Tuesday, April 28, 2020

6 Ways to do Prayer During Online Small Groups (Part 2)


Learning to pray as a new believer can be similar to a young child learning how to speak. When our son was 2 years old, he would repeat back a word after my wife and I said it. For him, it was his way of confirming to us that he understood the word. He may not have understood all of the uses of the word, but at least he was understanding the application of the particular word within that particular moment. Just as a toddler first understands individual words, a new believer begins to understand individual verses and succinct prayers. And similar to how a toddler learns to speak in full sentences with proper grammar, Christians gradually learn to apply overarching biblical truths to everyday life through prayer and meditation.

As we grow in our prayer lives with the Lord, we communicate to Him that we understand biblical principles (especially within the context of the circumstances that we are experiencing). From here, continued communication in prayer can convey a readiness to receive more of God through the Holy Spirit. Not only can a small group help solidify this process for new believers, but it can also generate opportunities for mature believers to discover new truths that the Lord is wanting to reveal to us. Indeed, we never stop learning about the infinite nature of God.

Last week, we explored Leader Prayer, Praying over a Single Word, and Intercessory Prayer. This week, let us unpack 3 more ways you can do prayer during your online small groups that are meeting.

Neighbor prayer
My personal favorite method of prayer within small groups, Neighbor Prayer is when each person prays over the person next to them, clockwise or counter-clockwise. Once everyone has given their prayer request, the group leader announces the direction that group members will face in order to pray over the person next to them. In the case of online groups, the leader can assign each person, making sure that everyone has someone praying over them and is also praying over someone else.

Breakout prayer
Typically utilized for groups of 6 or more, Breakout Prayer splits up larger numbers of individuals into smaller groups, thereby allowing more group members to become involved during prayer time. Depending on the time remaining within the meeting, the leader can split up the larger group into sizes of 3-6 individuals (The more individuals per group, the more time needed for the group to pray). Not only does this method allow the group to focus on the prayer requests of each individual member, it also gives each person the opportunity to gain more experience and grow more skilled in praying over another individual. To learn more about how to utilize the Breakout Room functionality within Zoom, click here.


Praying Scripture
Sometimes when we read Scripture, we do so out of intellectual pursuit, rather than out of a desire to rest in the presence of Jesus’ love. However, praying through the Scriptures allows us to set aside our own agenda and calls us to be more open and attentive to God. A simple form of the exercise is to read the Scriptures and respond by meditating in an organic manner (rather than a timed/scheduled manner). Another form of praying Scripture is lectio divina, where the group reads through the selected verses in 4 different meditative movements, focusing on a different perspective each time (reading, reflecting, responding, and resting). Instead of coming to the Lord with a premade list of appeals, practicing the method of Praying Scripture can be refreshing when the group is able to simply open the Bible and let the Lord guide them through the Spirit. When we pray the Scriptures, we can know with absolute confidence that we are speaking words that please the Lord (after all, He is the author of them!).




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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

6 Ways to do Prayer During Online Small Groups (Part 1)



Whether through times of celebration, times of lament, or anywhere in between, prayer is essential to the Christian life, and engaging in this vital spiritual discipline allows us to spend time with our Lord and build a deeper relationship with Him. Over two weeks, let us unpack 6 different ways you can do prayer during your online small groups (3 will be reviewed each week).

Leader prayer
Just as we see in John 17 when Jesus prays over His disciples, Leader Prayer is when the group leader is the individual who prays over the group. Some group leaders may use this method too sparingly, arguing that a small group is the best opportunity to train up church members in becoming comfortable with the practice of leading prayer. On the other end of the spectrum, some group leaders may use this method too frequently, out of a fear of scaring some of their group members who may not be ready to lead the group in prayer. Naturally, the best recommendation is found to be in the middle of the road. If the group is short on time or if the group members are feeling spiritually burdened that particular week, perhaps it may be beneficial for the group leader to pray over the group. A balanced strategy I have often used in the past is when I open the group meeting in prayer and then invite other group members to close the group in prayer.

Praying Over a Single Word
If interested in trying something new with the group, Praying Over a Single Word can be a method of prayer that, when used strategically, can become very powerful. After taking a moment for reflection, each person types one word and sends it as a private message to the group leader (Most online meeting software programs allow for direct/private messaging within the meeting). This single word is actually a prayer request, and only God and the person who wrote it knows what that word represents and why the person is submitting it as a prayer request. From here, the group leader then assigns each word to different members while ensuring that each member does not receive their own word (If instead you are feeling more Spirit-led, offer each word to the group and allow the group members to volunteer themselves for one of the words as you read each aloud). Although unique, this method of prayer offers two benefits: first, this exercise grows our spiritual muscles and challenges us to think outside of the cliché go-to phrases that we typically use during prayer; second, the anonymity of the prayer requests help prevent any assumption or bias from entering the prayer, which can help increase the chance of powerful encounters with the Spirit.

