Then Came COVID-19 … And Then Came the Greatest Generation of Disciples

Article by Valerie Bell April 1, 2020

Not too long ago, we had our plans in place. Spring breaks. Work goals. Ministry objectives. And then came COVID-19. Just a month ago that term had to be explained to us. Today, it’s all we talk about, along with its whole new vocabulary, like “shelter in place.”

Shelter in place. It sounds so comforting, but it is everything we humans are not wired for. It’s weird! It’s frustrating! It’s lonely! It’s like having a global time-out imposed on the whole world because we misbehaved. Eeesh!

But in the midst of it, we are developing coping skills. Some people take control of a world-spinning-madly by organizing their closets and alphabetizing their spice drawers. Not me, but have at it the rest of you! Others are self-educating, reading stacks of books trying to think their ways out of this crisis. Some are binge-watching TV, binge-eating comfort food and binging on working out, becoming exercise-aholics these days.

My cell phone tells me I am coping by upping my screen time. While this is embarrassing to admit because its probably the least productive way to spend shelter-in-place time, I can assure you I have learned some extremely important things about life that I didn’t now before, like:

  • How to crack my own back from a YouTube chiropractor named Dr. Jo.
  • What the top 12 Netflix binges for this week were
  • How to draw cute animal faces by tracing your hand in different ways (in case I have to FaceTime babysit one of these days  )
  • Ten beauty products that change everything

The short-term impact of COVID-19 is obvious, if slightly different, in everyone’s lives.

But the experts are telling us the long-term impact of coming to terms with this worldwide pandemic will be universal and shared. For example:

  • Everyone will feel the effects of a worldwide economic crisis and who-knows-how-long recovery period.
  • Everyone will experience health vulnerability. No one is immune. There is no cure (not yet anyway) or medicine that can arrest it.
  • Additionally, we will have medical accessibility issues including how do we get tested, treated or find a hospital bed? These are threats we have never faced before.

And our kids have experienced all of it right alongside their anxious parents. Wow! Let that sink in.

So here’s the question we‘re tackling because we know parents are wondering about it:

How will this generation of kids be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

We are the first to admit that no one, including us, knows the definitive answer to that question. We are not prophets.

That said, one thing we are sure of: COVID-19 will have a defining impact on this generation, during their childhoods, and beyond. It will be our kids before and after … the moment their worlds pivoted and everything changed. According to a 2011 University of Michigan study, researchers found that those who experience a critical event during a “critical period” such as adolescence and young adulthood are more likely to define the event as “important.”

Every modern generation, or demographic cohort, has experienced critical events that marked them profoundly. The Greatest Generation (1910-1924) lived through the Great Depression and two World Wars, experiencing extreme economic and social turmoil. Their generational psyche was shaped by an ability to know how to survive, make do and solve problems. They were resourceful survivors who could pinch a penny like crazy. And yes, they were and are great!*

Then, the Baby Boomers, (1944-1964) because of their sheer numbers, are the most marketed-to generation ever. They were the darlings of the 50’s. The suburbs and the American dream were built for them. But sheer numbers had a downside—it was hard to be accepted into your college of choice, or to get a job after graduating because so many were applying for the same position.

Their lives were competitive. And then came Vietnam, a war they rejected and, by so doing, redefined traditional values. So Baby Boomers became very individualistic, driven to succeed, free-spirited and social-cause oriented.

Then look at what happened to Gen X (1965-1979.) There wasn’t a major cataclysmic event that impacted them. Instead, they were the first generation to be children of divorce. They were latchkey kids. Mothers went to work and their kids grew up without a large adult presence. It shaped them more than any world event. It makes sense they are more peer-oriented than previous generations.

The Millennial cohort, those born between 1980 and 1999, came to age during 9/11, the “War on Terror, ” a punishing recession, skyrocketing student debt and the rise of the digital age. The result? They are closer to their parents than other generations due to the period of intense unity in the aftermath of 9/11. Community life was everything.

Now back to the question. Realizing the potential impact of COVID-19 on a whole generation, how will they respond? And then this extremely important follow-up question: How will the church walk them through this trauma to help them become the Greatest Generation of Disciples?

The Greatest Generation of Disciples? Yes, that could be the ultimate positive outcome for this generation or any generation.

What would that entail? Many things, but let’s start here.

We should be aware of their need for spiritual authenticity.

Today, effective, personal messaging is being done from cell phone to cell phone, showing the way people actually live. The day of “wowing” kids to Jesus needs to be replaced by help that offers a real relationship with a God who loves them. They need to see us lamenting, asking God for miracles and loving on a frightened world. They need to see us following Jesus through anything. We need to go beyond entertainment to disciple this generation to love and follow the Jesus who gives eternal life. To believe that Jesus is everything. To love him completely. To follow him totally. To love him for the rest of their lives. When surrounded by the potential of death, this generation needs to know there is more than “now,” more than smoke machines and shows. There is Jesus and he is enough.

I’ll end with this from Sam Luce’s blog, “What Do You Do When Sundays Are Taken Away?

“We see how serious a pandemic can be. If we do not start talking about discipleship, holiness, and gospel centrality in kids and youth ministry the church in North America will become a sterile form of religion that is driven to and fro by every wave culture sends our way. We have to realize that Sunday alone is not enough to disciple kids because we now know Sunday can be take away. If we want to raise kids that are resilient we have got to start measuring more than attendance and discipling with more than take-home papers alone.”

We can do better than coping. Let’s make resilient disciples. We can build the Greatest Generation of Disciples starting now.

* Note: Research professor of sociology Glen Holl Elder, Jr., a prominent figure in the development of life course theory, wrote Children of the Great Depression (1974), “the first longitudinal study of a Great Depression cohort.” Elder followed 167 individuals born in California between 1920 and 1921 and “traced the impact of Depression and wartime experiences from the early years to middle age. Most of these ‘children of the Great Depression’ fared unusually well in their adult years. They came out of the hardships of the Great Depression “with an ability to know how to survive and make do and solve problems.