‘Digital Disciple Now’ targets Family Church students where they are

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WEST PALM BEACH— Family Church in West Palm Beach hosted a “Digital Disciple Now” during Easter weekend April 10-11 as a time of spiritual growth for students who have been sheltering at home, isolated from friends and church activities.

“We wanted to provide them with great content that would pull them away from Snapchat and Instagram even though we still really leveraged those,” said Tyler Core, student pastor at Family Church Downtown.

The digital, two-day event was an opportunity for students and their student campus pastors to connect despite being quarantined at home to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Social distancing is a lot harder to connect with people and you connect with people through shared experiences,” said Core. Through this time, he noted, student pastors at Family Church are pouring themselves into shepherding their students.

Family Church is a network of 12 neighborhood congregations stretching across Palm Beach County and northwards to Port St. Lucie. While the original church is located in downtown West Palm Beach, churches serve other communities and include three language congregations.

The Digital Disciple Now event began with Core’s version of Friday Night Live. That was followed by a 10-minute introduction by the other campus student pastors, worship and prayer. Students then connected with their campus youth groups through videoconferencing.

“Before meeting online, we were averaging 70 percent attendance,” said Core, “but this event got us back to 100 percent attendance.”

The digital Easter weekend retreat focused on the spiritual, but also included fun activities on Saturday for students to pick for participation. After a devotion and prayer time for first responders, leaders and churches, students could choose to record a one-minute video of themselves performing a talent, participate in a Fornite (multiplayer, online battle game) tournament,  or take part in an Instagram live “ask-me-anything” with Family Church lead pastor Jimmy Scroggins.

For $15 students could purchase the “Very Important Partier” package that included a t-shirt and pizza delivered to their door on Saturday night. “Volunteers signed up for this and brought the event to the kids’ door in a special way,” Core added.

“We wanted to strike a balance between being fun and formative and meet them where they were, so we included Tik Tok components, Instagram and streamed everything out of YouTube,” the student pastor said.

Because many of the students “are grieving their life as it was,” the Saturday night sermon was based on Luke 24, focusing on the resurrection and appearances of Christ.

All content was pre-recorded and videotaped two weeks before the Easter weekend. Then during the next two weeks, the staff edited and storyboarded the whole event to make it look live.

As he reflected on the weekend, Core said he was pleased with the outcome, noting that students’ trust is earned through events held outside of Sunday morning. For the parents, he added, the meeting was one of the first connections they had to a student ministry event. They all said that it was well done, he reported.

“In social posts after the event, students talked about how this time in quarantine is not a punishment but an opportunity to prepare and thrive in their spiritual walk with Christ and to be digital missionaries.”

Core’s advice to churches thinking of taking on a similar project for their students is to “start where you are, use what you have and do what you can,” he said.

“Engage and involve as many students as possible because they will support what they help create. Meet your students where they are in terms of the content that you produce and the experiences that are relevant to them. Think of what they are going through right now.”

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