Intercessory Prayer
Earlier this year, I mentioned an individual I know who had been blessed by a small group practicing Intercessory Prayer. Even though this person found Christ while alone in his apartment, he later discovered from one of his new Christian friends that there was a small group prayer meeting taking place at the same hour that he encountered the Lord, and that at this prayer meeting there was an entire room of people praying specifically for him! While the Holy Spirit may not move this quickly every time there is a prayer meeting, intercessory prayer nevertheless is powerful when we as a church body call upon the Lord and pray with a unified heart over another individual. Not only can it help us appeal directly to the Lord within the spiritual realm, but it can also positively impact our outward actions towards the individual when we interact with them in the physical realm.



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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

3 Online Ideas for Doing Youth Ministry During Covid-19


During the pandemic season of Covid-19, how are your youth faring? Have youth ministers at your church gotten the chance to interact with students at a personal level? A few weeks ago we explored different methods to reach out to online group members, but what about youth ministry? Video calls are excellent to schedule, however using social media to minister to today’s youth demands an approach that is both organic and conversational. Because of this, one of the most impactful methods to use when connecting with the youth can be through a livestream. Between the two of these, let’s explore three ways to make the most out of your youth ministry’s video calls and/or social media livestreams.

The Panel
Who said online service has to be the same old sermon? “The Panel” is a type of online service where students anonymously text in their questions to a phone number that is made available to them (either in advance, or on the spot). Free phone numbers can be created by Google Voice, and it becomes a cinch to generate a digital phone number and begin receiving text messages through Google’s free downloadable app. By giving them the ability to submit questions anonymously, students are allowed to be vulnerable and to ask the questions that really matter to them. Your next youth service on dating or pornography may end up being one of the most engaging services you’ve ever held by allowing your youth to steer the direction of the conversation. “The Panel” can be done on Zoom, Instagram, or TikTok. Even though we addressed why your youth ministry needs to be on TikTok last week, Instagram would actually be the most ideal platform to choose for this type of youth service. By utilizing the “Go Live with a Friend” feature, the youth pastor can invite different youth ministers each week to help answer the submitted questions.

Online Lock-In
Your students are already up at 3am playing games or browsing their social media, so why not commit to staying up with them for one night? While few (if any) students will stay with you throughout the entirety of the whole lock-in, the goal of such an event is instead to make connections with students. The internet truly is our students’ domain. Instead of forcing the students to bend the knee to the church’s calendar, a bold event such as this shows that the youth ministry is willing to be there for their students on their time.

Similar to the marketing principles of in-person ministry, larger events require larger advertising. Promote the event weeks ahead and give teasers for what the students can expect; give them suggested windows of time to attend if they want to play a certain game or talk about a certain topic; finally, include your youth ministers to lead and oversee portions of the lock-in so that the event can have more variety and creativity.

Zoom shines through as the ideal platform to host such an event, since meetings can last up to 24 hours with a basic paid account. To take it a step further, be creative and conduct shorter TikTok and Instagram live streams during the lock-in to funnel even more students to the ongoing Zoom lock-in call. A word of caution, however: Zoombombing is a very real and harmful nuisance, where students are at risk of being exposed to pornographic images and other offensive content. It is vital for strategies and contingency plans to be drafted to prevent such an event from derailing your entire evening (Here is a great article on how to prevent Zoombombing from occurring to your Zoom meeting).

Youth Takeover
It’s an expectation to see a youth pastor go live and try to engage students on social media. But a fellow student? Now you’ve captured their attention even more. In my book Youth Empowered, a section is included on how to launch a student-led “Social Media Empower Team.” The goal of such a team is to extend leadership to qualified students who are passionate about spreading the Gospel through the use of social media. Under the mentorship and guidance of an Empower Team Leader, a team of students can take turns conducting various “Youth Takeovers” on the social media accounts that your youth ministry possesses, hosting and/or posting Christian-centric content that is respectful, fun, and creative. To find out more on Empower Teams, click here to learn more about Youth Empowered.




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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Reason Your Youth Ministry Needs to Be On TikTok


With the digital landscape of youth ministry constantly shifting at lightning fast speed, it can become hard to determine where we can focus our time and energy in a manner that allows us to keep up with our students. We quickly fall behind on the latest memes and hashtags, only to arrive at the moment that the newest social media trend begins. But what about social media platforms? Does your youth ministry currently utilize social media to engage your students (especially during Covid-19)? Let’s unpack this further and explore why it is now time to seriously consider creating a youth ministry account for TikTok.

Gen Z and Social Media
YouTube, Snapchat, and TikTok are the three primary social media platforms for Gen Z in the year of 2020. It’s no surprise that YouTube remains a top competitor, for any individual that arrives at an internet video these days is likely to be watching content that is hosted by the website giant. However, this social media platform is typically one-directional, where content is posted and interaction is restricted to the comments section of the posted video. Snapchat remains to be an excellent direct messaging app, however discernment is required whenever using an app to message students directly (Since our discussion here is catered more toward engaging students as groups, this post will not be addressing the use and/or cautionary recommendations of using Snapchat). Finally, while TikTok is a relatively new contender to the realm of social media, it has quickly identified itself as the primary platform that next gen students are using to explore their digital world.

