Ask Rooted: What Does Relational Discipleship Look Like During the Summer?

Happy summer from Rooted! We know that in ministry, summer can be a blend of joyful, refreshing, and complicated as you continue to minister to students. Between sports, camps, and family vacations, it can be hard to keep up with students. And yet, summer also presents a unique opportunity for more unhurried and intentional discipleship. We asked some Rooted writers how they maintain relationships with students over the summer. We hope their answers encourage and inspire you as you point students to Jesus this summer.

Ryan Wood, Student Minister, First Baptist Church, Fort Payne, AL 

Many students in our context take multiple trips during the summer, either with family or school. Then there are sports and extracurricular activities like football and band camps. And then there are church trips and events on top of all those. All of these commitments make consistency a challenge for gathering as a student ministry during the summer. Even still, our church and student ministry try to maintain a somewhat normal rhythm during the summer by continuing to meet most weeks. During the school year, Wednesday nights are our regular large group meeting time, so we continue to meet most Wednesday nights. Occasionally, we try to take advantage of the flexibility of summer by changing the location from the church building to an outdoor space or home to make the night a bit more casual and inviting. Sometimes we’ll still gather on Wednesday nights, but we’ll simply use the time to hang out and enjoy some relational time. 

Even though many of our students scatter during the summer, it’s still a great time to capitalize on their additional free time and build some relational currency. During the school year, I try to grab meals with students, but these are pretty much limited to breakfasts or an afternoon dessert after school. The summer allows me to get together with students for a meal or dessert at any point during the day. The summer also frees up time to spend time with students doing recreational things that they also enjoy – golf, basketball, disc golf, etc. I try to pursue these things both on the individual and group level. I view summers primarily as opportunities to connect with students relationally and build currency with them.

Connie Nelson, College Ministry Counselor at Edmonton Christian Community Church, Edmonton, CA

The ministry year concludes at the end of June for our college fellowship, so there is no formal programming during the summer months. With students going on trips, going back home if they aren’t local, or doing summer school or internships, I rely on text messaging to maintain existing connections. If a student is going on a mission trip or doing something that holds significance for them, I try to express my interest in their trip before they leave for their adventure. When they return, we find a time to hangout face-to-face, and give space to reflect on their experience. Whether it was jarring and earth-shattering, or more or less what they expected, we care for them by showing an interest and being available to help them process using a gospel lens. That way, there’s continuity of relationship when college/youth group resumes in September.

Elliott Weston , Student and Associate Pastor, Shiloh Baptist Church, Hartford, AL

Summer break in student ministry can be your most beneficial time for relational ministry! For many youth pastors, myself included, relational ministry to students is difficult because of time restraints. During the school year, students are extremely busy with academics, extracurricular activities, friends, family, and about 100 other things. And if we are being honest, so are we. But on our designated summer break, we can use our free time to be much more intentional with our students. 

Our ministry does this in a few different ways. First, we plan more gatherings in homes of parents or adult leaders. Summer pool parties are like fertilizer to relational ministry. Students will be more connected with you and one another, as well as the host, simply because they opened up their home and you bought pizza. Second, we open up our student space for them to come and go. During the school year, our student space remains dark, empty, and lifeless except on Sundays in Wednesday nights. But in the summer, it turns in to a place of hanging out, games, and laughter.

 Lastly, We slow down. Our summers are roller coasters of busyness: camps, retreats, mission trips fill our calendar. But when we are not pulling 1000 hour weeks at camp, we slow down to sit with students, reflect on the school year, and look forward to what’s ahead. 

Becca Heck, Veteran Youth Minister and MDiv Student, Atlanta, GA 

A few years ago, our team decided that we wanted to ensure that our summer ministry calendar accomplished two things: The first was to be a gift to our families by freeing up their calendar. During the school year, midweek gatherings are hard due to school events and various sport activities, but during the summer months, weekend gatherings are hard because many families travel. In response, we shifted from our usual Sunday evening youth ministry gatherings to a midweek gathering in the summer. We’ve done swim parties, movie nights, Bible studies, and more, depending on what we feel our students needed that summer. These are easy “drop-in” events where all of our students are invited and parents only have to do one pick-up/drop-off location and time for both middle and high school students. We’ve found that just by switching to the midweek schedule, our students are more likely to attend and look forward to the break in their week of summer jobs and family commitments. 

Our second goal for our summer ministry is to gather our students together to encourage and equip them to minister and care for one another. Our usual ministry program has our students divided by grade and gender, which doesn’t always allow for them to learn to be brothers and sisters in the kingdom together. Our summers build a foundation of fellowship and spiritual family by ensuring that we focus on partnering up the older grades with the younger ones and our young men learning to have real friendships with our young women and vice versa. We have recognized that by the time the fall season rolls around, our students are excited to get back into their separate small groups, but also linger after the youth group is over to ensure they get time to catch up with their brothers and sisters as well. 

As youth ministers we get to help our students and families learn to steward their calendars in a way that adds to their spiritual life. Helping to provide a time of rest from the “normal” and fun in building relationships outside of their norm are big ways that the summer months can be fruitful times of gospel ministry.