Thursday, September 16, 2010

    5 Signs of Youth Ministry #2: No Standing

    Part two of a mini-series about directional signs that can help move our youth ministries to become less programmed and more missional.

    Have you heard about these latest studies that show less and less youth are coming to church for worship or youth group activities?  What interests me in all this is the assumption that our primary goal is to get teens into our church buildings, as if that is where ministry primarily happens.  But we know that isn't the case. Deep and significant ministry with teens is actually more likely to happen when out in the community doing a service project, while traveling on a mission trip, during a shared cup of coffee at the local Starbucks, or in a small group gathering at a youth's home.  

    If more than 50% of our youth ministry programs happen within the four walls of our church buildings, maybe it's time to rethink our approach. Instead of putting so much energy into enticing teens to come into our buildings, we might consider joining with them out in the world, engaging with each other and our faith in the everydayness of life and culture.  The "no standing" sign is a reminder to us to move out of our cloistered and controlled youth rooms and programs and seek ways to help youth live out the mission of the church in the real world they experience everyday.  Perhaps we continue to gather weekly in the youth room, but only briefly and then we head out into the city for mission projects, or to engage in Bible study in places related to our topic (e.g. sit by a river for a discussion of baptism; tour a local mall for a discussion on possessions and greed).  Maybe we spend less time gathering as one big group and more time in small groups in people's homes or public spaces.  Maybe instead of focusing so much of our time each week planning the Wednesday night group Bible study, we spend most of our time visiting youth and family in their homes, inviting them to share their prayer concerns and challenges of faith.  

    How would such an approach change the way you engage in ministry to youth? How might your congregation react?  How would this new way change the goals and focus of your ministry? 

    See part one of this series here.


    Josh Knierim said...

    I agree with this 100%, but I honestly have such a hard time figuring out what this looks like practically. What has this looked like for you? Any suggestions of what steps we can take to get outside of the church walls. I get really frustrated sitting in the office during the school year.

    Brian said...

    Josh, thanks for commenting. You rightly point out that this is a tough one to live out -- partly because it goes so against the grain of the way we have been doing youth minsitry for so long. I don't have a great answer to how to make this shift -- I just know that we need to make it. I suspect that heeding the "no standing" sign means that we spend less time in programmed activities at the church and a lot more time on hands on mission activities out in our communities. For my group this would mean letting go of our Sunday night meeting slot (when it is hard to find mission projects) and committing to get together more often after school or on Saturdays for volunteer projects. It could mean offering more activties on or near our school campuses that might reach out to unchurched teens (rather than expecting them to come to us). I'm still thinking this through myself, but I hope it's a move in youth minsitry that others will think about too.

    Anonymous said...

    I'm so struggling with this in our church setting, too. The programmatic heyday is over, and I can't help feeling grateful for whatever scrap of time and attention teens will throw me after everything else has been gobbled up by school, sports, band, and homework.

    The need to invite students to something worth their while is both a big pull toward the kind of approach you're advocating and its biggest restraint. After all, I can control more of the experience's variables when it's in our youth room.

    That's folly, though. Thanks for another courageous nudge to move out and beyond with youth and meet them where they're already working.

    Brian said...

    Rocky, I think you are so right that "The need to invite students to something worth their while is both a big pull toward the kind of approach you're advocating and its biggest restraint." And I'm not sure I have the answer other than to say something will have to give if we are to involve students more meaningfully in the mission of the Church -- either we've got to get them to change their priorities or...we've got to help them see how everything they are doing, from football, to band, to interacting with other students at school can be a participation in the mission of the Church. I think I am opting for the latter because it moves us away from the reliance on "programs" that must happen within our carefully-controlled youth rooms. Thanks for commenting! (great blog, by the way -- I'm just starting to make my way through it and have already found several books to add to my Amazon wish list.)