I read an article, saying how a church leader senses that when Lockdown restrictions are lifted, there will be a massive harvest of young people becoming Christians. I hope they are right. I really hope so, but, if that's what we're hanging on for, how will we feel if it's not how it works out?
What have I observed in Lockdown?
Up until the summer, we looked pretty good numerically, although some young people drifted away. From September, we tried socially-distanced rounders and fire pits, and numbers held up. Now, we're in Lockdown 3 and it's really hard to keep going on Zoom. Numbers have fallen to one third of those who were coming before the first Lockdown. Talking to a key leader nationally, she said people are seeing the same loss of two thirds in many areas.
We've tried all sorts of formats, but whatever we've done, as a rule, the same people have come.
Trying to make sense of this loss
Anyone who has been in youth ministry for any length of time will talk with heavy heart of disappointments along the way - young people who looked great in the youth group, then left the faith in the hard time of university or young adulthood. Is the loss we have seen in the huge challenge of Covid and online youth groups, that loss happening early? That may be part of it. I'd love to know what you think. Or it may be, that everyone comes straight back after Lockdown, having kept their faith in Jesus growing at home without the youth group. But even if they don't, we need not be disillusioned.
A remnant chosen by grace
Paul writes in Romans 11.5:
"So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace."
Paul is talking about a time when Elijah is feeling physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausted (sounds pretty much like us today?) and he says to God:
"I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19.10)
Brilliant line, Elijah. I often say that line when I am beyond myself. Ever feel like that?
If you see the young people you lead, being decimated by Lockdown, and you've tried all sorts of things, worked hard, sent out goodie boxes, led online weekend aways and it just doesn't seem to have made much difference, and you are questioning whether you should keep going, watch what happens next:
God has kept a remnant... and it's bigger than you think!
There is always 'a remnant chosen by grace'. Elijah complains he is all alone and God says (v.18):
"Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel."
In other words, "Elijah, you are ALL ALONE... apart from the other 7000 people."
I am no longer going to change the format of the youth group every week in Lockdown, in the hope that I'll hit on a winning formula and people will come back. Yes, I'll still pray for, send cards to and ring up those who aren't coming, but I will continue to put loads of energy into the people who are turning up faithfully, week after week, and teach and care for them, rather than regretting what we have lost (perhaps just for a short time). We have a remnant God has given us for now, but he may add another 7000 at any moment.
Are you in the remnant?
If God is keeping 'a remnant chosen by grace', how can you be sure you are in that remnant? You keep running the race right to the end (and not just of this pandemic). You trust Jesus and keep following him, crawling if necessary. You keep trying to hang out with his people, letting them encourage you and encouraging them (if you have to turn your camera off, you'll still bless them, just by your presence), even if they are fewer than last week, and the leader has forgotten to unmute herself and you've been ejected for the second time from the Zoom call by someone else starting a meeting (that was us tonight!). Your aim is 'after you have done everything, to stand'. (Ephesians 6.13).
God is building his remnant
I've heard amazing testimonies of young people coming to faith online. I've seen people who weren't coming to the group starting to attend online. God is still at work, building his remnant. If you're not in it already, ask God right now if you can join it.
When we start meeting again face-to-face, I have no doubt that God will amaze us:
"I thought I was the only one left, and another 7000 appeared out of nowhere!"
Dave Thornton is author of 'Raising the Bar: Nearly everything you need to know about Christian youth ministry'. Buy the book here.
Image by Aline Ponce from Pixabay