Youth group dynamic shifts to online base

In the back corner of Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church, there is a small youth room. Upon first glance, the room doesn’t look like much. It seems like a typical youth room covered in mismatched rugs, musical instruments, flyers for upcoming events and photos of smiling teenagers. 

This room has various purposes, but every Sunday night, Signulls Youth Group takes place, the room fills with high school students coming in to talk about their weeks, form new relationships and grow in their faith. At this time, the room transforms from an ordinary youth room to a safe place for all of these teenagers. 

“Signulls is a great thing because it’s something you can count on each week,” freshman Andrew Depwe said. “It’s a place that is so welcoming even if it has been a while since you have gone, and it is awesome to know that there are people that want you to be there each and every week.”

A typical gathering consists of games, worship, a talk which connects faith to everyday life and ends with small groups for discussions. Although their meetings seem to be traditional for a youth group, Signulls focuses on building strong relationships and getting to know every attendee on a personal level.

“Our slogan for youth ministry is that we want to know kids, so that they can know God,” director of the High School Ministry at WHPC Taylor Lahey, who goes by Taylor, said. “Even though I love teaching, and I could spend an entire week writing a talk and [making] sure it’s the best thing ever, if a kid walks through the door and doesn’t feel known, I feel like we failed. We don’t necessarily care about the numbers, we care if everyone who walks through that door feels known and cared for.”

Small groups are created by  breaking off into groups of three to 10 people with an assigned person to lead the discussion; in this time the group can discuss faith on a deeper level. This time is devoted to talking about the stress of school, discussing everyone’s general well-being and understanding the sermon that evening. This time also grants kids the opportunity to meet people outside of school.  

“You don’t get lost in the large crowd of things, so both introverts and extroverts thrive,” Taylor said. “I always tell people tangents are the best thing in small groups, whatever the group of people want to talk about. Let’s just ask questions and delve deeper [to] find why we’re asking these questions and why we’re thinking these things.”

Right now, society is faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, and this group can no longer meet in person. Anxiety about loved ones getting sick can become overwhelming in times like these. Religion helps Christians stay sane and persevere through these unclear waters.

“[Religion]: it’s everything,” freshman Mitchell Schultz said. “If I didn’t know God had a plan through everything, I would be freaking out asking, ‘How much longer is this going to go on? Why? Will this permanently damage some of my relationships?’ I really do think that being with God is pretty much the one and only key to keeping inner peace through this time.”

Having faith in an all-powerful God reassures the notion that everything will run its course the way it was meant to.

“It’s comforting knowing that I believe God is good,” Taylor said. “And the way he sees things in the grand scheme of things, good will come out of this. So that’s it, knowing that fact, knowing that fact that God is good, helps lots.”

A large part of faith is community, so WHPC continues to host Signulls meetings online to primarily focus on the small group aspect of the gathering.The group is meeting through Zoom and hosting devotionals and challenges on their Instagram account. To attend a Zoom meeting, all the information is posted on their Instagram, @whpc_signulls. 

“I think it provides some sense of normalcy,” Taylor said. “That’s why we kept [the meetings] at the same time because our students are used to coming at this time. And it’s also a chance to [see] people you don’t always see at school. You can actually talk to them like there’s no real set schedule. It’s the, ‘Oh, all my friends are here,’ it’s freedom to talk, the freedom to hang out in another space that’s not just at school. I feel like, for a lot of y’all, school kind of sucks more now because it is nothing but classes, and all the passing periods [where you] hang out with friends in that downtime, you don’t get [to have] that necessarily as much anymore.”

To many members, this is a place where everyone is cared for, and most members miss the weekly social gathering. In spite of this, the goal of the group still remains, and Signulls strives to maintain the tight-knit relationships between these students, even if members cannot physically meet.

“It’s the same purpose of getting to deepen your relationship with the Lord,” sophomore Sami Ireland said. “And it’s the same in terms of small groups, just virtually, and we still go around and talk about our day. We’re still talking about the message, but it’s a lot easier to get distracted.”

Many members see the current overabundance of time as an opportunity to focus on faith, and community is a very important factor in the Christian religion. 

“If you don’t have any contact with the outside world you will just be disconnected, and that is obviously not a good thing,” Mitchell said. “It is really important to keep this community, and be able to bond and maintain these relationships through these times. We have more time to Zoom and read the Bible which makes this a really good time to grow in your faith.”

Life can be crazy and stressful; Signulls wants to be a place where students can forget about GPA, college and any other stress in their lives. Yes, the group focuses on religion but fundamentally this group strives to be supportive and provide an escape from everyday life.

“A lighthouse is a signal to ships that there’s a safe shore to go to,” Taylor said. “[When] roaming in a sea of chaos and darkness all by yourself, a lighthouse, for sailors, is always a point where safety lies. That’s why our shirts have lighthouses on them; we kind of want that to be the hope of Signulls for students. For others, this can be a place where you can bring [people] to feel safe, feel comforted and know that they’re gonna be taken care of.”