The Shift in Youth Groups

I have been doing youth ministry with my wife for going on 13-14 years, and it seems that there has been a fairly recent and large shift in the way young people are relating to our youth ministry.

I think in many ways it may mean that the old ways, the established ways *may not* work or be *needed* or add any value to young peoples lives. Specifically I am talking about the fairly common Sunday night fellowship programs. I will talk about culture changes and the impacts on Sunday School and Wednesday night bible study in future posts.

What specifically do I mean? If I asked a Youth alumni from 5-10 years ago what is the best part of youth group, that you will always remember, I would normally get a fairly similar answer. Something about you get to meet some of the est people who will be your best friends for life, or a version of that answer. Youth is and was a place to connect to new people and for deep bond with them. The model for a successful youth program to meet that need might have been, dinner, Mixers (get to know you games), some singing etc.

Does that still matter as much TODAY in 2010?

With Facebook, Myspace, texting, and all the new ways to connect with new and existing people in our lives. Does having a fixed room in a church where we go once a week to connect with people even make sense? Do the you of today need that? Does it add any value to their lives?

I wont argue that it adds no value, but compared to a half a generation ago.. I think the answer is pretty clear.

Youth today can connect to who they want to when they want to. And I think that is a huge change, and has some serious youth ministry implications.

My observation is that people of my age tend to have a bias for face to face conversation, and that the people we *should* converse with are the ones within arms reach. I dont know that todays youth share those biases going in.

I think that a youth in todays world has the idea that if they need to talk to someone, they can just post to their status something vaguely representing that they are hurt or sad, and their friends will spring into action. They will post followups, but the real “action” if you will happens then off line. A close out line of something like “I will tell you, text me”.  I have seen this happen time and time again. If youth today have a joy or concern, they can get immediate feedback and response from the people they know and love in what ever location they are almost immediately.

So if we can agree that the way youth find friends and connect with them has changed, what does that imply for a successful youth ministry fellowship program?

1. First thing I think is that the youth professional has to get invovled in the social media their youth consume, and be responsive at least, and ideally proactive. I dont think simply posting your cell number and saying you can text me, or giving out an email address gets the job done in today’s world. People expect to be able to broadcast a message and get someone else to initiate.

2. Evaluate what other things your youth are doing that they chose to spend their limited time doing, and consider incorporating more of that into your fellowship programs. I dont think eating will ever go out of style. But can you mix in specific sports? inter-church leagues? Homework/Tutoring? Music? Theater? Art? I dont know what the mix is, and I think a lot of it will depend on you figuring out what things your youth and your volunteers and leaders can share together. My thinking is the successful anser would be something that has to be “done in person” and cannot be done on FB, text message or xbox live.

3. Rethink the “message” portion. If you are a phenomenal speaker, keep doing that. if you are not, are you communicating God’s love most effectively by spending 10-25 min talking to the whole group in a one way conversation? Would a small group session with the same leaders where a youth can share what is going on in their life be a better use of that time? Participative skits?  And lets not confuse the message with the medium. Youth today need clarity on what God’s word is as much if not more than previous generations. The Bible does not say “Be good, Do nice things, Pray when you run into some trouble” or some other generic non-specific things.

Bottom line, is as a group of youth professionals and volunteers, we need to understand the changing landscape of the youth today, and make sure what we are doing to deliver the message is still relevant, and that we are still actively meeting real needs in the lives of today’s youth. And I think that Youth as a social hub is a rapidly dying model.