Creating Community Over Distance
By Terry Parkman, who is the Next Gen Pastor at River Valley Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. River Valley is a large church but they have multiple smaller campuses. Assemblies of God National Youth Director Josh Wellborn interviewed Parkman to ask, “How do we build community across distance?” You can watch the video here.
I have seen churches and youth pastors come at this season with opposite extremes: 1) do nothing or 2) be in students’ world 24/7 and inundate students with information. You can’t spam their life. You can either speak life or spam life. When people get spammed, they check-out and don’t listen anymore. We need to speak life. We can’t be part of the white noise. We have to be heard and be a part of the solution.
Identify the community rhythms and provide something during those times. Connect virtually when the community would normally connect physically. Connect via social media when you normally would. We can’t ask students to change their rhythms or step out of their norm. Give them the normal.
Here are six things to think about when connecting virtually:
- Lock into normal rhythms or patterns of communication.
- Use every platform appropriately. Don’t try to do small groups on Zoom with 100 people.
- Ask what matters most to the students at home. What do they need?
- Find your “lane” and stay in it. Don’t become something you’re not.
- Create “onramps” for your content through various forms of social media and communication. Think – how are people accessing your content?
- Help students create and foster good habits that continue after this is over.
We are doing 15-minute, pre-recorded Wednesday night sessions with many small segments or “bits.” We do welcome, worship, giving, and message. We use different faces and locations. I recommend preaching like a TED talk: one point, one message, one illustration, and done. Then go to Instagram Live and hold conversations with students about the content in smaller groups by campus. This is the setting leaders can help students apply the content and answer questions students may have. This is the personal connection.
Be aware of these online rules of engagement:
- Acknowledge your reality – what you can and can’t accomplish online.
- Use all platforms for announcements and explain the plan: big meeting, small groups, daily devotions SOAP. Whatever your plan is, let everyone know.
- Encourage students to invite friends to the “big” meeting and to let their local campus pastors know they are visiting.
- Campus pastors acknowledge them in the smaller Instagram live settings and engage them.
- Have a second person in the room with the leader of the “live” segment. One person talking and one collecting information from students.
- Manage leaders – train them and engage them – communicate with them the plan.
These are a few resources* out there that I recommend:
- Cool Carl videos are great
- Think “Jimmy Fallon” for live game segments
- FEED Youth Ministry – 100% free small group content
- Worship experiences: check out Life.Church
*Make sure the resources you use express your heart and ministry.
For leaders who are panicked at this moment and stressed out?, have weekly leadership meetings and connect virtually. Have a Bible study, prayer, and ministry for one hour. Create text threads with all leaders and stay in touch.
Another thought about community: You can’t pre-produce it. It must be organic so that when you do ministry, community bleeds into it. This takes intentionality and energy.
Create a schedule and stick to it. Create the schedule you want to maintain after quarantine is over. Practice self-care. Create amazing habits that are going to make you better coming out of this. All so we can do the best ministry possible now and later.