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Five Ways COVID-19 Will Change Your Youth Ministry

by Dr. Dave Coryell; C.E. USA - Executive Director, World C.E. - General Secretary

We have been told to stay in our homes for over a month. Churches, schools, sports, theaters, restaurants . . . all closed down! We have been sitting like bears in their caves waiting for the eternal winter to pass. At some point in the future, we will emerge from our hibernation. When we do, we will be hungry; hungry to re-engage in life as we remember it. Life as we enjoy it. Life as we want it to be! I have been involved in youth ministry for thirty years. That means I was a Youth Worker who experienced 9/11 and how it radically shifted the youth ministry landscape. 9/11 was excruciating. It caused levels of anger and fear I hadn’t seen in our country before. It is too early to tell, but COVID-19 has the potential to dwarf the emotional, economical, and psychological impact of 9/11. We are fooling ourselves if we believe this winter will end and we will emerge into life as we have always known it. There will be many changes, but those changes have the potential to deepen the faith of young people you love. This will happen IF you’re willing to embrace the changes and allow God to show you what you need to do DIFFERENTLY to continue impacting the Next-Gen (youth and young adults).

1. Overnight Events

Long the staple of a strong ministry: retreats, all-nighters, mission trips, camping. The traditions run long and the memories run deep. Studies have been shared for decades that time invested on these trips creates more spiritual impact than a year of youth group meetings or time sitting in Sunday School. The reality, until vaccines exist, putting a group of young people in a room or in a cabin or any other close living space lacks wisdom. Imagine people on retreats sleeping with social distancing, masks and heavy duty air purifiers. Imagine parents and caregivers that used to hover over their children: what will they do now!?! Just the legal implications might make participation in overnight events difficult for churches to consider.

2. Online Connections

Online options will become a preferred part of normal life. From email to texting to smartphones, each technology stage has brought a cultural rewiring. COVID-19 will be remembered as what caused people to shift to online meetings when they normally would have connected in person. People have now experienced efficiency at their fingertips and will begin to integrate it. The question will be how much relational connection will people sacrifice to accomplish tasks.

3. Food Frenzy

Picture the stereotypical youth group party: loud music, lots of people and food everywhere. Are you kidding me?!? No way on God’s green earth are we going to be spreading food out so lines of young people can walk along and pick up whatever they want. There is a reason buffets in restaurants have sneeze guards and other protections to keep food clear of the sneeze, breath and anything else a person could put from themselves onto everyone else’s food. Come on! It isn’t a big deal that Joe Fadaboom dug his hand through the bag of cheese curls before me in line . . . it didn’t matter pre-COVID-19! Things will change post-COVID-19 until inoculations take place.

4. Relationship

The concept of relationship will be reframed. People had relationships where they connected with people because it is what they always did. For the first time, the entire population has been starved of connections outside their homes. They will not only want to connect, they will realize they NEED to connect. Youth Workers need to make intentional relationship building an important part of their youth ministry strategy more than they ever did before. To equip youth workers with this, we're rolling out a brand new B.E.L.O.N.G. assessment that every one of our partner churches will receive. Click here to find out how you can receive the assessment when it's completed.

5. See Young People as Either Consumers or Creators

COVID-19 has exposed how many youth ministries are focused on games, cool worship with lights and smoke, curriculum and other consumer-based methods that could not be replicated online. Many Youth Workers, Caregivers, and Pastors are recognizing the importance of a process to build young people into Creator disciples. The post-COVID-19 landscape will see churches either pivot toward greater intentionality and purpose, or toward greater intentionality in conveying a product for people to consume. Right now churches are perfecting online consumption and many are realizing its ineffectiveness. Once restrictions are lifted, the easiest solution for some of them will feel like going even more consumer-based to get people to physically come back to church. I challenge you to embrace growing disciples by choosing something deeper and with greater substance than consumer-based ministry.

Moving Forward

Some of these changes may leave you frustrated or scared . . . hear the words of an aged King David who calls out in Psalm 71:14, “But as for me, I will always have hope, I will praise you more and more.” Trust in the Lord who was not caught off guard by our current situation. Prepare for the inevitable changes COVID-19 will bring and make the necessary adjustments to your daily ministry lives. Do this and these changes CAN bring a deeper faith and heart-felt engagement to the young people you love and serve. Peace!

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