An Interview with ELEVATION YTH
Pastor Tim Somers and artist Davide Mutendji talk about new music and putting fun back into youth group

Posted: June 11, 2020 | By: GraceChaves_NRT
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Let's be honest. Sometimes youth groups can get a little boring. If you've grown up in church, you know how it can get. You sing a few songs, the youth pastor goes on to preach a 40-minute sermon, then you go home. Too often, it's pretty uneventful.

However, there's a youth group that has totally redefined what a youth group looks like. Elevation YTH, a ministry at Elevation Church in North Carolina, has put the excitement back into a youth group. What's more, they've done an incredible job of keeping their youth engaged during the pandemic.

I had the opportunity to chat with youth pastor Tim Somers of ELEVATION YTH and Davide Mutendji of their youth band, ELEVATION RHYTHM about their new virtual youth group "Rhythm Night Online," RHYTHM's newest single "This Moment," and more.

You guys are doing an incredible job at keeping Elevation YTH connected to youth during this rough season. Tell us about your recently launched ministry, "Rhythm Night Online." What do those nights look like?

Tim: If you've ever seen anything like The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, or any late-night show, it's a lot of that. We have about 12 to 15 segments that we run through. We play music and interview different guests, some of who are involved in church or youth ministry.

We talk about what's going on in the world with quarantine and COVID-19. We try to help our students process their thoughts and feelings every single week. We realized that we had to start meeting weekly instead of monthly because we felt like frequency was such a huge deal in this current season.


Will Rhythm Night Online be continuing once restrictions are lifted?

Tim: Yes, absolutely. People have been asking if we're going to meet in person and hold mass gatherings. They also ask about how much presence will we have in the digital world. It's going to be a hybrid for us. We're definitely going to have a presence online.

Davide: It's been really cool to see the impact of us doing Rhythm Night Online weekly. And, how people are feeling way more connected to our ministry. I think it's just so much easier to access an experience online. So, we will probably provide both avenues.

ELEVATION RHYTHM is a big part of Rhythm Night Online. How is this youth band redefining the genre of worship?

Davide: Honestly, we're not really looking to reinvent the genre of what Christian music looks like. I think the thing that we really try to hone in on–for our youth specifically–is to give listeners a sound that lines up with how they're experiencing the world and culture during this day and age. We try our best to listen to our youth and give them words in music.

ELEVATION RHYTHM is the expression of worship from a younger perspective that is not really defined by the genre of Christian music. A lot of people listen and say, "This is Christian music?" This sound is a reflection of the way our young people are experiencing culture and God at the same time.

What are some unique ways that youth leaders and parents can engage teens and young adults during this time of isolation?

Tim: Proximity has been stripped away from us, but the frequency hasn't. Right now–and even pre-COVID–teenagers are on their phones a lot throughout the day. And, they're going to continue to be on their phone a lot more. This season has helped the church actually get on board with digital technologies. I think what we have to realize is that the digital space is personal for teenagers and 20 somethings.

On communication apps like FaceTime and Zoom, you can have conversations and relationships with people that you've never met face-to-face. But, you've had a connection to them. It could be a song that connected you, it could be liking the same YouTube channel or even meeting on Rhythm Night Online. One connection might live in Canada and another might live in Texas, thousands of miles away. 

Instagram just came out with a new feature, called Rooms. It's like Zoom on Instagram. We can use this technology to help build healthy relationships, so teenagers can find great communities and great engagement with positive people around them.

Davide: One thing that we always think about is that everyone's probably taking a step back because of COVID-19 and quarantine. So, we want to make sure that our youth remembers that, in this season, when everyone took steps back, we took steps toward them with any platform that we could find.

We dream that in three years when a teenager graduates high school and goes into college, they can say, "I don't remember my teacher reaching out, or my soccer coach reaching out. But, I do remember that I had my youth group leader who reached out to me." That's the heart behind our ministry.

How can other youth leaders effectively utilize Zoom for their virtual youth groups?

Davide: Make it fun. That's the name of the game. We realized schools and other communities use Zoom as well. So, we said, "How do we make this experience different in a way that our youth still want to use the same platform, but for a different purpose?"

Making it fun can be as simple as starting off with a game. We did a lot of scavenger hunts. A youth leader would say, "The first person to bring back a white egg wins." The youth would then look for a white egg in their home. I don't think schools are necessarily playing competition games using Zoom. For us, it's just about using the platform in a useful way.

