Let’s be honest. COVID has damaged our Christian communities. Virtual church services don’t give us the same opportunities to connect with one another. Even those whose services and classes are “back to normal” find attendance varying greatly as people get ill, miss to keep their kids healthy or have just gotten out of the habit of attending regularly. Community is one of the reasons I believe God created the church instead of allowing us to be independent of one another. Community helps support us in difficult times, holds us accountable when we go off course spiritually and adds a bit of extra love to our lives. Without it, we start suffering negative consequences.
Kids and teens are particularly vulnerable to the negative consequences of the lack of Christian community. Many have also experienced disruptions in their academic lives, and potential trauma from their own illness or illness in those they love. They are hurting and some are making poor choices in their pain. We need to help them reconnect to their peers at church and the church as a whole.
Thankfully, there are some fun things you can do to encourage your young Bible students to reconnect and rebuild their Christian community. Here are some of our favorites.
- Special book clubs. Schools are also noticing a dip in reading and math scores from the disruptions. Why not help your Bible students reconnect while they also work on academic skills? There are great Christian books, both fiction and non-fiction for all ages. Host a fun book club outside of regular class time. To provide exposure to various groups in your church, try mixing up who is in the clubs. For example, you can offer mother/daughter, father/son, mentor/mentee, elder/teen, senior Christian/teen or any other combination you can devise. If unrelated adults are invited, make sure you have done appropriate volunteer screening first.
- Gift discovery adventures. Find people in your congregation who have various gifts – the more diverse, the better. Set up opportunities outside of Bible class for them to bring supplies and give young people a chance to try various gifts. Encourage the adults to share ways they have used their gifts to serve God as they work with your Bible students. You can have a separate event for each gift or have students rotate between various centers (each representing a different gift).
- Field trips. Whether it’s to see biblical artifacts in a local museum or picking apples and taking them to shut-ins, field trips give lots of time to develop relationships. Just make sure you are monitoring to avoid unpleasant interactions or anyone being excluded. You might even want to host a few family field trips so families can bond as well.
- Class picnics, ice cream socials and game nights. Planning purely fun things for students can help – with a few caveats. Avoid things like movie nights when people are just watching something instead of interacting with each other. Provide ice breakers, table talk cards and other social aids for kids who may struggle to interact with others. Watch for cliques and other social disrupters and intervene before they become toxic. Finally, make sure you’ve done everything to keep them safe. Fun isn’t fun when something bad happens.
- Family learning experiences. Try combining fun with Bible learning, while allowing plenty of talking while they learn, so people can get to know each other better. Try things like making fish mummies (Jacob and Joseph were mummified), grinding grain into flour and baking bread (Ruth), spinning, weaving and sewing clothes (Dorcas/Tabitha), slinging (use ping pong or nerf balls instead of rocks) (David) or any other cultural aspect of a Bible story that is hands on and would be fun for the entire family to experience. You can also host events where parents and their kids work together to complete a challenge or service project and then share parenting skills or character traits that are tied to it for both parents and kids.
- Prayer and Bible study partners. This is a way to encourage deeper, more spiritually meaningful relationships. You can pair up students or pair students with adult mentors (please screen all adults as you would any volunteer). Encourage them to touch base with each other regularly or provide time before or after class for them to meet and discuss prayer concerns or what they have been reading in the Bible. Some teens may also be interested in doing a more formal Bible study or reading through a devotional book with their partner or a small group of people.
Helping young people build Christian community takes extra time and effort from you. It’s worth it though, when you realize it can make a huge positive difference in the lives of your Bible students.