Happathy is the result of trying to make students like church through games, high-energy music and slick events. You get short-lived happiness that leads to apathy.
Many students in youth ministry today are suffering from happathy. They come for the fun but quickly morph into stagnant, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately consumers. They have nothing invested in the ministry. They consume only what they find entertaining, and they learn that if they complain, adults will do everything they ask. They vote with their attitudes. Adults can’t stand it when students aren’t happy because unhappy students won’t come to youth group. So they cave—happy students will be more interested in Jesus, right?
Happathy is seeping into our mission trip programs and our student conferences. When these events are more about highlighting popular bands and energetic speakers than they are about discipleship and service, you know they have fallen into the happathy trap.
Emotionalism is the trademark of a happathy event. The more students standing on their chairs and singing, the better the experience is. The wilder the games, the more memories are made. The higher the mountain top, the more pride we feel in our youth ministry. But the emotionalism of these events often hides the fact that their promoters have no idea how students grow spiritually. Few students can learn anything significant and lasting during these hyped-up events with little sleep.
But that’s not the worst part. Once students have done and heard it all, they become disinterested and apathetic. The bar gets raised, and most of us don’t have the budgets to keep up. Students want meaning and connection. They want to know if Jesus is real and can deal with their problems. They already understand that bright, shiny faces only hide pain, so they reject them as hypocritical.
Here are three ways to make sure happathy does not affect your ministry:
1. Create a three-month discipleship course for everyone working with students. If you have not been discipled, how can you disciple others? Many of our adults in youth ministry can’t distinguish between what’s important and what’s unessential because no one has helped them understand God’s Word. They hide the truth about their lack of relationship with God by focusing on the exterior. Let’s get them in the Bible and teach them what they should be teaching our students.
2. Focus on small. The smaller the group, the more intentional adults can be with students. Note that Jesus kept paring down his followers to the ones who were all-in, committed and transformed. A small group of students who love Jesus will do more to change this world then hundreds of apathetic students who will leave the church once they leave high school.
3. Change the focus of your youth ministry from “for students” to “by students.” Your church should have a ministry to students, and students should lead it. You might be thinking, My students aren’t mature enough to lead. But if we don’t flip the leadership switch in high school, can we just assume it will get flipped later on down the road? Are we leaving a legacy of church haters or church planters?