These past few months have been challenging for all of us as we all have had to come to terms with massive changes to our daily lives. In August, Thrive sent out a poll to all youth workers and leaders within our area of Warwickshire & Coventry, asking a simple question, “What have been the biggest challenges for you as a youth leader over these past few months?” The results reveal some vital areas of need and support.
As you would, expect we had a range of answers with some saying that they were challenged by the unrealistic expectations of their church or of the parents of young people. Some said they struggled with receiving too much criticism. Then there is the inevitable adjustment to using new technology. But four challenges were common amongst the youth leaders.
86% of leaders struggle with young people disconnecting
It’s been great for those who have managed to move their youth group online and to connect with their young people but the difficulty has been when young people have not shown up or found it not as engaging, for whatever reason.
For some, our traditional model of youth ministry has been focused on the group rather than the individual and so if they don’t show up online, how do you keep the relationship going and what is appropriate within the safeguarding good practice guidelines?
Most youth leaders are feeling ‘zoomed out’
It is hard work talking for a long time on Zoom. You know everyone can see you, and perhaps a bit more ‘up close’ than you might be when in the same room. For leaders trying to keep everyone engaged, involved and contributing it can be very draining. There is research to show that Zoom makes us feel like we are together and yet our bodies know that we are not and this causes a disconnect, which can be exhausting. (Read more about that here).
1 in 3 youth leaders feel isolated
So much youth work takes place without many of the church realising or noticing, but this has been exacerbated during the pandemic. We have all had to adjust personally from ‘working from home’, trying to keep life moving when everything seems to have changed. It has been a lot for each of us to adjust to personally, without being responsible for lots of teenagers. Whereas perhaps church leaders have had similar struggles with moving church ‘online’, they are likely to have received some encouragement from church members who have appreciated the chance to keep worshipping together, albeit through their screens. Youth leaders are far less likely to receive similar encouragements from young people. And because there’s no leaders debriefing after a session, it can feel very lonely. The moment you ‘end meeting’ it can feel like you are all alone again, and did that really just happen?
1 in 5 youth leaders are feeling spiritually dry
Many youth leaders have been working harder than ever recently, trying to keep things as normal as possible for the young people they serve. It takes more time to prepare everything, and then the resulting exhaustion afterwards takes longer to recover from. Being ‘locked down’ with those we live with can make it harder to find personal space, time to pray and to read our Bibles. For some youth leaders, this has felt like a barren season, a time where they have struggled to connect with God, to worship, to hear him speak.
What can we do about it?
For Thrive, this poll has been most helpful as we are developing a new strategy to make sure we can address each of these challenges. We want to cheer our youth leaders on, to help them know how much God delights in them and that he is their biggest cheerleader of all. We want to resource them better and to help them feel part of a bigger, wider community of youth leaders.
For each of us, we can look out for each other. Why not send a thank you card and maybe even a gift to your youth leaders, thanking them for all they are doing? Ask them what you can pray for them. Let’s make sure we are not putting more pressure on them but that we demonstrate our gratitude for all they are trying to do to reach out and disciple the next generations.