Sometimes (only sometimes) I wish the world could go back to the way it was when I was a kid. Families ate dinner together every night, kids could wander and roam through their neighborhoods without fear of strangers, and Sundays were church days. In my youth in Jefferson City, Missouri, we still had the "blue laws" which meant that almost every commercial business was closed on Sunday. You could buy groceries (not beer!) but there were no shopping malls, bookstores, bowling alleys, or movie theaters enticing us away from home, family, and church. Of course, as I kid I hated this. As an adult, I have to look back at those times with definite nostalgia for something lost.
Now....well, as one person told me the other day: "It's a whole new world." Youth in my church often miss morning worship, sometimes for weeks on end, because of sports seasons and practices. Youth miss church and youth group because of school play rehearsals or scouting activities. There is so much to do on Sunday afternoons that "enticing kids to come to youth group" should be taught in seminary. The phrase I loathe to hear on Sunday mornings is "What are we doing tonight?" This always comes from the mouth of a young person, raised and baptized deeply in the waters of a consumerist-capitalist culture, where one always has endless options from which to weigh and choose how to spend their time/resources.
And, so often, we as the church are reluctant to say anything. We resist even suggesting to youth or parents that church/worship/youth group cannot have the impact it might if one is only there every other week, or whenever there isn't something else going on that's more important. Because church is "voluntary," we just don't see that it's our place to demand a higher level of participation and fidelity to the church body. In some ways, this all makes me long for my days as a school teacher, when my students had to come to me everyday. They didn't have a choice! It was the law (and of course, without those laws many of those students wouldn't have been at school, either!).
If only that time machine they had in Napoleon Dynamite really worked!