What was the formula for a youth ministry program in the awesome and audacious decade of the ’80s? It was a weird-science mixture of dodgeball games, sing-along worship, quick lessons, cold drinks, hot pizza, caffeinated all-nighters, occasional mission trips, week-long camps and weekend retreats.
Although clothes have changed since then (thank goodness), most of our strategies to reach and disciple young people have not. I’d venture to guess that at least some aspects of your youth ministry program remain stuck in the ’80s.
Sure, now we can download our lessons online and get games from an app. But essentially we use the same strategy from decades ago. 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 program I was part of had more than 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 isn’t doing so well in the 21st century. At the minimum, it’s not effective enough to close the skyrocketing trajectory of the rejection of the historic Christian faith among Generation Z.
Here are 3 reasons your youth ministry program may need an upgrade:
1. Teens are busier today.
Ask the typical youth leader about their top challenges, 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 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, they’re often too busy to attend youth group…or think they are, anyway.
2. Teens are more distracted now.
From SnapChat to Instagram to Google to YouTube, teenagers today are bombarded by messages. As a result, they’re more distracted than ever. It’s common to witness teenagers mid-conversation with friends reach for their phones several times to respond to whoever happens to be pinging them that moment.