What was the formula for youth group programming in the awesome and audacious decade of the ’80s? It was a weird science mixture of dodgeball games, singalong worship, quick lessons, cold drinks, hot pizza, caffeinated all-nighters, occasional mission trips, week-long camps and weekend retreats.
Although the clothes have changed (thank the Lord), most of our strategies to reach and disciple youth have not. For the most part, youth ministry today is stuck in the ’80s.
Sure, now we can download our lessons online and get games from an app but, essentially, we have the same strategy. Underneath it all is the assumption that if we can attract a crowd of teens then we can transform a crowd of teens.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the ’80s. I love the music and movies (think Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, Indiana Jones and The Terminator…just to name a few). I graduated from high school in 1983 so I know what youth group in the ’80s feels like.
And it was great!
At one point the youth ministry I was a part of had over 800 teenagers attending. We had massive games, huge camps, tons of fun and, of course, cheap and delicious pizza (thank you Little Caesars!).
But, for the most part, the ’80s strategy is not doing so well in 2018. At the minimum, it’s not effective enough to close the skyrocketing trajectory of the rejection of the historic Christian faith amongst Generation Z.
Here are a few reasons why the ’80s strategy for youth ministry should be left in the past:
1. Teens are busier than they were in the ’80s.
Ask the typical youth leader what the top challenges they face when it comes to youth ministry and teen busyness will be in the top three. From insane athletic schedules to growing academic pressures to after-school jobs, teens today have full days and short nights. All of this busyness has led to deeper levels of anxiety for teenagers. According to Psychology Today, “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.“
So, while teens have deeper levels of anxiety than ever and need spiritual guidance more than ever before, they are often too busy to attend youth group…or think they are anyway.
2. Teens are more distracted than they were in the ’80s.
From SnapChat to Instagram to Google to YouTube teenagers today are bombarded by messages. As a result they are more distracted than ever. It’s common to witness teenagers in the midst of a conversation with a group of friends reach for their smart phones several times to respond to whoever happens to be pinging them at that particular moment.