How to COVID-Proof Your Youth Ministry Retreat
“We aren’t having our retreat till October, so things will be back to normal. This Covid-19 thing is only going to last for a few months." Do you remember the days when we said things like this? If you're like me, my heart is heavy coming out of a summer lacking big events. Youth ministry and events have always gone hand in hand, and the coronavirus has done hard work to separate the two. As we approach the fall season where we would have fall retreats, disciple now, and event weekends, I want us to have a glimmer of hope. This virus is no surprise to Jesus, and with the right preparation, I believe we can still have incredible events this year. Here are five things for you to consider to COVID-Proof your retreat!
1. Seating and Spacing
The biggest thing we've been told to help stop the virus's spread is to stay home. Now, this is a bit impossible during a retreat, so how do we take the next best step? Social distancing is powerful in its limitation of the virus, and this fact will be your best friend during your retreat. Try and find a space that is open and large for you to have your group gatherings in.
The first place that comes to mind is your worship center. If you're like most churches, your youth group meeting area isn't the most spacious. Some of you might even be saying, "What? You have a place specifically for your youth group to meet?" I'd highly suggest seeing if you can use the worship center or a larger than normal space for your worship services. This can also be a fellowship hall, but you'll want to think about what room I can use 20% capacity. If you find this type of space, you'll sit and space your youth out safely. In a time where there are no guarantees, the biggest guarantee you can give families is your intentionality for their safety.
2. Objectless Recreation
I'm not saying you need to have pointless recreation; try to find recreation games that don't involve a shared object. Basketball becomes tough because everyone uses the same ball. On the other hand, individual relay races allow your youth to compete in teams while also limiting contact. You can get creative on what rec opportunities there are available which do not involve a shared object for the game.
There is a reason to pause and think about this, though. Here at YM360, we believe in the Theology of Games, which is simply that students become theologically aware when they are environmentally comfortable. You may think, what if we left recreation out of our event? It just "isn't worth the hassle." When we do games well, we enable our students to lower their guards in a positive light, allowing them to become more receptive to the truth of God's message. Think through your games, and you'll see the benefits on the other side.
3. More Volunteers Than Normal
It is one thing to recruit volunteers for your event, but for a COVID-proof retreat, you'll need even more. It sounds almost illogical to want more people at your events in terms of helping. If the worry is having large groups of people in the room, why would you want more people than necessary? This is exactly the point; more people are going to be necessary. Think about all of the extra details which will have to be done for each of your gatherings. You'll want to clean each room, you'll need doors to be opened, eyes watching to make sure people are wearing masks, and even more tasks which you’re already considering. That’s even more eyes and tasks needed than simply allowing students to walk into the room.
You'll want to bring in more volunteers than normal because this isn't normal. As much as we want to call this season a new normal for what we know and have learned in student ministry, this is not normal. One beauty of recruiting more volunteers is that these volunteers will be different from your standard asks. You aren't looking for someone to lead a small group; you're looking for someone to use as many Clorox wipes as possible. It's not a rec leader you want, rather someone to make sure each student walking into the lunch line has gotten a proper amount of hand sanitizer. Looking at you 7th-grade boys who like to put a puddle in their hands before they smack a friend…or maybe that's the youth worker doing that prank.
4. Nail Down Your Small Details
Yes, I mentioned someone holding a bottle of hand sanitizer at the front of your lunch line. If you want to COVID-Proof your retreat, you are going to need to know this event like the back of your hand. I'd suggest knowing any event you are planning on running this well, but especially during a time. What I love to do in prep is I think through the following four people's weekends from start to finish. I think about what doors they will go through, seats they will sit in, and even down to bathrooms, which will get used.
I picture this weekend through a male and female student's perspective, an adult leader, and one of my personalities (band member or speaker). When you walk through each of those weekend perspectives, you'll want to have a pen and paper in front of you. Think about all the common spaces they are going to come in contact with or ways you can eliminate that contact. When you spend the time thinking of details on that level, even the coronavirus's micro-pathogens will be noticed.
I’ve always heard the saying; the devil is in the details. Well, I don't know about you, but I'd rather avoid having the devil at my events. Therefore, I will memorize and prepare for every detail to kick that being out of my event. Not only does knowing your event in that detail gives you preparation, but it also brings you comfort. You won't stress about surprises because likely you saw them coming in all of your prep-work.
5. Speak to the Heart
This is likely the most important piece of COVID-Proofing your event. Your students are just as overwhelmed as you right now, if not more. Think about your seniors who spent 12 years preparing for a moment that many had taken away. Your new seniors are wondering if the same will happen to them. Proms and dances have become impossible. All people want is normal, and you have a chance to speak to the heart of this. Who is our rock when the storm rages on? Jesus. Who knows the unknown? Jesus. You may feel like you are going full Sunday School juke on your students, but we know there is one thing that can truly affect humanity's hearts. Jesus.
I know there are other things to talk about, and you’ve likely already done a series on COVID or the unknown. I would urge you to COVID-Proof your retreat by speaking to your students' hearts to let them be seen. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable, because your students will respect and connect with you amidst the chaos. If you simply put on an event, students may or may not come. If you address your students' hearts and hurts, we will all choose to seek out a remedy for the pain. The answer…you guessed it is Jesus.
I know times are tough but know that here at YM360, youth workers and youth leaders are today's heroes. We value everything you do day in and day out. The seminary class you never knew you needed, Youth Ministry During a Pandemic, isn't out there. We know you wear many hats, so we provide high-quality resources and life-changing events to help you do the important work of allowing students to make decisions to follow Christ. If there is anything we can do during this time to help you, please let us know. I challenged you to show transparency, so I'll offer my own. We didn't take the class, Helping Churches During a Pandemic, so we are trying to figure things out ourselves. I'm ecstatic to learn alongside you, though, and honored to continue serving any way we can.