Summer is rolling right along. It is a busy time for youth ministers so I apologize for the times this summer when the blog will be posted a day or two later in the week. There are a lot of exciting resources/curriculum and ideas coming soon. Probably around August and I can’t wait to unveil all the exciting things taking off here. Without any further delay here is this week’s question……
“What are some things you think other churches should try?”
Joe Kendrick is the Senior Pastor at Bruington Baptist Church in Bruington, VA. He is a husband, father, and avid comic book collector. His favorites include Batman, Green Lantern, The Shadow, and The Green Hornet. Joe is a graduate of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and is currently pursuing his Doctorate of Ministry in Justice and Peacebuilding at BTSR. In short, he is Batman.
It feels like a new article on how to reach students, specifically millennials, comes out every week. Each article has some supposed new insight on how the church can reach them or some explanation of the apocalyptic future if we don’t. Teenagers and young adults make us anxious. Their presence makes us cranky adults anxious. They have their questions. They exaggerate and mirror our adult postures that make us self-conscious and uncomfortable. They are needy and always appear to in search for something: a friend, an adventure, a ride, food, acceptance, a glimpse of who they’re becoming (Yaconelli, Mark. Contemplative Youth Ministry p. 31). Sometimes they make us feel helpless or hopeless.
For almost eleven years I have been involved in youth ministry, eight years as a youth pastor and three years as a pastor. The question church adults always ask is: What can we do get them (youth) in our church? Since the 70s the question has been answered with programs, hiring of young, hip, guitar playing youth leaders (mostly frat house looking males), and wiring their church with the most up-to-date youth space ever.
And for a while it worked.
Youth ministry flourished in the 90s and early 2000s. Now, the old way doesn’t work and it’s time to try something new, well maybe something older than modern youth ministry.
So I offer what I think will be the most effective thing a church can try regarding youth ministry. It’s been tried and it’s been true.
Are you ready?
I’ll repeat it: Be present.
I’m a dad to one of the most inquisitive, imaginative, curious little boys in the world. My son, Connor, is four years old and he gave a wonderful card for Father’s Day today. In the card there were two demands written—1) I want you to be a transformer. 2) I want you to play with me. Do you know what I have learned in my four years as a dad? I have learned that is impossible to explain how a lightsaber works or why Optimus Prime and Megatron are fighting, and the best thing I can do is just be present.
It’s not that hard. Be present.
How then do we practice being present? It’s not that hard, all we have to do is simply show up, move out of the way, and let Jesus loose. Being present is about being aware to the needs of our teenagers. How then do we become aware of their needs? Listen. How do we listen? By shutting our mouths and waiting? How then do we wait? In prayer with open eyes, open ears, and closed mouths.
Let me tell you a story, a borrowed story from one of my favorite books:
One Christmas, a group of developmentally disabled folks, accompanied by two assistants from “The Redwoods Group Home” entered the mall food courts. In the midst of hurried shoppers, these men and women lumbered through the crowd, smiling, clapping and yelling with genuine pleasure at the sights and sounds of the mall. The assistants helped, carefully, each person decide what food they wanted, stand in line with them, order a meal, pay, and carry the food back to the table. There was one man with Down Syndrome, who shook off every offer of aid by the assistants, made his gleeful way to McDonald’s line. When he reached the front of the line, he handed the cashier a coupon, spoke loudly, and gestured toward the cups and the coffee machine. A few moments later the young man returned to his friends holding a giant 32 ounce cup of coffee, his face beaming with pride.
The group eventually headed out the door, and standing under the awning as the rain poured down, the young man bent over his hard-earned brew, sheltering it from the down pour. One of the assistants brought the van around, and without any apparent direction from the other assistant, the young man took off from the side of the building, bolting for the warmth and security of the van. Startled by the heavy rain he stopped mid-run, and turned to return to the cover of the mall eaves. One of the assistants saw him turn back and yelled to him to continue his route toward the van. Increasingly shocked and confused, he twisted his body toward the voice of the assistant with a quick jerk that caused the 32-ounce coffee cup to slip from his hands and break open against the wet concrete. Across the gray sidewalk, the caffeine flowed like a mud slide. The young man froze, took in the sight of his lost purchase, and began to cry. Soon his body gave way, and he slumped down into the steaming puddle. He sat there, wailing mournfully, in a growing puddle of coffee, the rain soaking his clothes.
