I was a 90’s youth group kid, I admit it. I spent many nights wandering in the dark looking for a mob of people who did their best to hide from me. I was only an “eight”, the amount of marshmallows I could cram into my mouth and still mumble “Chubby Bunny”. “Underground Church”, “Manhunt”, and “Mafia”, yup I did them all!
Fast forward 10 years and I am in Fort Wayne, IN beginning a new low income housing project ministry for Youth for Christ. You join me in the middle of my struggle to meet and reach teens in the Brookmill Apartments off of Covington Road, and for some reason the Jars of Clay CD just isn’t drawing them in like we would have thought. What have we gotten ourselves into?
After considerable struggle, teens are now in the mix. We don’t have a flashy youth room or building, just borrowing the local dusty Lutheran church around the corner. By now we found some KJ-52, trying to convince teens it’s as good as Eminem, but failing in every attempt.
Teens have started to show a little bit of commitment, and now I’ve got to create a healthy group that desires to know Christ. My default is back to the 90’s youth group I was a part of, so I pull out every crazy, fun, embarrassing game I can recall. What happened next? Not a single volunteer! No one wants to come up front? What I failed to understand (now I clearly know) is that urban teenagers don’t want to be embarrassed in front of their peers. The gang involved teens in my group had worked so hard to gain their status that they weren’t going to jeopardize that by being blindfolded and eating an onion for our entertainment. That was my “ah-ha” moment, and I had to spend the next 2 years trying to understand and learn about these teens and what effective ministry to them looked like.
My case is an extreme, but I do wonder if we forgot that the world of a teenager is changing. Crowd breaker games have been replaced by YouTube clips, and the old school phone call has been swapped out with text messaging. If in my world of Brookmill apartments, I would have spent time assessing the teens, the neighborhood, the potential ministry, I would have saved myself time and struggle. Are we too set in our ways to try to adapt to the teenage world around us?
This is not your DC Talk Ministry Anymore!
Teens have an almost endless supply of activities at their fingertips. Youth ministry isn’t the only fun available to them anymore. We have to be willing as youth ministry professionals to step back and look at how and maybe more importantly why we do the things we do. Is it just our default? Did it work 15 years ago when we were in youth group? Are we even open to asking?
Assessment is a scary word. It means digging, poking, and sometimes asking tough questions. Is there a method to our madness? Youth for Christ’s age old slogan is “Anchored to the Rock, Geared to the Times”, and I believe it still resonates today. Assessment helps us realized the strengths and weaknesses of our ministry, if we will allow it. “It has always worked this way” and “Teens continue to come” are both true and dangerous phrases that we throw around.
Have we asked the countless number of teens why they don’t come to our ministry? How about students who have left? I know we must celebrate the many who have come to know Christ and/or have grown in their faith, but could we take some time and consider all that we have missed? Let’s take a good look, maybe tight roll up our jeans, and poke and prod our ministry looking for ways to be more effective!