I don’t mean to create such a bleak landscape for youth ministry; however, the pandemic has brought to light many issues that the church was experiencing with its youth long before the shut-down.
Despite what most of our teens are telling us, both verbally and nonverbally, I believe there is hope for our ministries to and with youth. It will take a different kind of thinking about youth groups from what we have come to know, and it will require patience and a little work. But first, let’s take a look at what appear to be some motivating factors for our teens for today.
What currently seems to be driving today’s teens (and their parents) is the need to find “the thing” that will give them societal esteem, will look good on college applications, and will cause them to be a unique personality amongst their peers. I first heard about this “thing” from Dr. Andrew Root. He asserts that this “ethic of authenticity” is a fallacy that our society is perpetuating. We assume that being authentic, or unique, is a good thing; however, as Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor, states, no human being should ever tell any other human being what it means to be human. In other words, every human being has the right to define what it means to be authentically human for themselves.
“The thing” is perceived as where the good life is, or how to get oneself into the college that will provide a career to bring about a good life. Yet it also speaks to privilege and discounts experiences and learnings that come through hard knocks and through just being, talking, and interacting with peers and others. In this current culture, these soul-nurturing activities often are interpreted as a waste of time.
So what do our youth and families need from the church today? What do they hunger for and how can we feed them? Are they starving for just being together with their peers in a safe, non-judgmental environment that can provide healing from too many expectations? Do they feel called to serve others? What kind of stories about God’s love and guidance do they need to hear? How can their sense of vocation be connected to a call from God?
The church can no longer complete with “the thing”; however fostering relationships with a variety of people of different ages, faith maturity, ethnicities, and gender expressions, etc. will provide a grounding in faith and community that will carry them throughout their lives, not just until they “achieve the good life.” The stories of faith that the church offers, coupled with a variety of experiences and relationships — engaging in Christian practices together — can provide the deep narrative for helping teens become grounded in their own story alongside the Story of a community that can support them throughout their lives.
Is there a future for youth ministry? I believe there is, but a successful and effective youth ministry will not look anything like what we knew before March 2020. Instead, it will look like a thriving congregation where teens are incorporated into the life of the faith community — living, worshipping, serving, sharing their gifts, and receiving care and guidance for their young lives — becoming disciples of Jesus alongside people of faith together.
For more information about Intergenerational Worship & Ministry and Post-Pandemic Planning & Resources, visit these webpages from your Faith Formation Team:
Debbie Gline Allen serves as a Minister of Faith Formation on the Conference’s Faith Formation Ministry Team. She also serves as the administrator of the SNEUCC Faith Formation Leadership Program. Her passion for ministry is with children and family...