First Baptist Church of Marble Falls Student Pastor Laine Melikian leads a weekday Bible study on YouTube. Courtesy photo
In a time of social distancing, First Baptist Church of Marble Falls is keeping its young flock close — yet apart.
Youth ministry leaders have turned to technology to stay connected and are keeping an important goal in mind:
“Be better at relationships than anyone else,” Student Pastor Laine Melikian said. “Our entire ministry, what we do every week, every Wednesday night and Sunday morning, everybody is meeting in groups and meeting with adults.”
He is teaching a virtual Bible study, shown on YouTube.com/live starting at 11 a.m. Monday-Friday.
Older students also have been recording short videos of themselves offering messages of encouragement to younger kids and posting them on social media.
“The older kids say they’re praying for them,” Melikian said.
The church’s student ministry, The Loft, now puts their Wednesday night activities online through YouTube Live and Zoom, no easy task considering as many as 150 youths typically gather for these sessions.
Adults host a half-hour main assembly on YouTube Live at 6 p.m. Wednesdays. After that, smaller groups switch to meetings on Zoom, a virtual conferencing app, with their adult leaders.
“We have over 100 kids every Wednesday logging in,” Melikian said. “We’ve heard really good feedback to keep doing it to the best of our ability.”
During the first week of virtual meetings, the sixth-grade boys group met for 90 minutes, longer than what church officials had anticipated.
That wasn’t surprising to Dawn Jones, an adult leader who has three kids in middle school.
“The kids miss each other, and they miss their leaders,” she said. “We’re definitely a family.”
Once the main Wednesday meeting ends, the Jones family splits up into four different rooms in their home. Dawn meets with her seventh-grade girls group, while her children get together with their group leaders.
Jones noted a period of adjustment was needed.
“(The smaller meeting is) to touch base and say, ‘How are you? What can we do for you?’” Jones said. “We want to give them another outlet to share. They check in on Zoom. You get to see each other, and it’s a different feeling having that visual.”
The conversations vary from Bible lessons to what’s going on in their lives.
“As leaders, we have to be willing to listen,” Jones said. “And you have to be ready for anything.”
Marble Falls High School sophomore Savannah Harris sees the value of keeping up the weekly meetings.
“I think it’s really important,” she said. “A lot of people are making time in their busy schedules. This is a way we can reach out to the community and invite people in. It definitely helps me become a stronger Christian.”
Jones said leaders just need to remind the youths that God is still with them, especially during uncertain times.
“This wasn’t an accident. We’re here for a reason,” she said. “We have a role to play, to touch base and let them know we’re thinking about them.”
To Melikian, every opportunity to encourage others, to not be emotionally distant, is crucial for people’s well-being.
“Everything we believe about our ministry is so much bigger than a Bible lesson,” Melikian said. “Relationships matter.”