- Next Gen
The Coronavirus lock down has highlighted the need for the church to learn to communicate digitally to all age groups. In this article, we focus specifically on how to communicate and minster safely to young people online.
Many youth groups across the Black Country already had an online presence before Coronavirus hit but this has definitely been a time to improve our digital communications, make our online safeguarding more robust and think about alternative ways to stay connected to the next generation.
There are three main areas that we’ve found where youth leaders are increasing their social media presence. Communication is key to getting everyone in the right place (online) at the right time!
Many youth leaders are encouraging online service engagement on a Sunday. Some are encouraging teenagers to post on social media as the service is being shown or chat in a Whatsapp group with each other about the service content. If you are not confident with technology, then there is a range of guides for Facebook, Zoom and Instagram produced by Youth For Christ, available here.
Many youth small groups have now gone ‘virtual’. People are having video chats in groups using Zoom, Skype, Google Meet and an array of other such platforms. If the thought of hosting a virtual small group meeting fills you with dread, here are a few helpful tips about how you could make it fun:
Many teenagers (and grown ups!) are feeling anxious and worried and so they may want to chat through their feelings with a leader separately to the wider group. One-to-one chats are a great way to do this BUT MAKE SURE SAFEGUARDING POLICY AND PROCEDURES ARE IN PLACE FOR THIS! Andy Hancocks, who leads the youth work at Lifecentral Church in Halesowen, has written a policy for their youth leaders and is happy to share it with other churches so please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like a copy. We want to keep our teenagers and our youth leaders safe online and so there must be strict rules about how to connect safely with our teenagers for any pastoral care issues.
Some of us have already learnt some big lessons the hard way so hopefully we can help others put some safe procedures in place. Remember we are all learning together so don’t be worried about asking questions if you’re unsure.
Try to use group conversations wherever possible.
If one-on-one contact is necessary, have an extra leader as part of the chat who doesn’t take part in conversations, but can ensure there is accountability.
Ensure that parents or guardians are aware of the changes in your approaches of contacting children and young people – you may wish to have consent forms specifically for this communication
Avoid using emoji or icons that could be misleading eg. xx, LOL, 😊
For contacting children and young people, it’s best practice to use a church or organisation account so that multiple people could log in and maintain accountability. Avoid using personal accounts to contact children and young people where at all possible.
For accountability, it will be important for workers and volunteers to record contact they are having. Logging when chats happen, who was part of them and the content covered.
Make sure that children and young people know what’s going on. This includes having a link to CEOP (Child Exploitation Online Protection Centre) or agencies such as Childline, NSPCC. This ensures that young people can report anything they are concerned about in regards behaviour of a worker toward them
Ensure that children and young people are only using apps and programmes that they are legally the right age to use.
Remember, there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to youth work over these next few weeks and months so chat with your church leadership and teams to work out how best you can support the teenagers in your community. Know that there are many others in a similar position to you so please ask for help if you are unsure and please get in touch if you have any other ideas that we can share with the network.
Don’t feel guilty if you are not doing youth work the same way as other churches. The priority is that everyone is safe and loved. This too shall pass and imagine how excited this next generation will be to gather again in person! Until then…we will be together, apart, showing the love of Jesus in all we do.