From the growth in online services to Zoom afternoon teas, there have been many uplifting examples of how churches have embraced digital platforms to stay connected during lockdown. But new research from Allchurches Trust highlights the uncomfortable truth that, for many churches, the Coronavirus pandemic has made them feel even more cut off from children and young people in their communities.
Nearly a quarter of churches reported a decrease in engagement with children and young people; not unexpected when 30% of respondents indicated they were not able to run any activities specifically for the younger generation during lockdown.
Some 638 churches who completed an electronic survey from Allchurches Trust in June 2020 were asked about their level of engagement with children and young people since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak. The aim was to track how things might have changed since Allchurches carried out its in-depth Growing Lives survey in 2019, which asked the question: “How effective are churches at connecting with young people and what help do they need to do it better?”
Only 10% of churches reported an increase in engagement with young people during lockdown. The Growing Lives research from 2019 reveals that 67% of churches have five or fewer 11 to 18-year-olds in their worshipping community; the fact that the June 2020 survey shows that around a quarter (23%) of churches experienced a further decrease in engagement with this age group during lockdown is concerning. Some 24% of churches have experienced a decrease in engagement with younger children (aged 0 to 10).
The full 2019 research is being made available for the first time today and you can read it here. It features church youth work case studies from a range of settings and denominations and expert commentary from Dr Lucie Shuker, Director of Research at national charity, Youthscape.
In the June 2020 survey, churches were also asked about what kind of youth-focused activities they have been able to run and how often during lockdown, the questions young people have been asking the most and what they felt the biggest issues facing children and young people in their community are at this uncertain time. You can see the full results here.
This survey revealed that more than half of churches (55%) have been able to engage children and young people through regular online worship, while 46% have run family focused online activities for children and parents and 31% have specifically run online activities and challenges for young people. Similar numbers have reached out by phone and e-mail.
Considering that the Growing Lives research in 2019 revealed that only 7% of churches would want to offer online support to children and young people if they had all of the necessary resources and skills in place, it’s clear that lockdown has been a major driver for churches to embrace digital opportunities and engage with families online.
Dr Lucie Shuker, Director of Research at Youthscape, said:
“Youth workers in different areas and different settings have reported varied experiences and success rates in engaging young people during lockdown, so this new research is really helpful in painting the bigger picture thanks to its insights from hundreds of churches.
“What’s heartening are the many examples of churches that have quickly adapted to launch online activities and alternative means of providing support when physical youth work was not an option; being creative in meeting the needs of the families and young people they work with and reaching others they may not previously have been able to engage.
“Online won’t work for all young people, and is not some silver bullet, but what we’ve seen as a result of Coronavirus is that the church can adapt when it needs to. It can be innovative and that presents an enormous opportunity to facilitate experiences of church with and for young people that make it more meaningful for them.”
Children themselves are also clearly interested in how their church experience will change as a result of Coronavirus, with churches reporting that the third most asked question to them by young people during lockdown has been: “What will normal church be like in the future?” A quarter of churches said the question they had been asked the most is: “If God is good, why does God allow bad things like a pandemic to happen?”
Questions around seeing friends and going back to school topped the table. Hardly surprising then that churches feel the biggest issue facing children and young people in lockdown is boredom, followed by too much screen time, anxiety, loneliness and friendship struggles.
And, while many churches have looked to find new ways to connect with families in their communities during lockdown, particularly online, this has not been without its challenges.
One church respondent said:
“We’ve worked with individual families and in partnership with our schools. We’ve created resources which can be picked up from safe spaces, or online, and we’ve woven elements of our existing family worship into a Zoom platform. But small children find Zoom really tricky. No-one seems to have thought about this. We are trying to make things tangible.”
Youthscape’s Covid-19 Resource Hub gives access to a pool of resources to support children’s and youth work during the pandemic, including Together Apart – a suite of free curriculum resources that can be delivered online, quarantine ideas for youth work sessions and a special series of the podcast, which features young people and youth workers sharing their experiences of lockdown.
Allchurches Trust chairman, Tim Carroll, said:
“It’s clear from both our original and new Growing Lives research that that many churches lack confidence in getting children’s and youth work off the ground, but what also comes across loud and clear is the desire and determination of so many churches to meet the challenges head on.
“With the right skills and resources in place, almost all of them said they would love to provide more support and activities for the next generation, and the Coronavirus lockdown has led to many churches jumping out of their comfort zone to reach out to more families online. This can only help support church growth and community connection in the months ahead.
“The inspiring case studies in our Growing Lives research report should give confidence that it’s possible to engage with local families and grow your church community, even if young people and volunteers are in short supply. And even during lockdown, many churches have found some really creative ways to help children and young people feel less isolated and more connected.
“We’re proud that our Growing Lives funding is helping churches to overcome some of the barriers they face, but also privileged to help tell the story of the positive difference they are making through their work with local families.”
Around £1.4 million pounds has now been given to more than 140 projects across the UK and Ireland sinceAllchurches Trust’sGrowing Lives programme launched in May 2019; aimed at enabling churches and Christian charities to feel more confident, inspired and better equipped to help young people reach their potential, both spiritually and in other ways, through active participation in church and community life.
You can see some of the latest projects to benefit in this video or read about them here. New Growing Lives applications need to be submitted by July 17th, 2020, to be considered at the September Grants Committee. Find out more and apply online here.