In a time when many are utilizing social distancing to protect those most vulnerable, it can be an important moment to connect young people and older adults. Healthy youth ministry helps connect young people to significant adults who can care for, encourage, and support them. In many congregations, significant adult relationships cross generations into the older adult population. These kinds of relationships are often highly mutually beneficial.
At this moment, many older adults are following important safety protocols to make sure they stay healthy. This may limit their social interaction and ability to get the food and other items they may need. Young people and their families are also being asked to limit social interaction and are home in record numbers.
This is a fantastic opportunity to try new ways to connect these two populations. There is so much to be learned and gained by inter-generational relationships within the church. Even without the circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic, many congregations have regular shut-ins or adults who suffer from chronic illness that might leave them home-bound for a short time. Our older adults and young people have a lot to share. While we have an opportunity, this may be a great time to try some new ways of connecting.
Consider buddying up older adults with young people and families.
It is easy to get overwhelmed with information and trying to keep up with school, work, and more. Families may want to help but feel overwhelmed at another task. If you can, develop a buddy system that assigns a young person to an older or shut-in adult who may be close to them. This takes a broad need for help and makes it very specific.
Encourage them to check in periodically. Make sure that older and at-risk adults have the groceries and other supplies that they need. Pray together. Talk together. Ensure that everyone has both physical and social needs met.
Go old school with letters and phone calls.
Young people of all ages can rediscover the joy of connecting via mail or phone call. While some can remember the days of party lines and pulling the cord on the phone to see if you could reach a quiet spot, others can’t. This is a great opportunity to do some writing and perhaps even create notes and letters that we can look back on and see God’s providence years from now. Consider encouraging young people to write general notes of encouragement with Scripture and send them to church for distribution.
Throw a Ding, Dong, Dance Party.
Rethink what it means to drop by and see someone. Older or at-risk adults may not be able to enjoy their regular social interactions. In fact, it might not be safe to come in and visit. Even so, everyone can look out the window and enjoy getting to see friendly faces. Depending on what is safe and aligns with local restrictions, families and young people can stop by, greet and maybe even throw a dance party on the lawn. If restrictions are more intense, it may just need to be a drive by and wave. While it may seem silly, it could also be a great way to liven up a day which seems very much like the last.
Help older adults navigate online worship and other tools.
Many congregations are posting their worship services, Bible studies, and other resources online. Young people who are tech savvy can call up older adults to make sure they know how to use these tools. Teaching them to connect in these ways helps make sure they can access important spiritual support in this time.
Get young people and older adults connected digitally.
Many older or at-risk adults are tech savvy all on their own. Give them a chance to teach, connect, and build relationships via FaceTime, Zoom and other social media. This is a great time to use technology to cook together, play games, and have discussion even if we can’t be in the same room together. Especially consider what skills older adults might be able to teach young people. Pull out older church cookbooks and guide a young person to try an age-old recipe. Engage someone who did engineering for years to help come up with projects for young people to try at home.
For young people, they may be struggling with the implications of closed schools, an end to sports seasons, and more. Older adults can help listen to and provide support that comes with experience. Many have seen disappointment and struggle before and can share how God’s grace and gospel saw them through.
God’s church was designed to have all ages. We all have gifts, passions and skills to share that God can use to care for all people. In a time of uncertainty and fear, helping young people and older adults connect can help the light of the Gospel shine through. Both young and old can share how Jesus has given them faith, forgiven their sins, and provided many and various ways to point others back to God’s good news.