5 Trends For Youth Ministry [IN 2020]

Tim Balow
January 2nd, 2020

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.

Going Green As Stewardship

Before I even started writing this, I knew it was going to be important to elevate the growing conversation around creation care, climate change, and a big picture understanding of our care/connection to the world we walk on everyday. Gone are the days (generally speaking) where we can accept a theology that “this world will pass”, and we can just simple accept a disembodied life with God away from planet earth in heaven for the rest of eternity.

The revolution with young leaders like Time’s Person Of The Year Greta Thunberg is becoming a big deal because creation care isn’t just about caring for a world because God made it. Going “green” and creation care is an issue of stewardship as it relates to our poor stewardship for many years, and the subsequent consequences limiting possibilities for future generations to experience a healthy world to grow up in. Regardless of how serious you yourself take this, most GenZ students are extremely apt to ignore anyone who isn’t taking creation care and climate movement seriously. This is the world they are growing up in now.

Keeping Attention As Concise Communication

I downloaded TikTok for a whole 45 minutes before I uninstalled it from my iPhone. That was an easy decision. However, I know students aren’t uninstalling it any time soon. 10 years ago we were told that students generally could keep attention for between 10-15 minutes. Now, while this may be a little extreme, that attention span is more like 30 seconds to 2 minutes. As more students are moving off content-based media towards image/video based media, concise is precisely the value one must work towards in delivering anything. In other words, if it’s not going to be inspirational in 60 seconds, it’s not going to be inspirational in 10 minutes.

In the world of youth ministry, our friend and partner TJ McConahay at The Fringe Youth Ministry Podcast does an incredible job with his #oneminutemessage concept on TikTok for his students. Each one is carefully curated and edited to engaging perfection for students to connect with the story from Scripture or a life transformational element. Plus it helps that TJ is pretty fun and awesome to watch. This is an example of what the future will look like to creatively engage students in the digital landscape that they all live in everyday.

Mental Health As Emotional Awareness

Mental health has had a growing interest among educators, youth workers, and community leaders are a focal point for healthy people and communities. Adding in the faith component can make mental health either a powerful growth engine that can fuel positive mental health, or it can lead someone into a dark space of shame, guilt, and depression. Don’t believe me? Talk with twenty-somethings recovering from their youth group experience where they felt manipulated, judged, and shamed for doing or not doing the “right things” according to their faith community. Want a recent example of backlash against a prominent youth ministry ideas? Google “recovery from purity culture” and start reading about the shame, manipulation, and the maligned expressions of sexuality in adulthood linked to the rise of purity culture back in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Words do things to students, and we need to be aware of how truth connects with students in a way that grows mental health.

Here’s the growth edge for youth workers in 2020: Emotional awareness. Mental health is inextricably linked to an emotional engagement and awareness that leads to healthy expression of emotions. Here’s 4 skills that are MUST’S for growing emotional awareness among students to get you started:

  • Naming/identifying emotions
  • Expressing emotions
  • Discerning appropriate spaces for sharing
  • Accepting emotions and learning to sit with hard ones

Service As Partnership

A growing trend for several years, more mission trip organizations and agencies are shifting exclusively to “partnership” language with their engagement strategies. YouthWorks has been taking this a great level of doing “Community Partner” highlights in their marketing and communication about serving with YouthWorks sites. This is becoming more of an expectation with language, especially as we continue to shift away from an “us” and “them” model of connecting service experiences with students.

Discipleship As Transformation

Some trend observation should be more obvious than others. This one can go the way of “obvious”, but think twice about how you’re actually living into the reality. More and more youth ministry resource agencies (or publishers) are utilizing more resources that emphasize “transformation” as a key element to spiritual growth. Has this always been a theological focus for certain faith traditions? Absolutely. But as discipleship in faith communities moves away from educational understandings of faith to more of a life/personal transformational approach to growing faith, it’s worth noting that it’s being written about more from this vantage point. Check out LeaderTreks for their great work on reorienting discipleship around transformation in students.

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. Happy 2020 youth workers!

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.