What to Keep, What to Scrap
Are you as surprised as I was on how fast Gen Z has shifted within social media platform use? Here are four free graphs that are downloadable from research company Statista, which show age group mapped across the usage of four popular platforms: Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.




Does this mean that youth pastors should discontinue using Facebook? To Gen Z, Facebook (upper right graph) is essentially a dead platform. A youth ministry that has no Facebook presence today would likely receive few complaints. What is a surprising observation, however, is that Instagram (lower left graph) is now showing a strikingly similar trend. While the platform still holds a strong following among Millennials, the shockingly steep gap between Gen Z and Millennial usage of the Instagram platform speaks volumes. Does this mean that your youth ministry should discontinue use of Instagram? Not necessarily. Even though Gen Z is not on Instagram, posting your youth ministry content to this platform will remain to be an excellent way to keep in touch with parents of students for the next five to ten years.

Why TikTok?
So does this mean that youth pastors and youth leaders need to be on TikTok? Unless something occurs to drastically change these metrics in the near future, the data currently says yes. After all, why would a fisherman go to waters where there are no fish? It wouldn’t make sense in that scenario, and neither does it here for your youth ministry. If your church is attempting to reach the lost and is striving to spread the gospel to a wider audience of students, then Instagram is not where they are. And even if your students have an Instagram account, they are likely checking it at the end of the evening when they are already tired from spending two (or more) hours scrolling through their other social media platforms. Jesus deserves better. The Good News is content that is worthy of their feeds, and your youth ministry is called to be a part of a student’s prime hours of screen time.

Where there is opportunity for the Gospel to be shared, we are called to go as apostles and evangelists. We must go where the people are, and our youth are no exception. Yes, learning new social platforms is challenging and can be frustrating. But if we refuse to establish a presence where our youth spend a large amount of their time, we are allowing Jesus to be placed on the back-burner of a student’s life when we do not adopt new and innovative technology. We must not neglect this principle now during Covid-19 or in fact during any other time, lest we sentence ourselves to continuously preach into the digital echo chambers of dying social media platforms.



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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Why Online Groups, During Unprecedented Times


“Unprecedented times” has become the standard phrase to describe the world of today. But fear not. While the devil has a history of using sickness and isolation as weapons against the kingdom of God, his methods are inevitably defeated every time he comes into contact with the person of Jesus Christ. It is because of this fact that we possess a hope that stands upon the mighty and powerful name of Jesus. True, we may be living in unprecedented times. But with unprecedented times comes the opportunity for the Church to respond by mobilizing and conducting ministry in unprecedented ways.

A Season of Change
The speed in which one may turn a boat is directly correlated to the size of the vessel. A fishing boat can make quick and precise turns, while a cruise liner requires a significantly larger amount of time to make a wide turn. The larger Church can be likened to the size of a cruise liner, where making large changes requires more energy and time. While Covid-19 slowly gained traction, the Church remained optimistic that it would be able to ride the wave of the virus without the need to change any existing cultural precedents. However, at this time we are confident that this is no longer a short period of inconvenience, but rather a season of change that we must now fully engage.

Online Mobilization
With many churches approaching their 4th week of streaming their Sunday services, this week has become the precise week in which the Church is called to fully embrace the mobilization of its online small group ministry. Indeed, congregants who may have brushed aside online groups a month ago may now be open to the concept to help combat the pangs of self-isolation. Simply looking at Psalm 133 may assist us in understanding why. David proclaims in this tiny 3-verse psalm, How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore” (NIV). In other words, true fellowship is the best of Earth intersecting with the best of heaven. It’s an experience as potent and close to God as was the ordination of the very first high priest, Aaron. It’s the very best representation of our relationship that we can have with the Lord, utilizing the best metaphors that our earthly minds can possibly comprehend. Without fellowship with one another, we lose the closest thing we have with God, save for our own personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

The Need for Online Groups Now
We are made in the image of God, and God perfectly embodies fellowship within the Trinity. The soul cannot be deprived of fellowship for prolonged periods of time, for God did not create us for this purpose. Even the Lord would not want to exist in this manner, and the only time He ever chose to experience this state of being was when He sacrificed His Son on the cross. We must remind ourselves of the finished work of Jesus at the cross. Never should we feel trapped to live in isolation, for Jesus took on this burden so that we would not have to!

Pastors, utilize your message this week to bring your church together and fully embrace the opportunity to meet online. Bill Donahue, author of Building a Life-Changing Small Group Ministry, explains that “there is always enormous correlation between what the person on the platform does and what everyone else in the church will do.” The tone and optimism in which church staff promote online groups during these critical weeks will directly affect the perception of online groups within the congregation. Now is the time for church leadership to help guide the community through this season of change and embrace the next generation of online ministry.


Let's Connect! Follow on Twitter: @SeanBuono