Five Discussions To Have Before Meeting In Person With Your Teens

Christian Dunn (National Leader, Vineyard Youth USA) lays out some essential discussion points for every youth ministry leader and team to talk through prior to resuming youth group gatherings and services.

Christian Dunn

Leader, Vineyard Youth USA

Is it really possible? Could we actually have a meeting with our teens not on Zoom? Dare to dream!

For many of us, things are changing rapidly again. New rules, loosened restrictions, articles (like this one) about how to best do this reopening thing. It can honestly feel even more overwhelming than when things began to shut down.

To that end, I’d like to offer five discussion points for your leadership team (or if that’s just you, I guess you can look in the mirror and talk out loud?) as you get ready to move back to in-person youth gatherings. 

1. Safety First

This point is somewhat relative since every state is different. However, I have appreciated the church leaderships that I’ve been watching who have made a point of saying that they were putting the safety of their people first. I think this is especially difficult with teens. 

Once we gather, they are going to be tempted to forget all the rules (many of them are probably already with friends, let’s be honest) and you may be tempted to as well. It will not be an enviable position to be walking around enforcing six foot rules with a bunch of teens excited to see their friends, but I think it will be important. 

Obviously the best way to ensure this happens is to have a great plan for it, and to communicate that plan well.

I went to a water ice place last night and, to be honest, I don’t think they had much of a plan. They had all their service windows open (not six feet apart), they didn’t require masks (in our state you are supposed to), and they drew a few lines in chalk on the sidewalk where you should stand, but those lines had all but faded away. It was confusing, and honestly, if you were someone who was worried about your safety, it felt unsafe. 

We have to be better than that. We need to think about creating an environment that feels safe, without feeling too stringent. It won’t be easy, but I think it’s important, so it goes first!

2. No Teen Left Behind

This discussion really depends on where you live as well, and what the make-up of your group is like. But if your situation is anything like mine, you may have some families who aren’t comfortable with sending their teen to church or youth group just yet. What is your plan for them?

I don’t know that I have any great answers for this one, but I think it’s an important discussion to have. We certainly can’t allow them to become a subculture of teens who are disconnected from church life because they can’t come to in-person services, and suddenly that’s all we offer.

On an adult church scale this seems easier—just offer a virtual replication of what you are doing in person. Can we do the same with youth group?

If we are having a hang out night, how do we include them in that? Do we have some events that are in person and some that are virtual? If we are having a teaching, can we Zoom them in and make sure their voice is heard and their face is seen? However we do this, the value remains: no teen left behind.

3. Revisit Your Values

This is a great time to take a moment to ask the question again, “why do we meet in person?” What are we hoping to achieve by being together? Have our values changed at all given the last two months? Are there innovative ways we can achieve these values in our new context?

For instance, if one of your values is to create an environment where students can experience the presence of God, sing, worship, and pray for one another, how does that change? Do you get rid of that value if you can’t sing and can’t lay hands on each other in prayer? Or can we get creative? Maybe we can take some time to focus on more personal, meditative, worship that doesn’t include actually singing out loud. Maybe we can practice praying out loud for people without having to get up close and touch them. Maybe we can practice praying as a large group, following an intercessory prayer model.

At our church, one of our driving values is reaching new people. We have found that to be very difficult during this time. While we have tried to figure out ways to reach people, we’ve also decided to take advantage of the fact that on Sunday I’m mostly speaking to our church people. We’ve focused on the Spiritual Practices in a way that maybe wouldn’t have worked with a lot of new people there.

So what values do you maybe need to adjust? Are their new values to pursue during this time? Or are there new, creative ways to pursue your normal values?

4. Creatively Achieve Your Summer Goals

If you are anything like me, your summer plans for your teens are pretty much shot. Back to the drawing board, and with very little time to draw! We’ve all been waiting to see what, if anything, would be allowed this summer. Missions trips and conferences are all cancelled. So what can you do with your teens this summer to achieve similar goals?

Again, this goes back to a discussion of values. What were you hoping to get out of this summer? Instilling a spirit of service and outreach? Building community within your group by staying together for a week? Training in evangelism? Cross-cultural experiences?

One idea I’ve had for our group is to reach out to some local nonprofit organizations and see if we can maybe create a “week of service” for our group where each day for a week we serve at a different nonprofit. It obviously won’t be the same, but I am a firm believer in finding new pearls of blessing hidden in these changes forced on us by circumstance.

5. Prioritize Your Relationships

This last one is kind of a no-brainer, but still worth discussing. We all know that humans are relationally driven, and teens more than any other age group. When our teens come back together I doubt they will be craving our amazing Biblical teaching. I know that hurts …it’s okay, I feel it too.

But seriously, the felt need is going to be relationships. I don’t know about you, but my numbers have been down consistently with Zoom calls, and I think part of it is that the relationship it offers isn’t super amazing. It isn’t as fulfilling as being together, being able to talk to the person you want to talk to (rather than the whole group), and seeing people face to face (not through a screen).

So how can we capitalize on that? How can we take their need for relationships, and use it to draw them back into youth group? What kinds of events can we do that would prioritize relationships?

While coming back in person sounds really exciting, I actually feel like it is going to be pretty challenging on a number of levels. Maybe if we have some of these discussions up front, we can prepare ourselves and create experiences that really meet the needs of our teens, while also keeping us on track for vision and values. Maybe we’ll even discover some new ideas, methods, and models that will excite us for the future, and end up being better than what we had before!


Christian Dunn is the Lead Pastor of the CityLight Vineyard Church in Newark, DE, and the National Leader for Vineyard Youth USA.