Thoughts on Youth Ministry 3.0

This blog posting after reading a book is motivating me to read more.  These past two weeks or so I have been able to read two books.  Although both of them were on the short side, I figured if I started small and had a couple under my belt then I could move on to some of the other books which are a bit longer…So I’m feeling a bit excited about reading and blogging.  Here are some thoughts on my latest read…

On my “to read book” list I have had Youth Ministry 3.0 by Mark Oestereicher for longer than I want to admit.  For those of you in Youth Ministry, I know I’m way late on this as the book was published in 2008.  For those of you who have no idea what book I’m talking about check it out here as well as some good reflections here from a seminary classmate Matt Cleaver.

Overall Marko does a great job of showing where the shifts in Youth Ministry have happened and the one that is currently happening now.

“The way we’re doing things is already not working.  We’re failing at our calling.  And deep down, most of us know it.  This is why we need a epochal shift in our assumptions, approaches, models, and methods.”

Harsh words for those who give their lives to building up youth and helping them see God in the world around them and finding ways to see Jesus.  I wish I could disagree with the above quote, but I have to say I’m guilty and agree with the quote.  The way I have done youth ministry in the past 6 years has been a great blessing to myself and my congregation.  We have had families join Bethel because of the “youth program”.  We have a fantastic “Youth Hall” with a projector, surround sound, all the youth band stuff, pool tables, foosball tables, air hockey tables, and all the comfortable seating you could need!  The place screams welcome to your space, and it also screams “be entertained!”

“The sense was– and remains, as I contend– that if we build the right program with the coolest youth room and hip adult leaders and lots of great stuff to attract kids, then we’ll experience success.”

Overall this is not a “bad” thing.  What is bad is if this is all the ministry is based on, get youth here and keep them entertained and out of trouble.  Many times I have had conversations with congregational members that have said something to the affect of “Well it’s great for them to have a place to come and keep them out of trouble.”  Yes, but.

We are shifting some of our priorities here at Bethel.  We are starting small, asking the questions of why are we doing what we are doing?  Is it all that important to have a Valley Fair trip every summer, along with a weekly softball team, a week long confirmation camp, and a week long mission trip?  We have taken a step toward one of the things Marko talks about in his book “Do Less”.

“Admittedly, this is counterintuitive.  Doing less feels like shying away from needs, turning away from change.”

Yes it does and that’s okay.

“Strip down your programming so you have space to spend time with teenagers, spend time with God, and consider rebuilding something new and fresh.”

I tried this with some of our weekly gatherings last year.  Instead of programming the entire night with worship, teaching, studying, small groups, games and the sort, I left space open.  We talked candidly about life, with no motivation to tie it all together with faith, but for me to listen and hear where the youth were coming from.  We also did something called “Practicing Sabbath”, although it was a bit programmed, the program is left open for youth to engage in where they see God at work in their lives, on their own with different stations set-up to help them reconnect with God through writing, drawing, or silence.

Sure there was pushback on what we were doing, “It’s too long”, “It’s boring”, “I’m not getting anything out of it”, “We need more freetime”, were all things I had heard from the youth who attended.  Change takes time and energy.  I could have went back to the old way of doing things just to keep the youth happy.  But I felt like this was the right thing to do.  Toward the end of the year I had some conversations with youth about the experience of “Practing Sabbath” and their attitudes had changed a bit.  Some of them still didn’t like it, but admitted it was nice to take a break for a bit and refocus.  This is one way of creating space and not just another “youth event”.

The end part of the book describes somethings to keep in mind.  There are some great suggestions for ways to think about youth ministry differently, from doing less, to getting smaller, and being more missional, Marko introduces some concepts and tells you to think about how these are done within your own context, not the context of the church down the street, or the mega churches around the nation.

“Youth Ministry 3.0 in your context should look different than Youth Ministry 3.0 in the church down the street and certainly different different than either the church across the country or the denominational norms or the big ol’ Youth Ministry 2.0 mega-group that everyone believes you should clone.”

Overall this book is a great read for those thinking youth ministry needs to change.  If you are looking for quick fixes to why our youth leave the church after confirmation, this book won’t help you.  If you are looking for some challenging words about youth ministry and where it needs to go, then this book is a great tool for starting the conversation within your own context and I encourage you to start this conversation!

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