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The Hectic Lives of Teenagers: Beat ‘Em or Join ‘Em?

“If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!”

I’m not sure who first coined that infamous saying, but it is somehow simultaneously genius and defeatist. Pragmatically speaking, it makes sense. Why fight against the inevitable? But few things seem as depressing as giving up and giving in when we know there’s a better way!

Enter the ever-increasingly busy world of today’s teenagers. A world of super-sized sports, hyper-academia, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, family calendars and a variety of social circles.  Oh, yeah…and youth group.

And that’s the rub, isn’t it? The “Oh, yeah, youth group” mentality that has become the norm. For many Christian families and teenagers, church (and youth group) attendance simply isn’t the priority it once was, and while people way smarter than myself are some of the nuanced reasons this is the case, I’m smart enough to know that the busyness of life is one contributor.

So, do you “beat ‘em” by fighting against this trend and work to convince families and teenagers that they need to keep church a priority, even if it means thinning out the time spend in other endeavors?

Or, do you “join ‘em” by recognizing (doesn’t mean you have to agree with) the times we live in and minister in such a way that gives youth group a fighting chance?

If you ask me, the pragmatic answer…the one that makes the most sense is also one that seems defeatist; as if youth ministry needs to wave the white flag to our current culture. But is surrender the best path to survival?

I propose a compromise. A both/and solution. Perhaps there is a way to simultaneously keep youth ministry a vital part of teenager’s lives while also recognizing that times have changed, and today’s teenagers (a lot of them, anyway) simply don’t have the ability/desire to commit to youth group in the same way we did ten, twenty, or thirty years ago.

We’re still figuring out what that looks like, and I’d love to hear some of your thoughts and ideas on this topic in the comments below!  In the meantime, here are just a few things we’ve done to help stay in relationship with families who are super busy:

  • We’ve recommitted to parent newsletters. We know many parents don’t read them, but lots do, and we’ve simply decided to take what we can get.
  • We offer lots of “hooks in the water” when possible. Some examples: Midweek small groups offered on several nights, youth group on Saturday nights as well as Sunday morning, two weeks of summer camp to choose from, “make up” times for important meetings
  • We (like you) use social media LIKE CRAZY. Social media is the new “go to their turf”. They hang out on social media, so we do, too.
  • We leverage the big events and use them to our advantage instead of complaining about them. For instance, we host tailgate parties at the big High School football games and we open the outdoor area of our youth center for Prom pictures and even offer free photo services!

Before we had children, my wife, Rachel, was one of the most involved youth pastor wives in the history of youth ministry. She was “all-in”. And then things changed. With children, her life got busier, and it was tougher for her to express her commitment in the ways she always had. For a season, she considered giving up completely; it felt useless to try.  But we made a decision together: Rachel doing a little bit of youth ministry was WAY better than Rachel doing zero youth ministry. Her having a smaller kingdom impact was WAY better than having none. So we got creative.

Today’s teenagers are busy. It’s hard to figure out how to best minister to them. Get creative. Think in new ways and see “kingdom impact” through new lenses. Remember that a little bit of ministry to this generation of teens is WAY better than having none!

– Kurt

5 thoughts on “The Hectic Lives of Teenagers: Beat ‘Em or Join ‘Em?

  1. Would love to hear ideas on how you use social media to be “on their turf” without crossing the line of safety in adult/teen relationships. I use social media to post announcements and that is all.
    Going to the youth events – sports, theater, music and staying in touch with their busy lives is one way we try to reach out to those who are not at weekly programs

    • We have a closed face book page and use it regularly to post photos from events (ensuring that photo permission forms have been signed and returned!). This is always a draw to the young people as they want to see themselves and each other. It brings a sense of unity to the group but it also makes the events look fun, so that hopefully, the young person who didn’t make the event but is looking at the photos, is looking at them thinking…”aw! wish I’d been there!”

      We have the same policy as Kurt, you can be friends with young people as long as they ask you first! We say that you never have a 1 to 1 pm but when its necessary to contact a young person by pm-ing them then you include their cell-group leader in the message. We also ask our youth leaders to be wary of photos that they’ve been tagged in on their personal pages… a picture of you helping a scantily clad, drunk colleague into a taxi won’t necessarily look as innocent as it is in reality.

      • This gets harder every year! My Youth are no longer on Facebook and rarely on twitter. They use Instagram and Snapchat. We use Instagram for picture contests (Instagrammys!) and announcements, but not much else. Due to the nature of Snapchat, our adults will not use it.

        Next year will be even more difficult! They are becoming more secretive in social media, and I am not sure if we will be able to keep up.

  2. Hey Linda!
    Concerning social media, our policies have shifted and morphed as its use has grown and become more a part of our culture. Currently we use similar guidelines on social media as we do “in person” which would be:
    – you can be “friends” and follow students of iopposite sex if they follow or friend you first.
    – opposite sex interaction needs to be minimal and “shallow”
    – any pastoral care, deeper conversations etc must be same-sex .
    – use common sense and relate to all students appropriately as you do in person.

    There’s more to it than that, but those are the basics. I’m typing on a plane with my thumbs.

  3. Eric McCrorey

    This is a huge issue in our church today as well in our culture. We struggle weekly fighting against the grain of trying to get students involved or seeing who is going to show up on youth nights because everyone is so busy. Any advice would be great!

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The Hectic Lives of Teenagers: Beat ‘...

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