Post-Covid innovation in youth ministry: A humble, considered approach

We face an ongoing uncertain new world when it comes to youth ministry, it is worth refocusing on the need for innovation.

For all involved in reaching young people for Jesus, and helping them to walk with God every day, the COVID years brought an urgency – a desperation – to find new and creative ways to engage with them. With restrictions on every front, innovation using technology seemed the obvious solution. The pressure to adapt, change, even invent, was felt on many fronts, as you surely experienced.

Now, as we face an ongoing uncertain new world when it comes to youth ministry, it is worth refocusing on the need for innovation and HOW we go about this.

Innovation an international concern

In the latter half of March, SU people around the world involved in Bible Engagement gathered (on Zoom!) across time zones to voice frustrations, be inspired and explore the way ahead. What a rich gathering of wisdom and voice! In humility, all present realized afresh that pre-conceived ideas and what we individually may think is best, may not actually be so…

Key inputs around innovation were given by:

  • Chris Curtis of Youthscape, challenging around “what discipling and mission in this new world looks like”;
  • And Liam Savage of OneHope, having a passion for the Church to thrive in the midst of change.

The following thoughts around innovation were prompted by these passionate guys and developed by our group discussions as an international group seeking solutions.

Context is critical

One of the great accounts of innovation in the Bible is found in Mark 2:1-12, where 4 innovators disrupt a perfectly peaceful and acceptable public teaching event to get their (immobile) friend to Jesus, to receive forgiveness and healing.

Apart from the noise, these disruptors break the roof, change the agenda, lower their mate right to Jesus’ feet (surely bumping some of the crowd out of the way). (I can imagine some of the 4-letter words uttered from the back row, and wonder who paid for the roof repairs?)

Are we called to be disruptors in our South African context, to reach this generation for Jesus? We face some gnarly giants currently, such as mass poverty, gender-based violence, xenophobia and unemployment.

Our South African official unemployment statistics came out yesterday, with youth unemployment climbing to a staggering 66% – some 4,5million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 who are not employed, in education, nor in training.

Yet another angry generation – and how are they experiencing hope, and how does God feel about this – our God who created us to work?  This is just one crisis presenting an opportunity for innovation… in faith, to bring hope.

The pressure to invent

One of the reliefs we can claim is that God isn’t necessarily calling us to be Inventors (having the best, the slickest, the most polished products, something nobody has thought of). But He surely may be calling us to be Innovators (starting with what is in our hands, borrowing from others, building on international trends and projects, trying something new that others have already tried, or just trying a fresh angle…).

We need to cut ourselves some slack. The pressure to invent is something we don’t need to add to our burdens. And sharing the drive to innovate is far healthier for all involved – there isn’t place for competition in youth ministry (we are on the same side). This links with Xavier Moran’s recent article on achieving numbers in youth ministry, and how we measure success.

Keeping technology in its place

Called to be good stewards of the new opportunities we face, our determination should be not to cancel ministry opportunities, but to run them differently – and use fresh technology where appropriate. We should each aim to create a culture of trust and build safe spaces for our teams to step out in innovation.

We realize that the messy, creative and interactive solutions that lead to deeper connections may be better than the slick, expensive, high quality products we aim to produce.

Ultimately our use of fresh technology should result in young people connecting with “good” local church, and ideally face-to-face relational time with Christians worth following. New technology serves integration – it isn’t a stand-alone option.

Disruptive solution-finders

God is relying on us to innovate. Have you considered that you simply may not be seeing solutions to challenges? There may even be questions needing answers that we aren’t aware of just yet. And God may have a unique solution that ONLY YOU need to bring to the fore when the time is right.

Trusting and waiting on God, our ultimate Innovator, who created us to be creative, will help inform how we respond to that of which we are aware, and that which may still be on the horizon.

In an attitude of humility, where we think of ourselves less and more of others, we are challenged to:

  • Have an attitude of learning;
  • Listen actively;
  • Be very aware of context;
  • Consider our own blind spots and other barriers to innovation;
  • Not fear failure and be resilient when it happens;
  • Be pro change;
  • Not be overly constrained by funding;
  • Adapt and modify;
  • Not feel the pressure to invent, yet be very creative;
  • Collaborate with others.

When it comes specifically to engaging people with God’s Word, we need to trust that the Holy Spirit uses this powerfully to connect people with God. Creating simple, affordable, relational opportunities to make that happen may be some of the best innovating we can do. Let’s keep it simple where we can.

Deepening our love

As our 4 roof-breaking-bed-lifters showed, our love for those who haven’t met Jesus should be the main thing. If we are desperate for them to meet Jesus, we’ll FIND A WAY in love to make that happen. In that, we bring about real innovation!

Each of our towns and countries face different crises right now: we need God’s help to use these opportunities as best we can. We need to use our activities and technology strategically, and link our activities with what others are doing – also in obedience to God – in a way that is real and life-giving, ultimately helping our young people to be grounded and live with hope.

“Lord, you have the monopoly on world mission, not us. Help us to see where you are working and join you there; increase our love, and our faith to invest in what we may not see just yet and trust you as we take the first steps…”

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Author: Alan Pitt
Alan plays tennis and at times serves as SU Operations Director. Married to Cath, Alan is blessed with two amazing children. Tegan works as a physiotherapist in the Eastern Cape (Madwaleni Hospital) and Thomas is into nature management (at a game farm near Ceres). Alan remains a Novak Djokovic and Liverpool fan.
Published: 14 April 2022
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