Midland Division launched Youth Online in December of 2020, as a YouTube-based livestream broadcast from Hamilton Corps, Midland Division—for youth, hosted by youth, which runs once a month on Sundays.
When you are one of only a handful of youth at your church, or even the only one, it’s easy to feel disconnected. As Captain Jordan Westrupp noticed when he started his role in Midland as the divisional youth secretary, many corps in the division were struggling with low numbers of youth in their corps (churches) and little to no support or programmes in place for those who were around.
It seemed that many of Midland Division’s youth support and resourcing had been designed for youth ministry 10 to 20 years ago, rather than for the young people of today. Many of the corps are more rural, and the churches, as Jordan describes it, have either isolated or disappearing youth groups. These are groups that have up to, or less than, five young people in their corps, and often have no dedicated leader for youth—whether paid or a volunteer. But because corps still have youth that need the same input as those with well-developed programmes, Jordan and the Midland Division team brainstormed with the hope of connecting the youth across Midland in a way that made sense with the current culture. The answer: Youth Online.
A Strong Connection
The idea is to meet and interact with youth in a way that made sense to them, Jordan explains. ‘If we were able to provide a social connection through the online medium, that would mean that we could traverse distances and we could break down borders. And with those corps in our division where they have like five or less young people, we could connect them to the wider division and the wider Army.’
Youth Online runs much like any other youth group: they play games, complete challenges, and there are times of sharing and reflection on Scripture. The team who are facilitating this programme are still discovering what can and can’t be done in a live, online format. In some ways, there is more flexibility than in a more traditional church setting. Jordan wants Youth Online to be able to develop as they learn more about how to best run the service. He noticed during the national lockdown last year that as many churches were forced to move online, the reaction was to directly transfer what they normally did in person into an online format, and that was not necessarily the best use of the online format.
An exciting feature they have been able to make use of with the online medium is the ability to hear in real time from those that are tuning in across the division, as Jordan and the Youth Online team can cross live to anyone with a microphone and a camera. Jordan feels that it is a good way for these isolated or disappearing youth groups to be able to contribute to the content.
‘It’s a really great way to respond to the fact that most of our youth in the division, we’ve learned, exist in isolation, and that we have an ability to reconnect with those young people. If their experience of the corps is that they’ve rocked up on a Sunday—and maybe they’re the only teenager in their whole faith community—it’s an empowering thing for them to realise that even though that’s the Sunday reality, they are also a part of something much bigger.’
Livestream in the Lounge
The encouragement for people in the corps is to help their young people get connected by hosting them in their homes—to join in the livestream together—as a low barrier point of entry both for the youth and for those in the corps who want to support them. ‘Someone from the corps can do that, maybe shout them pizza or just play hospitality ... We can bring the best practice of youth ministry into the living room. So for corps who feel they don’t have the skill sets or the abilities within their corps to do youth group well, and that’s been a big barrier to them wanting to, we’re saying, you just have to host them in your house—most people can do that—and we’ll do the rest, effectively, from Hamilton.’
As Youth Online only operates once a month, the goal is not to have it replace what is happening in each corps the rest of the time, but to add another point of ongoing connection for youth who are struggling to find community in their corps. The youth work that all the corps are doing is vital in terms of discipling their youth and giving them opportunities to grow and serve. However, particularly for corps that can’t maintain a youth ministry, Youth Online is a more sustainable way of doing mass gatherings, helping the young people they do have to get to know the other young people in their division and making it easier to feel they can join in on the larger in-person events during the year.
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As Youth Online continues, Jordan plans to travel more around the division to film stories and testimonies of youth to include in the livestream, hoping to help blur the physical and online world for those watching. He is also eager to get reflections and feedback from the youth that the programme has been designed for, so that they can feel a sense of ownership over the space. A great example of this in action was them coming to a name for it in the first place. ‘When we launched at the end of last year, we were trying to think of what kind of cool name we could give it. We talked to young people and they were just like, “Well, it’s youth but it’s online, so just call it Youth Online”.’
For more info and updates about Youth Online, check them out on instagram: @tsa.youthonline