A Missed Generation
By Nigel Pollock
We are particularly concerned about the disproportionate impact of the past two years on young people, especially those in their mid-teens to early twenties.
While COVID interrupted life in some way for all of us, it has deprived many young people of experiences that will never come their way again.
They’ve missed out on sport, music, drama and travel. They have had to downsize celebrations of milestone birthdays and graduations from high school and university. Students started university in their bedrooms and graduates began careers from their basements. What these young men and women missed is significant, and many will not just pick up where they left off.
Young people can be resilient and there have been positives for some in spending more time with their families, connecting more deeply with friends, reflecting on life and trying new activities. But we can’t ignore their losses.
Mental Health Challenges
The Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Headstrong Survey reveals that 63.8 % of youth aged 15-24 reported poor mental health during the pandemic — the highest of any age group. (People over 65 were at 35%).
Their biggest challenges:
49% said loneliness and isolation
33% said school closures and the switch to virtual learning
The Association for Canadian Studies reports that 42% of young adults aged 18–24 experienced moderate to severe depression during the pandemic. A survey by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction found that 21% of adults aged 18–34 started drinking more at home due to boredom, lack of structure, stress and loneliness. Cannabis use also increased.
Hardest hit are the least privileged and those with special needs. UNESCO predicts this shadow pandemic in global education may eclipse the health crisis in terms of its long-term impact.
The impact on faith development has also been significant. Our friends at Scripture Union surveyed churches in Canada and found that:
57% of churches reported a decline in overall attendance
71% saw a decline in attendance in children’s ministry
59% of churches are not sharing the Good News about Jesus with children in their community
These statistics do not surprise us; in fact, we’ve seen them play out in the lives of the young people first-hand.
In 2020, our camps were mostly shuttered, but this summer campers are back! We are hosting about 4,000 campers compared to the usual 10,000, which is a stark reminder of another thing young people missed – the unique growth that comes from time spent in creation and community.
First-year high school and university students also missed so much. As we walk alongside students through three years of high school and four to five years of university, we see them grow in many ways. We often refer to the combination of these years as representing a student generation. Every year matters, but the first year and the graduating year are especially crucial. As first year students become comfortable in an InterVarsity group, they say yes to increased leadership and discipleship opportunities in their remaining years. As they approach graduation, we are able to help them think through how to integrate their faith with their career.
Many first-year students missed this important connection with a faith community at their school. Graduating students missed the opportunity to find other people of faith in their workplaces, new churches and communities.
Bridging the Gap
InterVarsity thrives on bringing people together in community at camp, in high school, on campus and in the work place. It was frustrating not to be able to do this in person for so many months, but we are grateful for the many ways we were able to connect. We hosted virtual campfires, prayer meetings, art shows and games nights. Students gathered for Bible Study conferences that included online learning and offline reflection. They joined “Meet a Prof” events online and had meaningful conversations with professors. Miraculously, we began some new high school groups. We also were able to meet more families.
We are committed to finding more opportunities to reach those we have missed and to bless those who have missed out. A few examples:
Our hybrid Leaders-in-Training program integrates learning opportunities during the high school year and at summer camp.
A new video series will provide resources to help teenagers talk about faith and life. We look forward to sharing this resource with the wider church.
We’re expanding our use of digital platforms for evangelism and discipleship, recognizing this will always be part of young people’s lives.
We’re excited to return to campus in person this fall and to meet new students face to face.
We are moving forward in faith with hope and imagination.
I believe we have been learning things in this season that will significantly strengthen our impact moving forward. We know, though, that it will be a bumpy ride.
Missed, Not Lost
We are hugely grateful for all who have walked with us in this unique season. We miss this missed generation but we do not believe they are lost. We have a Good Shepherd. We know the good news of Jesus continues to be the only hope for boys and girls, for students and graduates across Canada and beyond. We believe that in God’s grace, InterVarsity has a pivotal part to play as we work with others to see faith grow in this generation.
Our message to young people is, “We missed you, welcome back.”
Our message to you is, “Thank you, I hope we will see you in person soon. If you share our passion to reach this missed generation, be in touch! We want to work together.”
I hope that whatever you have been missing the most will bring you delight when you are able to experience it afresh.