3 changes you need to know about young people as you minister during (and after) the pandemic

Tyler Greenway, PhD Image Tyler Greenway, PhD | May 14, 2020

Photo by Mardonnell Hiyas.

“Just another day in the pandemic” is now my go-to response when asked how I’m doing. Whether we compare current times to the movie Groundhog Day or feel nothing is stable, we share at least one thing in common: our lives have changed over the past few months.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues many of us wonder how sheltering in place will affect our daily lives and our ministries. We share common experiences: fear, loneliness, uncertainty, irritation with facemasks, newfound hobbies, and perhaps some moments of joy while being at home more often. Recent reports from the Pew Research Center confirm (unsurprisingly) that most Americans are experiencing change.

But reports also confirm that some changes affect particular groups more than others, and young people are no exception. Their present realities and thoughts about the future are shifting. Our ministry to them must respond accordingly.

Here are three shifts in young peoples’ realities you need to know about as you minister with them during (and after) the pandemic:

Many are—and will be—out of work

Identity has various facets and faces. As adults, we might describe ourselves by our job title, relationship status, or the region where we live. But when young people talk about who they are, they often speak of school, extracurricular activities, and future career.

Now many of these activities have changed or are slipping away altogether.

Education today looks much different for young people. Many are learning from home and taking as many video calls as their parents.

Most extracurricular activities are now nonexistent. High school seniors lament unfinished sports seasons and graduations gone virtual. Directors have canceled theater productions.

And recent research finds that many young people are and will be out of work—perhaps for a very long time.

The Pew Research Center reports, “young people in particular are set to be disproportionately affected by virus-related layoffs. Among the 19.3 million workers ages 16 to 24 in the economy overall, 9.2 million, or nearly half, are employed in service-sector establishments. Younger workers make up 24% of employment in higher-risk industries overall, and many establishments in these industries are facing a high likelihood of closure in areas with more severe COVID-19 outbreaks.”

Jobs can provide a sense of accomplishment and opportunity for skill development, along with avenues toward future careers. The absence of work may pose a challenge for young people in a number of ways, but one impact that may go unnamed is the impact it has on their identity.

As summer approaches and the opportunity for summer work recedes, young people will be faced with challenges. Ministry leaders can consider how the pandemic affects young peoples’ finances, time, and identity—factors like:

  • Unemployment across age groups continues to rise, leaving many families financially strained.
  • As financial pressure within families grows, young people wonder about saving for expenses or future education.
  • Young people may also have more time on their hands as the economy recovers. If they are unable to work, they may be left to spend time at home or with friends.

Many don’t know who to trust

A second report by the Pew Research Center identifies another challenge for young people during the pandemic: they’re unsure who to trust.

Compared to other age groups, young people between the ages of 18 and 29 are more likely to say that most people can’t be trusted, will try to take advantage rather than be fair, and look out for themselves rather than try to help others.

The same report notes, “the less interpersonal trust people have, the more frequently they experience bouts of anxiety, depression and loneliness.”

We’re not sure why young people tend to be less trusting, but we can still respond to this experience. We can listen and discern:

  • How are they feeling about their friends, family, church, and other social groups?
  • Do they feel betrayed by an employer or by their leaders?
  • Are they questioning whom they can trust in part because they’re uncertain about the future?

We can also address anxiety, depression, and loneliness. We may need to check in frequently with young people as they navigate new social realities. Interactions with friends, family, and church have shifted. The future feels uncertain. In the midst of these shifts and uncertainty, we are on the frontlines of response.

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Many are uncertain about their futures

We all share certain fears during the pandemic. We’re unsure when we can safely leave our homes and we worry for family members. But some fears weigh more heavily on some groups than others.

“Compared with older age groups, younger Americans are more likely to say that the COVID-19 outbreak is a major threat to their personal financial situation but not a major threat to their personal health.” (Pew)

Older adults might be most concerned about how the pandemic impacts personal health and may minister to young people accordingly. Although young people may share concerns about public health, this research indicates that young peoples’ growing uncertainty about their personal lives may differ from others in their church.

As young people continue to think about their futures, we can consider how we might help them in our ministry:

  • Whether entering the workforce, military, or higher education, what signs tell us that young people asking questions about the economic opportunities that exist and how they will provide for themselves and their families in uncertain times?
  • How might our perspectives differ from young people?
  • What words might they need from us right now?

Young people seek answers to questions about who they are, where they belong, and what difference they make. The pandemic may be creating a more global shift in how young people think about their identity, belonging, and purpose than we realize. As work, school, extracurricular activities, friend groups, church, public health, and economies change, we as leaders may need to stay increasingly nimble in our ministry with young people.

Tweet this: The pandemic may be creating a more global shift in how young people think about their identity, belonging, and purpose than we realize. Here are 3 changes ministry leaders need to know about.

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Tyler Greenway, PhD Image
Tyler Greenway, PhD

Dr. Tyler Greenway is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Calvin University. He holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in Psychological Science from Fuller Theological Seminary, an MDiv from Calvin Theological Seminary, and a B.A. in Psychology from Calvin University. Dr. Greenway’s work focuses on the psychology of religion, character and virtue development, the integration of psychology and theology, and the application of psychology in religious contexts. Before joining Calvin, Dr. Greenway also served as an Associate Research Scientist in the Science of Virtues Lab at Baylor University.

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