As I worked at my computer making plans to launch our virtual small groups, my wife (a middle school teacher) told me about an exchange she had with administration from her public school. Some teachers were planning Zoom calls with their students, but were then instructed to cease and desist. The teachers were reminded they do not have permission from parents/guardians to video-chat with students – putting students’ faces on multiple people’s screens in live-time is a liability the teachers and the school district needs to consider. My wife graciously said, “Mike, if you don’t have parents’ permission, you need to seriously reconsider this. Get their permission first, it’s in your best interest to protect you and your youth leaders. Who knows what might be happening in the background of students’ screens.”
During this strange season of virtual-ministry, I believe we need to find ways to keep our child protection policy even now. Keeping your church’s policy be frustrating and inconvenient to maintain – but we do so because it’s in everyone’s best interest because it demonstrates how seriously we take our ministries. Besides, it also protects us from accusations of misbehavior.
Policies prohibiting one-on-one meetings in private between youth leaders and students are common and wise. And yet, isn’t this exactly what a Facetime conversation is? Some might argue that eliminates phone calls too, but there’s a significant difference. We need to practice wisdom here.
We don’t operate out of fear, but wisdom. That means we need to think about the unpredictable things that can happen on a live-video chat. Who’s looking on from students’ side of the screen? What if someone screenshots the chat and posts everyone’s faces on social media? What if someone thinks it’s funny to crash the party and put inappropriate images on the screen for everyone to see (a hacker just did this to a well-known company yesterday)? Getting parents permission before launching virtual small groups offers us protection against We need to think about these things and have parents’ permission before their kids start Zooming and video-chatting with adult youth leaders.
Hosting small groups through Zoom or Skype or another platform where participants see one another is going to become the new normal, at least for the next few months. Seek wisdom, not speed. Getting parents on board might mean you have to wait a week while permission/release forms come in, but it’s worth it. Besides, it’ll make you communicate and partner with parents… which is always a good thing.
Here is the brief email I sent to parents along with the basic questions I included in my form. You can easily make a Google Form or use another form-builder your much may regularly use for permission forms (making the form took no longer than five minutes, seriously).
Subject: IMPORTANT UPDATE: Virtual Small Groups (we need your permission)
Dear Parents & Guardians,
As we evaluate what our youth ministry efforts look like moving forward in this challenging season, we would like our small groups to meet together through Zoom (or a similar platform). This isn’t mandatory and it doesn’t replace our youth group meetings, but it’s a way for our students and youth leaders to continue supporting and praying for each other.
BUT, we cannot have students live video-chatting with adult youth leaders without parental permission. If you would like your student to be allowed to participate in these groups then you will need to complete the following form.
The link for the permission form is here:
Header within the permission form: The Youth Ministry at SSBC is seeking permission from parents/guardians for youth leaders to meet with students via Zoom, Skype, Facetime, or other video-chat platforms. By completing this form you authorize SSBC Youth Leaders to host video chats, on which your student may participate.
- Student name
- Student age
- Student grade
- Student email
- Parent name
- Parent email
Mike McGarry is the Youth Pastor at South Shore Baptist Church in Hingham, MA and the author of “A Biblical Theology of Youth Ministry: Teenagers in the Life of the Church” (Randall House Academic, 2019).