Amy Welborn has a great post on Youth Ministry in which I agree with much of her sentiments.
While I am an expert in young adult (20s and 30s) ministry…I think that I’ve seen some good and badly executed youth ministry in the church and then I get to serve them as their young adult minister and need to re-appropriate some of their misgivings.
Some things that I’ve noted:
One thing that the post raises is the marked difference between milennial (born after 1980) culture and GenX (1964ish-1979ish) culture.
GenXers, who had a serious suspicion of institutions often DID come into the church (and still do) through service or community activities…or simply because there was a more vibrant and emotional type of liturgy and a sense of relevance in the preaching (e.g. Father talked about matters that were connected to things in their everyday life–and not a theological treatise or a diatribe against modern society).
The Milennials however are markedly different. Why? Their longing is not for community but rather for security. The big events in their lives are Columbine, 9-11, and recently the natural disasters of Katrina and the Tsunami. For immigrants the experience of crossing the boarder may also be significant.
Therefore, they will react in kind to stronger messages that “make sense” of moral decisions and give them a sense that the time spent in church is not merely “well-spent” but a time that is unlike any other time.
They long to be “moved to awe”–why? Because nothing ever shocks them. And everything is at the touch of a button for them–so they are powerful as well.
The problem that exists is that young people often expect God to work instantaneously…and when that doesn’t happen–they are loathe to continue with prayer or ritual. They simply move on to the next “church store.”
This is also why the eucharist is so key for this age. We have what nobody else has–the bread of life! The good news is that we don’t turn it into another commodity for them…but we give them as many experiences as possible with Jesus in the Eucharist. But they need at least some simple Catechesis on the Eucharist or it falls into being “just another magic trick.” When catechesis of the eucharist is done well–the result is indeed profound.
What youth need more than anything (and some earlier posts reference this) are mentors. How many youth ministers really prioritize their time with the members of their youth ministry so that each gets some individual attention instead of just programmatic busy work? How many of them make sure that they understand the essentials of the faith? How many know what’s really going on in their lives?
The challenge for us as ministers is simply that. To bring Christ’s mentorship to the world…so that when these youths begin to form their own narratives about “the way the world works” the church will be at the center…
Because we have been active in the center of their lives and placed Christ there to be with them.
Much peace…great post, Amy.