As news of the vaccine began to spread and more and more people began taking it, like so many other youth workers, I began wondering what implications this would have for my summer ministry, which until now, has largely been on hold.
While my first instinct was to book a mission trip, I instead met with my student leaders and then sought advice from parents. In doing so, I was reminded just how complicated summer 2021 will be for so many families. Given that, here are five realities we need to keep in mind as we begin planning for summer ministry.
1. Different families have different comfort levels regarding safety. Families are all over the place regarding what they feel comfortable with right now. Some are living life fairly normally. Others are hunkered down in their homes. Families will continue to navigate COVID differently, even as (or perhaps especially as) the vaccine becomes more widespread. While some families will be more than willing to send their kids away for the summer, others will want to keep them close this year. This is likely to impact summer event attendance in a myriad of ways.
2. The pandemic has affected families in different ways financially. Families who previously never batted an eye over the cost of summer activities may feel differently now. This means that we need to think long and hard about how to make summer events accessible to all families – especially to those that we may not yet know have been hit hard by the pandemic.
3. Teens are desperate to be with their friends. The pandemic has isolated many kids from their friends. As a result, many teens want nothing more than to “hang out” with their friends AS SOON AS THEY HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY. While we want to believe that kids have friends in our youth ministries, often their best friends are school friends, who they may well prioritize hanging out with above church activities during the summer.
4. Instead of canceling events, many schools have simply postponed them. Many high schoolers are expecting to (and looking forward) to participating in extracurricular school activities OVER THE SUMMER. They will almost certainly prioritize these over summer church events.
5. There is still uncertainty about summer. As much as we’d like to be able to say THIS IS WHAT SUMMER 2021 WILL LOOK LIKE, we just can’t. Families don’t know. Schools don’t know. Churches don’t know. As a result, many families simply aren’t in a position to commit to activities for the summer YET.
So what does this mean?
It means that we need to dream about the summer while simultaneously being realistic about what’s feasible as well as what our teens (and their families) really want (and need) this summer.
It means we may need to do things differently this summer.
And – as has been the case for so much of 2020 – it means that we need to make and hold summer plans loosely, continuing to listen to our families and adapting to best meet their needs.