Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Who should change?

I have been thinking alot about this lately. Since returning to 'work', I have begun wondering about how ministry to youth in this community and church needs to change to be more authentic to the mandate of Christ. One of the topics I have been wrestling with is this:
According to some stats (who beleives these things anymore) - we lose 80% of the kids in our youth program after grade 12. They stop being connected with church. That is a terrible attrition rate. All too often the reason seems to be that younger people don't find thier experience of church measures up to their experiences in a youth group. Plus kids are more mobile and transient so they put down less roots. etc. etc.
Youth ministry is notorious for trying to be culturally sensitive with the idea that this will help make thier ministry more effective. Great. But what if that same cultural sensitivity is not embraced by the "BIG" church they are supposed to graduate to...
Recently I read a review of Mark Yaconelli's book and ran across some interesting perspectives on this topic.
http://dixonkinser.blogspot.com/2006/05/contemplative-youth-ministry-grid-blog.html
Here's a quote:
"Do I create a versionized liturgy/program/worship service/small group (etc. etc.) that is so alien to the wider expression of church life that my students spend the rest of their life feeling homesick for the “good ole’ days”?"
That comment brought me up short. Am I (this ministry) the problem? Don C. Richter says that we should not expect the burden of accomodation to fall to our young people. So then who should change?
Should we change youth ministry so that it looks more like BIG church or should it be the other way around? Dixon suggested that it probably is both.
I also found this interesting quote from Katie Funk Wiebe. She an older ex-school teacher who I think sorta gets this whole topic...
"What liberates an older adult from the win/lose mentality when winning on society’s terms isn’t a possibility?
I see the submission of servanthood as the only answer. The essence of this servanthood is to become good at losing, at making room for others, especially the younger generation, to be the winners. This ability enables elders to resist seeing this younger group as threats to their authority or ominous signs that they’re being set aside."

So that's what is pounding through my brain this morning. Any thoughts?

13 comments:

Paul Morgun said...

hey...i have struggled with some of this...i think the more one is in ministry the more they encounter this...i wont give you my cliche answer but what i will say is that, keep up the good work...the struggle you are having is a sign of positive spirit for you and your youth.

Freezer said...

Yup, I hear your pain. We have incredible freedom with the youth to help them explore all sorts of spiritual experiences. My own opinion still lands on the "BIG" church allowing itself to stretch and be changed by the younger generation. Our work as youth workers however needs to focus on bridging these two worlds. And the attrition rate is a huge wake-up call for us but needs to be studied in relation to denominational traditions, models of youth ministry, and geographical influences(urban-rural).

Natasha said...

I don't have an answer, but it made me think of some questions. What is the goal of youth ministry - to equip kids to transition into church so that they can survive and thrive in living a life with Christ, or is it to just simply equip them to survive and thrive in living a life with Christ? Are these two things seperable - thriving in church and thriving in a life with Christ? I think how a person answers those questions would determine the answer to "who" - if anyone - needs to change.

Hilda said...

For much of our ministry we have been the pastor of relatively small churches where young and old interacted rather easily. However, our generation has done exactly what happens so often in the medical world where medications are declared "safe" before they have been used long enough to honestly do so. We bought into the notion that to put each age group in it's own program so their specific "needs" could be met was the best way to "do church". We're saddened to see where that has taken the church. We seem to have forgotten that we are a body with members that benefit from and need each other and not just a bunch of special interst groups meeting in the same building. We will need to be very deliberate about finding ways to recover the reality of being a body. Perhaps a good place to start would be for our generation to own our mistake and apologize for it.

Incoming... said...

mom
i think you raise a good point
maybe you saw my comments on dixons blog...
i think smaller churches offer some advantages that bigger ones don't - you've highlihgted one of the advantages. I'm not sure if that means we should move away from bigger churches? I sure would like to say that...

Incoming... said...

natasha
good question
can a follower of Christ actually be a follower of Christ if they do not in some way identify with the body of Christ - his church?
my answer would be no
but maybe you are asking the haunting question behind the first one...
How does a follower of Christ authenitcally identify with the body of Christ when it seems so dysfunctional?

Hilda said...

I'm not sure we can actually choose the size our churches become and there are advantages and disadvantages to both. However a large church needs to be much more deliberate about integrating all generations and valuing them, since there are enough in every age group to warrant their own programs and they can afford to hire pastors for each specific group if they so choose.

Natasha said...

