Students across Texas are hungry for fellowship during the shelter-in-place reality, and they are creatively utilizing technology to satisfy these cravings.
At Friendship Creekside Fellowship in Austin, a group of middle schoolers approached Director of Student Ministries Clayton Liles with an innovative idea for creating much-needed fellowship opportunities.
“It was some of our 7th-grade girls that came up with the idea to do a Zoom Lock-in,” said Liles. “I was hesitant at first, but I could see their desire for community. So I took the idea to some of my adult leaders﹣we were already familiar with the platform﹣and we found a way to make it happen.”
A virtual community for students
All middle school girls were invited to join the Saturday night event. Throughout the evening, starting at 8 p.m. and ending around 3 a.m., approximately 10 girls and various leaders were active online. Students were allowed to come and go as needed, and leaders were assigned to monitor in shifts.
“I popped in at one point early on in the evening to see how things were going. I know some parents did as well. It was free-flowing,” said Liles. “One of our parents volunteered to monitor the whole night. She and her daughter had the Zoom call running on their smart TV. They were responsible for granting access to anyone who asked to enter the group and for screen sharing during certain activities.”
Liles believes the come-and-go model helped make the event a success.
“It was a great way for the girls to get acclimated to one another between grades,” he said. “Some of the younger girls can be nervous. This gave them an opportunity to get to know the older girls in a no-pressure situation. At a real lock-in they would have to stay, but in this situation, they were free to go if they needed or wanted. I think this was a real added benefit, especially for girls who are more introverted.
“It was also a great opportunity for a few girls who gave their lives to Christ at DNOW earlier this year to get to know the new community they stepped into. This particular lock-in was more of an in-reach than outreach event because we were concerned about security. But now that we’ve done it once and know what to expect, there is definitely evangelistic potential for future groups.”
The students participated in several fun activities throughout the night to build community and relationships, like sharing favorite recipes, learning to make homemade lemonade, giving tours of their rooms, playing Download Youth Ministry games and just chatting.
“My favorite part of the lock-in was getting to hang out with my friends even though we weren’t in the same room. It helped things feel more normal,” said Morgan Cooke, an 8th grader and student leader.
When asked why staying connected is important during the quarantine, another student, 7th grader Kinley Richardson, said, “So you don’t go crazy. And to make sure my friends are okay.”
Importance of security
The middle school girls’ lock-in was the beta-testing group for Liles and his adult leaders. They knew that for the event, and future events like it, to be safe and successful, security must be the top priority.
“As a father with a young daughter, I was particularly concerned with making sure our girls were protected the entire night,” said Liles.
For other churches interested in hosting events like this one, Liles made many security recommendations:
- Use a paid Zoom account to host the event
- Give adult leaders access to this account so that they can safely monitor entrance requests
- Do not post meeting IDs, links or passwords online or on social media
- Have a back-up Zoom account where the event can move if needed
Other students have expressed interest in holding their own lock-ins. These events will be the same concept but feature different activities to attract and engage different age and gender groups.
“I only attended briefly, but from what I heard, the night was mainly lots of laughter,” said Liles. “Our students recently found out that spring retreat and summer camp are canceled this year. They’ve lost a lot, but their spirits are still great, and they’re willing and eager to find ways to stay in community. Hopefully, we’ll see more churches popping up that host events like this one to encourage their students.”
For more information about how Texas Baptists are responding to the COVID-19 situation, visit txb.org/covid-19.