5 Trends For Youth Ministry [IN 2021]

Tim Balow
January 12th, 2021

My reading tendencies are really easy to figure out. Basically if the word “trend” is in the title, even if it’s the most obvious click bait, I will want to click on it. Trend reading is the epitome of big picture analysis built on the everyday things we see in news, culture, and day to day existence. I haven’t become an elite trend hunter yet, but curating the YS Blog, talking to leaders, identifying new books and resources relevant to youth workers, it’s easy to start piecing together the big picture ideas that will be important in the coming year.

These shouldn’t be shocking, as trends typically shouldn’t be to youth workers who are clued into culture and everyday life. However, I think they can be valuable handles to be able to identify themes and connection points with students, families, and the changing world around us moving into 2021.

Trend 1 – Creating A Real Place In The Virtual World

A post was written on the YS Blog back on April 29th, approximately 6-8 weeks into substantial life changes that the pandemic brought on. In the post, “Analog vs. Digital” we dove into taking on the new dynamic in youth ministry. We could say similar things that we came to 8 months ago, but the reality is, we don’t want virtuality to dominate our lives. Even as we ventured into the rest of 2020, it was increasingly common to hear and read about Zoom fatigue, physical health struggles as a result of too much screen time, and the mental toll of physical isolation.

So what can we do in 2021? Find more ways to balance the real with the virtual real. Sure, virtual has created some opportunities, but a sold out commitment to virtual forced by the pandemic has left us craving real presence with people. We have to consistently find ways to draw students into real life connection.

This is not a new concept for youth workers. Own it. Pursue it. Lead it. Model it.

Trend 2 – Helping Everyone Have A Seat At The Table

Social fracturing has left a lot of people reeling around issues of equality, fairness, and inclusion. We at YS have seen the full spectrum of youth workers through our communication channels, events, and social media so we know there’s a diverse view on how all of this unfolds in our communities. However, what we can unite on, is the equalizing power of God’s love and grace through Jesus as He meets ALL people where they are at in their lives. What refreshing news. What Good News.

So, here’s where we start with this trend: We need to be proactive about helping everyone have a seat at the table in your faith community. This isn’t just an ethnic or race issue either. This is about finding creative ways to make sure all God’s people have a seat at the table of your faith community.

Trend 3 – Tending To Mental, Emotional, and Physical Health

The challenges of moving into this year means having some serious considerations around people’s holistic well-being. Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on our healthcare systems, and consequently, many other health challenges (mental or physical) have gone unchecked or unnoticed.

One of the biggest pieces to this is how kids are “monitored” with regards to their health and family situation. We’ve heard the stories of stress in homes as a result of distance learning, but the level of monitoring by caring adults such as in schools has been challenging. Schools are an integral part of helping with day to day needs of kids, so to lack this basic support structure in-person has left a lot of kids without the advocacy for holistic health.

We’ve heard of amazing ways the church has stepped into this gap to assist, not only with providing meals and extra tutoring with struggling students, but also some higher emphasis on creative encouragement and peer support of families/parents.

The reality is, there’s a lot of ways 2021 will be needed to have individuals and families “catch up” with focuses on mental, physical, and emotional health. This includes substance use disorders and prolonged undiagnosed mental issues.

Do your faith community a favor – for the families that you have authentic connections with, be courageous when you are seeing unhealthy behavior this year.

Time will tell around the macro impact of the pandemic and subsequent effects on the fabric of our society, but we can do our part in the short term (and this year) by advocating and intervening when we see unhealthy behavior. For more info, check out a blog we posted a few months ago on the trends of the pandemic on Gen Z.

Trend 4 – Peacemaking and Peacekeeping

Whether in a macro or micro way, peace has been hard to come by in recent months. Sure, conflict and strife has always existed in the world, but our immediate exposure to conflict (either on an individual/personal or global/social level) is so much more immediate now, and our response can be immediate as well. What does it look like to ensure that our presence on social media promotes peacemaking and peacekeeping? How does this influence the ways that we speak about social issues and relationships?

Jesus modeled peacemaking, and it wasn’t in our cliche idea of what peacemaking could be. It’s not always about what is said, but the manner of how it’s said and the place where it’s said. We need more modeling of peacemaking and peacekeeping among a world bent on building and fueling conflict and strife.

We’re all guilty of not seeking to be peacemakers in our lives. Let’s find ways to live positively in this Jesus-centered attitude and action.

Trend 5 – Rest and Restoration

Everyone is already planning their post-pandemic vacation of a lifetime, or even just imagining what it would be like to do normal life without a mask on. There’s been plenty of ways we’ve felt beat down, overwhelmed, and just plain checked out from daily existence on occasions that we’ve all regenerated a desire for rest and to be restored. Certainly this has to do with health, but in a way it also has to do with daily rest and restoration.

Another way this could be seen is as self-care. But more than just self-care, rest and restoration is a mindset of reconnecting with yourself, others, and God in a way that sees you more than just a cog in a schedule or a square on a Zoom call. You are restored to your true identity, one loved and beloved by God and called to connect with people, in whatever way that it makes sense in our world.

Your daily ways of being rested and restored can play a big role in how the rest of your year carries forward.

What do you see as upcoming thought trends in youth ministry in the coming year? Trends are always layers of ideas, but these themes should be coming to the surface as we dig deeper in the life and heart of adolescent culture and dynamic youth ministry leadership. God’s story can be written throughout history and culture, and youth culture is no different. We should listen to what God might be saying through these ideas.

Here’s to a new year of ministry, leadership, and transformation. Here’s to 2021 youth workers. Here’s to looking up, getting up, and not ever giving up.

Tim Balow

TIm Balow is has served in a variety of youth worker roles between Chicago and Minneapolis over the last 10 years. Tim currently serves with Youth Specialties working on projects focused on customer and content operations. Tim's passion is to serve the under-resourced youth worker and to encourage the next generation of students to step into a transformative relationship with Jesus.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.