When I was a teenager, I lived for the weekend events of our junior high and high school youth group. I attended every possible one. Roller skating? I was in. Camping? Definitely. Lock-ins? Absolutely!
Every Wednesday night, I was at high school youth group—all the way through graduation. I loved the fun and the social opportunities. Now, I didn’t necessarily attend for the great teaching from awesome youth pastors. Instead, I mainly wanted to be with my peers and friends. I never asked, “Should I go?” Granted, my parents played a big role too, because church wasn’t optional.
When I started leading youth ministry decades ago, students were just like me. They loved youth group activities because of the social connections. The only way to connect back then was by the phone on the kitchen wall. Then came the cell phone. But kids still loved youth group because they wanted to connect face to face. Then came social media…
How High School Youth Group Has Changed
Fast forward to today. I began to wonder, “What are we doing wrong?” For the past several years, we’ve constantly changed things up in our high school youth group. Why? We saw the noticeable drop in student participation. Yet we were doing things that kids would have lined up for even five years ago.
Last year, our camp signup was the lowest ever. We had to cancel two events because just two kids signed up. They weren’t lame events either; one was archery tag! I’ve even noticed this at Friday night football games. Where are the teens?
In my frustration, I started praying and seeking and reading. What was going on with our high school youth group? As I talked to other student ministers, they were experiencing the same things. One friend’s group went from about 80 students weekly to only 25…in the span of just one year. Yet they were doing the same things that made youth group exciting and relevant for the 80!
So I started reading about Generation Z and smartphones. The impact of this technology on teens is incredible, for both good and bad. Sexual activity is down. Why? Because kids aren’t dating as much; they’re constantly looking at screens. But suicide is up about 200%! Why? Social media can lead to abuse, loneliness, comparisons, and fears about what everyone thinks about you.
I finally realized: None of these articles had anything to do with God, the church, or youth group. They were all about the mental state of teens. They look at the huge changes in kids’ social lives as a result of smartphones. Today’s students fill their social needs by looking at a screen, texting, using Snapchat, etc.
What Must Change
So why come to high school youth group if your social need is met elsewhere? It’s time to figure out student ministry for the future. How can your church keep student ministry alive and viable?