One age group is hit particularly hard with the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s teenagers.

The virus spread just as their long-anticipated milestones were set to unfold–sports championships, prom, spring plays, and commencements. Even worse, they’re sequestered from their friends at the prime time for peer relationships.

Youth ministry expert Rick Lawrence said today’s adolescents are exhibiting anxiety, sleeplessness, loss and sadness. “They’re missing something fundamental,” Lawrence said on this week’s Holy Soup podcast. “It’s almost like they’re losing some of their identity.”

Rick, author of Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry, said many youth pastors are trying to stay in contact with their kids during this time when regular youth group meetings aren’t possible. But they’re discovering that their old ways of communicating a message aren’t working.

Prior to the coronavirus, many or most youth ministers based their weekly lessons around a 20-minute sermon. Then, when churches came under lockdowns, they attempted to deliver their sermons via online platforms. But, as Rick describes in the podcast, the results have not been encouraging.

“The curtain has been pulled back,” Rick said. When youth workers see their teenagers’ faces on screen during a Zoom online meeting, it’s not usually a picture of rapt attention. But Rick said it’s not the technology that’s failing. It’s the form–the lecture method. The disinterest is also present, but often masked, when young people sit passively at church for a live youth sermon, Rick said.

“Kids are wired to be participatory learners,” Rick said. “It is central to their identity. And they get that in every area of their life–except at church.”

Rick utilizes a very interactive, participatory style in his own youth group. And that has not stopped since COVID-19 hit. He’s devised ways to facilitate the interactivity through Zoom. Rather than preach a sermon, Rick uses the online technology to place his kids in small groupings, provoke meaningful conversation, assign simple hands-on experiences, and help participants make deep discoveries. He highlights how he does this in the Holy Soup podcast, here:

Now, how long will it be before the rest of the church realizes that true engagement requires participation?