Recently I attended a Youth Ministry conference in Dallas, Texas where folks from all walks of life gathered for 4 days with inspirational speakers, thoughtful discussions, and celebratory worship services, all designed to strengthen our ministry with middle school and high school aged students.
Acknowledging that attendance in most mainline denominations is in decline and that we live in a culture with unprecedented access to knowledge, a seemingly insatiable appetite for excitement, and shorter attention spans due to the development of the internet and social media, many congregations report they are having difficulty finding their place in the lives of youth. For instance, how do we offer the Gospel mystery to Youth of the digital age? To a generation that has been led to believe that every mystery is solvable, given enough study, time and CSI skills?”
Presenters at this conference suggested that every answer to every question seems to raise more questions. They challenged us to consider that the church’s job is not to “solve” these Gospel questions, but to create space and relationship with Youth in order to struggle with their real time quandaries like: Who am I? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why don’t the people I pray for always get better? Why am I getting bullied at school? Why are school children in Nigeria being kidnapped from their classrooms? How can I make a difference in the world?
The church can offer something youth do not experience anywhere else in their over-scheduled lives – space. Space for grieving and lamenting, space for rituals to process doubt, fear, and anger, space to deepen their Kingdom values. The church offers resources and support through scripture, prayer, and companionship which has more resonance with youth than answers alone and helps us all move closer to the heart of the Gospel. What youth need is space for their faith, a safe space where their questions are welcomed, and where caring adults are willing to walk, work and wonder alongside them.
My big take away from this conference is that Youth Ministry today needs to be more relational than ever before. Our objective is not to simply “see” youth at church, but to be with them on their turf as well, on the soccer pitch, on the baseball fields, in the theaters, and at their shows. In doing so we might just learn that youth who are less likely to come to church are more than happy to welcome the church that comes to them!
As I work to support the PSWD congregations and their ministry with youth I would be happy to meet with local leadership to continue this conversation.