068 | Shane Sanchez and Alison Leamon on the State of Next Gen Ministry, Why Digital Discipleship is Here to Stay, and How to Keep Students and Parents Engaged

July 08, 2021

Shane Sanchez (InsideOut Director at Gwinnett Church) and Alison Leamon (Next Gen Pastor at Preston Trail Community Church) join Carey and David to share about student and teen ministry. Together, they discuss which aspects of digital ministry have been most successful, strategies to increase parent engagement and how to use social media as a platform for ministry. Plus, David shares recent data on parents’ greatest concerns coming out of the pandemic.

Student and teen ministries have drastically shifted throughout the pandemic. As leaders emerge from COVID-era church, the path forward for these ministries will likely look much different than previous models.

On this week’s episode of ChurchPulse Weekly, Shane Sanchez (InsideOut Director at Gwinnett Church) and Alison Leamon (Next Gen Pastor at Preston Trail Community Church) join hosts Nieuwhof and Kinnaman to share about their experiences leading student and teen ministry. Together, they discuss social media as a platform for ministry, strategies for increasing parent involvement and which elements of digital ministry are here to stay.

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On Social Media as a Discipleship Platform
Recent Barna Cities data suggests that, currently, social media and screen time are two of the top concerns parents have for their children. Eighty two percent of U.S. adults reported some level of concern about the influence of social media on their child, while 80 percent reported concern about the amount of time their children spend on screens. 

In her ministry, Leamon sees social media as a key place for students to be discipled and learn from faith put into action. She shares, “It’s not social media anymore; it’s social ministry […] People follow people, they don’t follow a brand.”

Similarly, Sanchez has seen the last year as a wake up call for leaders to realize how critical digital ministry is for younger generations. He’s found the best approach to be one of humility that invites students in to teach older generations how to use new social media platforms.

Both Sanchez and Leamon encourage the church to embrace social platforms as a place where discipleship is taking place seven days a week. As Leamon puts it, “I’m not concerned that students are on social media […] I’m concerned that we as a Church haven’t fully leaned in there, and we’re not a voice there.” 

On Getting Parents Engaged
One of the greatest surprises for both Sanchez and Leamon over the past year was witnessing how eager parents were to engage with youth ministry during the pandemic. Leamon shares, “There’s been more partnership conversations as we look forward than there ever has been.”

Sanchez notes, “Parents [have been] more engaged and interested in what’s happening in the life of their child in connection to the local church which is a huge moment we have to leverage […] “I’ve seen a fervor and an energy from parents that I don’t know if I’ve seen up to this point.” 

In this season, Leamon and Sanchez have found ways to equip parents to have difficult conversations with their kids on hot button topics, as well as finding ways for them to volunteer for youth ministry activities that were previously only run by staff. 

On Moving Past the Pandemic
In reflecting on takeaways from the past year of ministry, Sanchez and Leamon note how drastically attendance has shifted and turn-over rates have increased during the pandemic as people’s attendance patterns have changed. 

Sanchez is determined to continue to seek ways to connect with students who aren’t attending as regularly anymore, saying, “They are definitely out there, so how are we staying connected to them? If they haven’t made the leap or their habits have changed and can’t make it on Sunday nights anymore, does that mean their faith doesn’t matter to them anymore? I highly doubt that. I think they’re still looking for guidance, still wondering, still wanting to connect to a small group.”

One practical way that both Sanchez and Leamon see as necessary to make deep connections moving forward is through small groups. “If your entire faith is connected to a Sunday night, that isn’t okay,” Sanchez notes, “I would say a small group leader is far more important than a large group personality every single day of the week.”

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About the Research
The data shown above is based on a representative sample of 2,007 interviews with U.S. adults, ages 18 or older. The interviews were conducted online from April 23 to May 5, 2021. The margin of error is +/- 2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence interval.

Featured image by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash.

About Barna
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2021