The Christmas crowd looked on helplessly when one of the assistants, a 20 something woman, stepped out of the van. She ran over to the young man, sat down in the cold wet coffee, wrapped her arm around him, placed his head on her shoulder, and let him cry. For several minutes she sat there with the patience of God, just holding the young man while the rain poured down. When he had calmed, the young assistant took his hand, lifted him from the concrete, and led him to the front passage seat of the van. She helped him with his seat, gave him a kiss, and shut the door. Her clothes slung with water, her jeans stained brown, she stepped in the van, slid the door shut, and then squeezed her body into the backseat (Yaconelli, Mark. Contemplative Youth Ministry, p. 117-119).
Again, I offer this idea of something every church should try.
It worked for Jesus.
Josh Plant is the youth pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor for undergrad and then got his M. Div. at Truett Seminary. He is married to Camille and enjoys the Texas Longhorns, Netflix, and Chick-fil-a. He isn’t cool enough to have any pets…yet.
It was blue tile. Oddly patterned blue tile.
They had put down weird, old-person friendly blue tile in the new room that was supposed to belong to the youth group at my church and none of us were happy.
I grew up in a small church full of old people. As a result, for a large part of my life I wanted to be at a different church…because stuff like that always happened. That may not be fair to my small church, but it was my reality. I think, though, that it had less to do with size and more to do with ideology. You see, they just didn’t want to do anything new or slightly uncomfortable. They liked it the way it had always been and didn’t realize that the world had changed without their permission, rendering them irrelevant.
Anyway, here’s a list of things I wish churches would try before they, too, are rendered irrelevant:
1. Life-on-Life Discipleship – People aren’t interested in just Sunday School and maybe a Sunday night fellowship group for their spiritual growth needs anymore. People who are serious about their faith want to be taught more about it by people who also take their faith seriously and have endeavored to tackle the tough questions. This happens when people do life together, not simply Sunday morning with donuts. This could look like a lot of things, but some of the cool stuff I’d like to see is college students that live at older peoples’ houses, youth groups that utilize existing friend groups to create self-sustaining discipleship groups, and congregants that intentionally live in the same neighborhood so they can live in active community.
2. Innovation – Quit trying to do the same things. Do something new and dangerous. Just because you’ve always attended a certain church camp, you shouldn’t feel obligated to continue. Just because you have always done Sunday School a certain way, you shouldn’t assume that is the best way to do it. Let those creative juices flow and embrace the chance that comes with doing new things!
3. Adopt local schools – This is a little easier for those in the south, but even in areas that are not in the Bible Belt, something awesome can take place in this symbiotic relationship. Schools are low on budgets and need volunteers, meeting space, and lots of support. In turn, churches are often given invaluable access to the school and it’s teachers, as well as it’s families. If nothing else, this is a great opportunity to make Jesus’ bride look good. Adopt the school teams, proctor standardized exams, supply crossing guards…just be what they need you to be!
4. Make a REAL attempt to be diverse – Church is still the most segregated place in America. We can end that! We just have to figure out ways to make a real attempt at doing it. Having people of color in leadership, adapting worship styles, and creating easy entrances for new people to enter the community will go a long way in making this happen. I realize how difficult this can be, but I want to see it badly.
5. Intentional inter-generational activities – Instead of just having Youth Sunday, why not have a game day for students with the senior adults? Not only do events like these help everyone in the church to know each other, they help everyone appreciate each other. This is a break from the popular “split up the family according to age and gender on Sundays model”, but could be very effective in the long run. Plus, doesn’t it just seem more natural, kind of like a family reunion?
I have great hope for the church. While it is en vogue to bemoan the loss of American Christendom, I think we are uniquely positioned to do some creative things that will address the needs and desires of the communities we serve.
So…got any cool ideas?