Dale, that is a good question and I don't know if I can answer with a firm no as you have, but I don't know that I would say yes either. Maybe the problem partially lies in us trying to "organize" the body of Christ. If I understand it right, biblically speaking, the church was pretty much clusters of believing friends who shared life and struggles together, and also occasionally reached out and visited other clusters of these friends. Maybe we have made the church dysfunctional by slapping labels all over it and trying to organize relationships. Would we do this to our own families and friends? Would that succeed in making healthy relationships? "Bob, you can have dinner with us Wednesday night but not Thursday because Thursday is reserved for our friends who enjoy rock music and clearly you would not fit in. Wednesday, however, we will be playing classical music over dinner so you are welcome at that time - oh but your kids aren't. Kids night is Friday....." Maybe if we just stepped back from our planning committee and let people collide, no matter their age or interests, we'd see a cool thing happen (or total chaos!!) Who knows....whatever the case, I am glad there are people like you out there tossing around new ideas and loving the body, no matter what she looks like!

Incoming... said...

good take natasha
we seem to have this mentality that programs address needs. but programs are poor vehicles for actual spiritual vitality.
let me give you an example:
I could ask and get a substantial raise in my salary if i did two things in my church.
#1 got more youth to sit in the front benches of the church
#2 showcased a youth choir every few months (traditional music only)
This would be relatively easy for me to do.
But just becuase kids sing in a choir or sit at the front of the church says nothing about the quality of their spiritual lives. But to some people these 'programmed' response constitute spiritual vitality. They don't account for the fact that many of our youth are in the school choir led by a former united church minister. they also don't account for the notes and other schinanigans that occur in those front few benches (personally I sometimes wish I coud sit there to join in the fun)
I love your idea collision...

Nathan said...

This brought up an interesting conversation at our coffee table.
There is one side of me that says, we should just let people collide and mix, but on the other hand… Let me give an example from my personal life. Niki and I moved into a new community where we were immediately connected with the other pastoral families (all of them are great) but there was this sense of difference, they were older and all had kids, Niki and I had been married for five months and kids aren't even a sparkle in our eyes yet. So as much as we wanted to connect learn and grow, the church didn't feel like it was a place we belonged in. It wasn't until we could connect with other newly married couples that church started to feel like home. I can understand teens graduating and then coming into church and being like, “what now!!?”

I think that youth group does two things that "big" church struggles to do.
1)It creates a place that is relevant and that hopefully meets the spiritual and felt needs of the kids.
2) It creates community.
Now I’m going step out on a limb and say something that I have no Barna research to back it up, but I believe that the greatest reason for young people leaving the church is lack of community. Now I know it's a bit of a buzz word and we all want to “create community”, but it wasn't until Niki and I found a place to be with friends (our own age and in our stage of life) that we could share with, that being in church started to be sort of fun, and more importantly felt like maybe there was a greater purpose.
So maybe it isn't the music, worship style, maybe what we need is a better way of transitioning youth from the tight community of youth (where you do missions trips youth retreats and other high intensity relational bonding) into the larger church (which is generally come sit on your butt on Sunday).
Yes? no? maybe?

Natasha said...

Hm, so Nathan you are basically saying that if we stepped back let people "collide", they would just segregate themselves anyway?? I guess it's natural that people are attracted to people who are like them (I have a stat on that somewhere in my psych book...). But we can still learn a whole lot from people who aren't like us, and I do think that youth (including early 20's) especially forget that, and then shut themself off from other types of relationships.

charlie brown said...

I would disagree that people would gravitate to their own age/peer groups if allowed to collide. I do think people of like interests do gravitate to each other but opposities also attract. I grew up in a community of believers that treated everyone as family. When we got together the children, teens, adults, and seniors meshed like spaghetti and meatsauce. We valued each other. We valued the intergenerational relationhsips. I believe it's all about attitude and values. Our society has not placed value on intergenerationalism like societies that value community and relationships above any other pursuit (e.g. Aboriginal society, African society). We also don't have the need to rely on older people for advice as information/wisdom is always at our fingertips. The church has adopted the north american individualistic pursuit of relationships (relationship building based solely on my own selfishness) and has forgotten about Phillipians 2: "1If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. ."
Our friends have incredible diversity in age and interests. Part of a successful conglomeration of relationships is the ability to focus on stuff other than what you are interested in personally or the life stage you are going through. Sitting with a bunch of people who only talk about their jobs and kids when you are unemployed, single, and childless is tough to endure.

Nathan said...

Natasha I would say yes and no. Growing up my best friends was six years older than me. He had a car a job and was working, I was in highschool dealing with acne and longing for my drivers, but we still got along really well.
At the same time though we both shared the same interests, and he was a little immature and I was about five years older than I should have been.

I would never say that there isn't stuff to learn from older people, and I greatly value the insights that I get from those who are older than me. We try to have a few events each year where we bring our Seniors and Youth together for a night (our crokinole tourny is a huge hit) and when they are together it is awesome to see them hanging out and talking. I also had a great experience where I preached in a Seniors residence, I had a great time talking with the seniors after.... but I wouldn't say that I "connected" the same ways as I do with people in my own age. There is stuff we need to learn from the older generations (and stuff they need to learn from us) But I still believe that people will always draw to people who are the most like them... and that usually falls along the age line.