How to disciple digital natives when they have digital fatigue

21 May 2020

Photo:The desire for meaningful face-to-face engagement has grown among young people through the coronavirus crisis.

By Emily Ferguson

For a youth generation as highly connected as today’s, one might think engaging them online would be easy. However, the novelty of life online wore off within a few weeks and digital fatigue has set in. The desire for constant digital connection is being overtaken by a growing hunger for meaningful face-to-face engagement.

“Isolation has made me sick of technology,” said Lusiana Frost, 18, a core member of Hangs by Fresh Hope Youth. “The first week I was non-stop on Snapchat, but since then it’s not been for more than a couple of minutes. It’s become overwhelming and I have really felt the heaviness of the distance.”

Charlie Burke, Youth Ministry Catalyst at Fresh Hope, has observed particularly strong traction in youth ministries where the following principle is at play.

“What young people are craving is face-to-face engagement. A lot of youth ministries seem to be trying to replace relationship with content and input, which is easier, but unless content is engaged with, it’s useless. Even the best content in the world won’t keep young people engaged.”

While it’s challenging and can feel contrived, many churches are finding creative and meaningful online forums to engage their young people face-to-face. This includes lighthearted spaces like video game and dress-up nights as well as spaces for young people to share more deeply.

“There is still a need and hunger for good content but we don’t need to reinvent the wheel; we can point them to other resources and chat about it afterwards,” said Jakin Mai, Youth Pastor at Restore Church. “What we’re trying to do is focus on relationship and get more creative about engaging with our young people and keeping it fun.”

Jessie Skelly, Mission Catalyst at Fresh Hope, has observed the same dynamic through the Tuesday afternoon youth-led Hangs space he helped establish.

“Young people don’t just want to listen to a really quality 45-minute talk – they want and crave connection. If you’re not hanging out with your young people on an online platform like Zoom right now, you’re really missing out on something.”

One key reason online face-to-face environments seem to be gaining traction is they provide a helpful forum for giving young people a chance to lead and contribute – especially those who might be too hesitant to have a go in a physical space.

“The more we give young people a chance, the more they take ownership, invite their friends, like being part of it, and grow in their relationship with God,” said Jakin.

“Just because someone is young doesn’t mean they are incapable, and I see this as a really great gateway for when we go back into youth in a physical space. We want to keep the momentum going and keep investing in the young people who have stepped up to help run Alpha online or record devotional videos to share through our youth group socials.”

Charlie added: “One of the biggest learnings from this season has been what happens when you’re prepared to take risks and you give young people a go. It’s about the priesthood of all believers and the family of God doing this together.”

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