Yesterday, I had a great opportunity to talk with youth, young adults and youth leaders from three United Church of Christ churches in the Sioux City area. During this informal conversation, we raised many issues and ideas related to youth ministry. As always, the issue of time came up.
Youth leaders were interested in knowing if any other churches had found creative ways to get on the insanely busy calendars of young people. I spent a few moments wracking my brain, but came up short. I certainly could think of churches that had made major adjustments to schedules. However, no one I knew of had found any magic bullet.
So I answered the question (as I usually do) in a different way. I asked them to think about relationships and priorities.
I reminded them that youth ministry doesn’t just happen when young people are in church or at a church program. It happens when you see kids at school, at sports games, school plays or at their afterschool job. Relationship building is the most vital part of any ministry – you can’t teach anyone about being faithful unless you know them and are serving as a role model.
Most people want their children to have as many opportunities to do as many things as possible. To do this, we over-schedule without any real attention paid to our priorities. Is football more important than our religious beliefs? Should soccer practice take precedence over Sunday worship? Those are questions that families should consider when setting their calendars. But, I bet most just get wrapped up in the moment and don’t have time to think reflectively these things. Why can’t the church create opportunities for them to do that?
So, what do you think? What other issues should we consider rather than simply battling time? Tell me your stories and ideas about this challenge.
I totally agree with your post. We also have to give youth reasons to choose church. I think that happens through the relationship building you touch upon and also through making church and all its activities relevant to them. Asking the question, "Why would I choose church over (fill in the blank..) ?" The world changes for teens in every generation. And then there's confirmation. Maybe that's your next blog post?
In our community, we have a rather rigidly enforced informal system technically known as "family night," but known better as "church night," that means that school activities and lots of other community stuff does not happen after 6pm on Wednesday, in order that churches can have youth groups, Bible studies, etc. without conflicts. It does not work 100% of the time, but there are strong social mores that keep it going.
Obviously that's less easy to do in larger communities or in more multi-cultural/multi-faith places, but I appreciate that this community at least attempts to carve out time so that families don't have to always choose between church and [fill-in-the-activity-blank]. Or, if families are not religious, they have a night together – which is also important.
I agree that youth ministry (all ministry) has relationships at its heart, and for that reason I make a strong effort to do the very things you describe. And, we are working to make our youth group something that young people want to come to. One way I do this is with a periodic check-in. At the start of the year, in the midst of community-building, ice-breakers, and establishing a covenant, I ask the youth to brainstorm a list of activities they would like to do during the year. I set a few boundaries that preserve my sanity (no, we cannot do an overnight every month because that would kill me), but I expect that they'll come up with great ideas for how we can learn and grow together.
Laura (PLtheB) is right: we have to offer our young people something that feeds them. Having the entire congregation reflect on that question, "Why should I choose church over….?" or even pondering, "Why do [or don't] I choose church over….?" would be a great exercise for the entire congregation.
Thanks for the thoughtful comment, LiturgyGeek. It's great that your town still so carefully protects Wednesday nights for non-school-related activities. However, I've heard that in many small towns Wednesday is reserved, but EVERY other activity besides school, 4-H, Boy and Girl Scouts, etc. ALSO have to use that time. Or even that young people still have sports practices (but not games) and still can't make it to church until something like 8 p.m. — pretty crazy!
You'll also like the blog I posted today. It's about confirmation from a different perspective. Tell me what you think!