiar, even if we’ve used digital tools for years.How do we take tried and true principles for connecting students to Jesus, building them in their faith, and sending them to do the same with their peers in a digital world? As a fellow traveler who’s trying to do this with middle school students, here are some things I’ve found helpful.
We make a dangerous mistake if we think we can copy and paste everything we used to do IRL into a Zoom call or Hangouts Meet. A minority of students may be able to handle that, but it’s a very small minority. This is particularly true when students are finding their way through an unexpected virtual education, virtual connections with friends, and virtual connections at church. Even if they love you, they’re probably not going to be super excited about one more virtual connection.
Less is more, so I’ve found it helpful to take what used to be a 20-25 minute IRL block of content and chop it to 10-15 minutes at the most.
I use Thrive studies (cru.org/thrive) for most of my content, so I have a great head start. I can take any Thrive topic, pick out a Launch question and a couple Explore and Apply questions from the study and have a helpful skeleton of what I want to communicate. Thrive lessons have an asterisk by the go-to questions to take out the guesswork when time is short.
Even if I can get my content down to 10-15 minutes, I dare not talk at my screen for that amount of time. Some of my most Zoom-savvy colleagues have taught me to plan interaction every four minutes. It can be a different speaker, a video, or an invitation to answer a question verbally or in the chat. This is good practice not just for digital outreach but for communicating important content in general.
Thrive studies come to my rescue again with this. Each study has an excellent starter question, other questions to engage students with a key passage from the Bible, and additional questions and resources in the Idea Box part of the study to help them apply God’s truth to their lives.
My Zoom-savvy colleagues have taught me here again. It doesn’t serve my students well for me to show up at the last minute, read the passage, and try to lead a study intuitively. I need to take the time to build a PowerPoint, Prezi, or some other kind of slide deck.
Thrive studies help with this because each study has an image as its centerpiece. Not only is it visual, but it helps students remember the big idea.
I recently led a study on the importance of trust. I centered it on John 1:12 and included three questions: how is faith like a skydiver jumping out of a plane, like receiving a gift, and like sitting in a chair? The Thrive study provided me with my visual of the skydiver since that’s the key image for the study. Then I went to Unsplash.com to get free, quality images of a wrapped gift and a chair to complete my slide deck.
One more thing: even if Covid-19 may have thrown me and many of the rest of us for a loop, it hasn’t thrown God for a loop. He’s ever passionate about his good news spreading rapidly and being on full display (see 2 Thessalonians 3:1). It excites me to think that he wants to work through Covid-19 (not just in spite of it) to advance his good news in ways that never would have happened otherwise.