On a recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, hosts Nieuwhof and Kinnaman are joined by Jessica Bealer (Director of Family Ministry Services at Generis) and Kellen Moore (Next Gen Pastor at Our City Church) to discuss trends emerging in children’s ministry. Together, the four share on topics such as mental health among the younger generation, digital discipleship and navigating the transition to hybrid church.
Practicing Conversations About Mental Health
Recent Barna Cities data show that over four in five parents (84%) report being concerned about the long-term impact of the pandemic on their kids. Throughout the pandemic, the number of children struggling with their mental health increased, just one of the many affects parents are worried about.
Kids ministry volunteers can play a key role in creating space for conversations on mental health to happen within the church. “We need to train our church to identify when a kid starts talking about [mental health], how to listen, how to redirect and how to follow up with parents,” Moore says. “Our volunteer teams need to have basic training to see these conversations go from home to church.”
Bealer equally emphasizes the importance of prioritizing this need for younger generations through staffing choices on your team. Bealer shares, “For every parent out there, I feel like [mental health] is on their radar. They’re concerned about it and watching for it. If their child is expressing it or not, they’re concerned about it. So you need to have somebody on contract with your church who can help you navigate it […] We need to invite the experts to help us.”
Embracing Opportunities for Digital Discipleship Tools
Bealer points out that one of the distinctive qualities of this younger generation is that they have always had access to technology. She notes, “This generation has never had to lived without tech and instant gratification at their fingertips.”
Since so many kids are learning through screens and online, there is a huge opportunity for the Church to meet kids in that space to help them grow. Kinnaman responds, “I think one of the most effective ways for us to minister to young people today is for our churches to become curators of great digital content […] there are ways for us to use the diversity of voices through screens that help introduce people to the breadth of what Christianity aspires to do in the world.”
While videos and digital content can be incredible tools, kids still seeking relational connections to process what they’re watching. “The conversation is key,” Bealer notes. “Use the tool, but make sure you’re not leaving out the conversation afterwards, because that’s where the discipleship happens.”
Moore reminds parents and church leaders, “You’re the real hero […] You’re the ones following up with the stories we teach and with the parents I’ll never meet. I think video has a great purpose, but if you’re not using it with strategy and intention, it can become a crutch.”
Transitioning from Digital to Hybrid
Both Bealer and Moore talk about some of the tensions they have faced as they look to return to gathering for in-person ministry.
One key challenge has been drawing people away from new rhythms, even healthy ones that have brought families closer together. Bealer says, “In many ways, they spent more time with their kids. Many of them found healthy things to do during this time […] So now giving that time up to go to church feels like a sacrifice.”
Even while adding meaningful in-person opportunities to gather, Moore still sees a critical role for maintaining a digital presence in his ministry, sharing, “You can’t shy away from doing digital. If people are accustomed to watching a pastor from the comfort of their home because of the pandemic, you have to give them that because it may take them more time to show up.”
In order to respect these rhythms while envisioning a new path forward as pandemic restrictions continue to lift, ministry leaders can consider: What are the new priorities for parents now, and how can the Church play to the current rhythms of their life?
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.
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