Youth Ministry For The Millennial Generation

It’s a gorgeous Saturday morning here in Arizona.  I’m up, the house is quiet, the organic fair-trade Peruvian coffee from Sprout’s Market is brewed, all is seemingly well.  That is, until I sit down at my laptop and fire up the old Tweetdeck. One of the first tweets I read this morning is from Rick Warren‘s Toolbox (rwtoolbox) and it says this:

Shorter attention spans means higher standards for context, relevancy, and cultural literacy. Here are keys

I think to myself:

Context – ok, I’ll buy that.

Relevancy – depends on what you mean.

Cultural literacy – what does this mean?

So, curious as a cat, I click the link and start to read the article.

The first thing I notice is that it is from a blog called “Millennial Marketing”, which makes me a little nervous because I already have a feeling that the theme is going to be about giving them what they think they want instead of what millennials, particularly in youth groups, what they actually need.

So, I click the link and read the story.  Yep, it’s pretty much what I expected.  The main focus of the article is, essentially, how to design your blog in order to keep millennials reading despite their goldfish-sized attention spans.  The main points are: 1) Focus on what’s important; 2) Keep it short; 3) Appearance matters; and 4) Easy Navigation.

Sounds like most Youth Ministry programs today.

The only point I find myself agreeing on is the first, focus on what’s important.  The other three are, in my opinion, just another way to make your message look like whatever is hip in today’s culture.  This sort of programmatic design simply waters down the message of the Gospel.

I’ve been involved in youth ministry for a few years now.  While the “whiz-bang” flashy lights and hipster vibe does bring kids in, it’s not what keeps them coming back.  Eventually the novelty of it all will wear off, and if your messages are simply repeated over and over using different stories, they will get bored and your ministry will stagnate.  This is especially true for a ministry where behavior modification, and not spiritual formation, serves as  your message foundation.

Over the years, I’ve seen much more success with a stripped-down, bare-bones, simple ministry where the focus is on scripture, what it teaches, what it says, what it meant 2000 years ago, and giving the youth the ability to process it all themselves instead of spoon feeding it to them.  When I teach, I have my Bible, a whiteboard, and a few dry erase markers.  When I was running the youth program last summer, I didn’t even have the whiteboard or markers.

What I’ve found is that the youth respond so much more when:

  1. The teaching is live instead of video based.
  2. The room, if you have one, is not dark or dim.
  3. The message has scripture as the foundation.
  4. The scripture is given historical, cultural, and linguistic context to better explain it.
  5. The teaching is interactive.
  6. The questions are open-ended, asking their opinion, or asking them for an example from their own life.  Yes/no questions are a conversation killer.

My biggest beef has to be with video teaching.  While there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, I’ve found that it’s much easier for the students to tune out.  If you can intersperse video clips with live teaching instead of just watching a video, that would be a substantial improvement.  When the teaching is live, and you involve the students in reading the passages you’re teaching from, asking them what their interpretation is, the are much more invested in the lesson.

It frustrates me when I see church leaders, etc., giving in to the stereotypes of the millennial generation.  It’s even more frustrating to see ministries designed with those stereotypes in mind.  Your students are much more curious, much more eager to learn than you know.  Don’t be afraid to challenge them, push them, even put them on the spot during the lesson.  Involve them when you’re teaching and you’ll be amazed at how they respond.

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