We're on Twitch, the live streaming app for gamers. We're on this platform because a lot of our youth are gamers. In my youth group, we hang out and play the online video game Fortnite over FaceTime. We all chat with each other on our phones, but we're all on Fortnite at the same time.

Tim: You have to make it as specific as possible. We're trying to create Zoom calls for different groups. Or, as well call them, e-groups. An e-group for playing video games. An e-group for talking about social injustice. A basketball e-group. An illustration e-group, and so on. We want to make it very niche; make it appeal to people who have different interests, different hobbies, and so on. This technique is an easy way to get people excited: interacting with others who have common interests. It's super helpful and I think it's a fun way to do youth group. 

Elevation YTH and ELEVATION RHYTHM is always providing exciting new content. Why is it important to provide high energy and engaging content–especially music–for this generation?

Davide: We're competing for their attention. Just to say, "Jesus is going draw them in it," to me, is very passive. Youth are being thrown so much information and so much content. Now, they can pick and choose what they listen to. They can pick and choose what gets their attention.

So, for us as a youth ministry, understanding that youth has a lot of choices, we want to make sure that we're creating enough content that will engage them at a level that is not just entertainment. But, something that helps change their lives in the future. That's why energy is so important. If it doesn't have the right energy, you lose them. 

I know, for me, when I'm scrolling through Instagram, if I'm not engaged within the first two or three seconds, I just keep scrolling. The question is, "How do we keep them engaged in just enough time that they'll have the interest to watch the rest of our video for five minutes?"

As opposed to right off the bat just saying, "Jesus is amazing." They've heard that before. But, if we get their attention with "Let me see you put your hands up." They'll ask, "What is that?" Then, on the backside of things, since we now have their attention, we can make sure that we're giving them the right experience, the right knowledge, and the right foundation. That's our passion for RHYTHM.

Tim: Our vision statement is, "We exist to develop youth who influence culture." We're all very aware of culture, and, nowadays, there are weekly trends. There aren't trends that last for six months. Now, they last a week and then it goes on to the next big thing. So, we try to be aware of that fact. We try to create as much energy as possible. We do that through our sound. Through our spirit. And, how we communicate.

We want to be genuine. We want to be authentic. We're not just going to put scripture in front of someone's face. We want to help them understand and process, as they are processing culture each and every day.

What was the inspiration behind ELEVATION RHYTHM's new single "This Moment?"

Davide: "This Moment" came from a place of understanding that a lot of young people are so focused on the future. They ask questions like, "What is my life going to look like?" Or, make statements like, "I can't wait for when I get to college. That's when my life is going to begin." Or, they'll ask, "When am I going to get a boyfriend or a girlfriend?" We have so many things that are competing for our attention.

We want to remind people that every moment you have is a gift from God. Don't focus so much on the future, on past mistakes, or things that could come. Focus on what you can do right now, in this moment. Give your all to everything that God has given you. Because this moment is the moment that you have right now, and you can't get it back. That was a big part of us writing the song's lyric, "I won't forget this moment/You can have all of me."

This is saying, "God, everything that you've given me in this season, I'm going to commit to. Whether it's school, my relationship with my parents, or how I'm treating my friends. God, I'm not going to wait until I'm all grown and wiser. And, I'm not going to focus on the mistakes that I might have made when I was younger. God, in every single moment that you've given me, I'm going to give you my all." That's the inspiration behind the song.


Finally, how can we be praying for you, as ELEVATION YTH navigates through this season?

Tim: As we're almost three months into this pandemic, we want to make sure that we're meeting the needs of our teenagers. With us not being teenagers ourselves, we always try to find people that we can talk to and say, "Hey, what's actually going on? Let us know." We want to be aware of everything that our teenagers are walking through. It's a lot more than just COVID-19 right now. There's a lot of anxiety. There's a lot of depression. There's a lot of other things that they're going through. Everything has heightened, and we need to be there.

Through this season, pray for continued perseverance and continued persistence. We want to be led by the Spirit. We don't want to get into our own heads and build our own kingdom. We want to continue to build the kingdom of God and the kingdom of His Spirit.

Grace Chaves is a fan of all things Christian music, and is one of NRT's youngest writers. She's homeschooled, and loves concerts, Jesus, and songwriting.

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