Tuesday, April 27, 2010

    "Double-Downing" of Youth Ministry

    How is youth ministry today like the latest menu item at KFC? You might be surprised.

    Have you heard about the new "Double Down" sandwich at KFC?  This is the fast food item for all of you who ever asked "Why is the bun always made out of bread?" The Double Down consists of bacon, cheese, and special sauce pressed between two deep-fried chicken fillets, delivering 540 calories (290 from fat) and a whopping 1,380 milligrams of sodium.  Whereas Pizza Hut is always asking "Where else can we hide more cheese?" perhaps KFC will now eternally pursue the question "What else can we fashion into a bun?" Though the Double Down does not have the honor of being the unhealthiest item on the menu, it could well win the prize for best response to the customers' cries for more, more, more!  Give us more of what we want!  In this case, why bother with bread when we can have double the fried meat!

    How often is this the same approach we are encouraged to take in ministry with youth?  Double up on the entertainment value, double up on the marketing hype, double up on the "cool" factor and the customers youth will surely come. Of course, the truth of it is: KFC knows exactly what it's doing. And youth ministries which pile on the cheese, bacon and special sauce games, entertainment, trips to exotic locations likely do attract a great number of young people. The trouble is, the consumers of our double-down youth ministries will eventually want more.  Then we're forced to do the ministry equivalent of a "Luther Double Down" which consists of KFC's new item sandwiched in between two Krispy Kreme donuts (No Kidding. See it for yourself here).  Where does it stop?

    Perhaps more importantly, we have to wonder if we are setting our youth up for their eventual departure from the Church itself. When they graduate from our youth programs and find no equivalent to our double-down style ministries elsewhere in our congregations, they may "graduate" from Church altogether (and, in fact, the lastest research from Barna and Pew show this to be true). Conversely, as they grow older and begin searching for something more substantive and meaningful in their spiritual life, they may decide to leave behind the consumerist-styled Church for something of more depth.  Lastly, for those of us with the resources and finances to lead "double down" youth ministries piled high with video game systems, huge Christian concerts, trips to Africa, and on and on, what happens when the youth in our ministries move to a new town and discover the youth ministry there can't afford a TV/VCR, let alone an Xbox with all the latest games and the mission trip is to the nursing home across town instead of Haiti.  Have we set them up to believe that real faith can only be found in double down ministries?

    A point of clarification:  I'm not suggesting that doing activities that are purely for fun and fellowship is wrong.  Play is an important part of creating community. The danger comes when we get caught in the trap of making such activities the center and focus of our ministries together because we want to keep youth coming (and this can and does happen.).  Additionally, I'm not suggesting that going on overseas mission trips is a poor idea. In fact, such trips might be exactly what your group is gifted to do.  But hopefully groups who take such trips do so because they feel  particularly called to such mission and not because of the attraction of the exotic locale.  I would also hope that groups who travel overseas also seek amazing ways to commit to "mission trips" right in their own backyard.

    Much of this comes down to: Why are you doing what you are doing in your ministry?  Are you focused on attracting teens or discipling youth? 

    Coming Next:  An Alternative to Double Down Youth Ministry 


    Mike Carroll said...

    This is one of the most ridiculous columns/posts/blogs I have ever read about church ministry. There is no mention at all about the heart of the ministry in here. I don't come from an elaborate church by any means. But once and a while we will do something big and fun to mix things us and just have fun for the sake of enjoying each others company. How can you knock a ministry for wanting to go into the world and help those in need in places in Africa or Haiti? God purposes His will to those that can do what He has called them to do where they are. Some churches have the resources to meet needs overseas. Others remain local minded. Neither is wrong or right. They are both meeting the needs of what breaks God's heart. I question the motives of this article. I fear you are either highly inexperienced or have been burned before and are taking it out on others for trying to advance the Kingdom by using the means given to them.

    Brian said...

    Mike, don't mince words. Tell me what you really think! : )
    I'm not at all in disagreement with anything you state here, particularly as you assert that the big fun things happen "once in a while." The challenge comes when the bigger/better/more fun stuff becomes the heart of our ministries because we think it is the only way to keep 'em coming (and there a many youth ministries where this is the case). I'm also not opposed to taking overseas mission trips, particularly if the reason for going is not the attraction of an exotic locale but because the particular gifts and call of that youth group are to that place. However, I would hope groups that do take such trips also see value in doing mission "trips" in their own backyard. I think it's fair to say that I'm neither "burned" "inexperienced" or "taking it out" on others. I'm simply offering a perspective that seems to be different from yours. I'd hope we can both share our particular experience/opinions without the need for saying the others perspective is "ridiculous" or questioning the other person's motives.

    Mike Carroll said...

    It was the way you wrote the article that made it difficult to gather your motives because you failed to mention what you put in your reply. If you mix your original article with your reply, I would agree with you. I am glad you stand for something. Thanks for the reply.

    Brian said...

    Thanks for the response, Mike. I guess it's part of the dangers of blogwriting and trying to converse via the internet. It's easier to add clarification to our points of view in a conversation then it is in a static piece of writing. I appreciate your suggestions.

    Luke Trouten said...

    There has been a trend in my reading lately about the hype of youth ministry setting up students to leave the church because after youth group nothing in "big church" matches their understanding of church life.

    So while I agree with you that many ministries get their priorities mixed up in planning bigger/better events just for the sake of filling seats, I also think there is a lesson to be learned for churches as a whole.

    If teens don't stick around, maybe "big church" could use a little more hype/excitement/unsuckiness.

    Barry K said...

    In my field of loyalty marketing, there is an often unspoken issue that loyalty marketing programs make consumers loyal to the *program* rather than the brand or the product. And they do that by constantly trying to one-up whatever special offer they last put in front of the consumer -- a zero sum game that has no end. Churches have adopted modern marketing practices, without learning from the failures of those practices. Personally, I'd like to see church get simpler and quieter, not offer more options and make more noise. And that goes for the whole church experience, youth and adult.