by Captain Chrissy Cooper
Youth ministry is challenging at the best of times. Maintaining relevance in the lives of young people who are inundated with secular worldviews and information coming from all sides (or should I say screens?) is a constant battle. Throw in a worldwide pandemic that limits in-person contact, and you have a recipe for disaster.
In Eastern Michigan, we have dedicated ourselves to finding revolutionary ways of reaching youth for Christ. The world might be in turmoil, but our mission to preach the Good News has not changed. It has taken creativity, flexibility and a whole lot of faith to move forward, but God has blessed our efforts and we are encouraged by what we’ve been able to accomplish in the face of ongoing change and uncertainty.
When the pandemic struck, our first challenge was summer camps. While the regular camping season was canceled, we were able to hold three residential camps following strict safety protocols including requiring a negative coronavirus test result from every camper and leader. Each camp was limited to 20 students and 10 staff members, but we were thrilled to hold senior and junior music conservatories followed by a youth evangelism and discipleship camp called “Lead the Cause.”
“I love that students were able to still come together, learning, praying, playing and sharing with each other,” said Mike Mowers, young adult and youth specialist.
With the pandemic in full swing, in late October we held a virtual youth councils that was attended by more than 250 delegates. In the week leading up to it, each student received a box in the mail with everything they needed to participate: a t-shirt, personalized notebook, gum, fidget spinner, pen and devotional book.
Corps held socially distanced watch parties for live meetings, and videos were uploaded to the Eastern Michigan Youth Department YouTube page for later viewing. Officers were creative in making our virtual youth councils feel like the real thing. For example, Major Heidi Reed, Wyandotte Downriver, Mich., corps officer, posted videos and pictures of her teens enjoying video games and basketball on our Facebook page with the caption “Youth councils is not really youth councils without an afterglow!”
With no end to the pandemic in sight, in January we held a virtual youth leader weekend for 100 delegates with guest speaker Tom Shefchunas, executive director of Youth Specialties, to equip and encourage officers, employees and lay leaders in their ministry.
“The theme ‘Revolution’ addressed how youth leaders can adapt to the rapidly changing climate of the pandemic to keep reaching young people,” said Captain Jonathan Cooper.
While 2020 was different than any other year and 2021 won’t be the norm, we are so thankful for technology and new ways to reach people for Christ. As we press on through these challenging months, we are confident God will continue to bless us with opportunities, ideas and methods for spreading His Word in a world that needs Him.