7 ways to run a digital youth group

27th Apr 2020

For leaders of a certain age, until very recently, ‘Zoom’ was just a very old song by Fat Larry’s Band which contained the immortal line “Then my whole wide world went zoom.” Fat Larry’s Band was better known for their R&B riffs than their prophetic gifts but here we are in 2020 and we find that the “whole wide world” of youth work has (largely) gone Zoom. The coronavirus outbreak has, overnight, fundamentally changed the way in which the majority of youth work is being carried out as groups start to meet virtually, using mainly the video cloud platform Zoom as their go-to tool.

This unexpected turn of events has left us all playing catch-up so, whilst there is still lots to be learned about how online discipleship works wholesale (and Energize will be helping you process this over the weeks that lie ahead), we thought we would start with 7 things to help you navigate this digital world.

NB. Zoom isn’t the only video tool available for groups to use but, as it is the one most commonly used, we have provided a guide to using it.

See below for notes on services and devotionals but if you want to run a fully interactive session with more than a handful of leaders and young people then this is best done on Zoom. Skype and Facetime can be used for smaller numbers. Don't use Whatapp because everyone's contact details are visible and accessible.

Most of the content in this article is applicable to whatever platform you use.

In addition to tools for running group meetings don't forget that you can upload children's and youth services or devotionals to YouTube, Facebook, or similar.  These can either be live broadcasts or recordings.  Comments can be enabled if you want interaction, but do make sure there is a moderator to keep an eye on what's being said.  The moderator can feed comments to a presenter (if live) but also delete comments that are inappropriate.

1) Keeping everyone safe

It seems vaguely ironic that the digital world that for so long has been something we have been wary of embracing because of safety concerns and the way it can be misused is suddenly centre stage.  Most of us have long recognised the opportunities and threats posed by digital media and whilst now is the time to embrace the opportunities it also not time to ignore the threats.  Do not compromise safety in a race to get ‘something up and running.’ If you need to take time to familiarise yourself with the technology and train your team, take that time.  We strongly recommend that you run a trial meeting with leaders (or other volunteers) before going live with your young people so that you can check your settings and ensure that everyone knows what they are doing. You can find some good practice guidelines via the link below but these should be applied in conjunction with and with reference to your organisation’s Safeguarding Policy.

Good practice guidelines for digital communication

2) Keeping it short and engaging

There is a tension between our need for connection and social media burnout. We must remember that some of the things we would normally do and the downtime that we normally have is not so readily available. Forty-five minutes to an hour is more than enough time to hang out in groups online. 

Remember that, just as with regular meetings, online meetings need to be engaging, interactive and fun. The fact that you are meeting online might be exciting and novel for the first few minutes but after that, the usual rules apply. If the meetings are boring young people are likely to switch off - maybe not literally in the middle of the meeting but certainly in their level of contribution and their willingness to sign in next time. If young people want to connect with their friends digitally most of them can do that without your help, so your online groups aren't likely to be serving the need to provide a place where they meet their friends. That can be compensated for if the meeting is well run.

Online groups offer a golden opportunity for young people who are not currently connected to your groups to 'taste and see' what being part of a Christian community is like. Encourage young people to invite their friends to join your meetings and be prepared to welcome and cater for newcomers (and make this part of your planning process).

You can read the rest of this article, for free, here on the Energize website.