As I travel the nation and talk to youth leaders I hear the same things when it comes to this generation of teenagers (nicknamed "Gen Z") and youth ministry in general:
"My teenagers are way too busy."
"Our Wednesday night youth group meetings are steadily shrinking in attendance."
"My teenagers seem more apathetic than ever."
It's easy to lay the blame at the Converse-clad feet of Gen Z. But, maybe, just maybe, it's the way we are doing youth ministry that's to blame.
Youth ministry brothers and sisters I'm convinced that, for the most part, we are living in the past. We are doing youth ministry like it's still the eighties. And the "rally, hype, worship, talk, repeat" approach is just not working with this ultra-busy, Uber-distracted generation of teenagers.
Most of the ministries I know that are doing a good job at getting teenagers to gather for youth group meetings are, for the most part, a train wreck at getting teenagers to stick around and spiritually mature.
Because all the hype (both good and bad) about Gen Z is true. They are digital. They are busy. They are cause-centric. And they get easily bored.
It may be time to shake the Etch-a-Sketch (another 80's reference) and re-design our youth ministry strategy to fit this excitingly dangerous new youth ministry reality.
1. Teen discipleship can be digitized.
According to a recent study conducted by Pew Research Center, 85 percent of teenagers say they use YouTube on a consistent basis. Instagram and SnapChat fall in line second and third as most used media platforms.
We must crack the code of how to use YouTube (and other platforms) to deliver discipleship content. Of course, this can never replace relational discipleship. But, if done well, I'm convinced it can actually accelerate and deepen our discipling efforts.
Youth leaders, armed with great, short and powerful videos, could deliver content during the week. Adult leaders could be armed with one simple statement, "Let's talk about that video..." which could trigger a deeper discussion. This discussion could be face-to-face or in small group (ideal) or via texting or group chat (less ideal but better than nothing!)
Sound truth can be delivered in sound bytes. Discipleship can be digitized or, more accurately, can utilize digital tools and resources to deepen relational discipleship.
2. Ministry meetings should be synthesized.
Some of the best youth ministries I know of synthesize and synergize their meetings. They start with a large group meeting and then break up into small groups. This is often where the real work of ministry begins.
It's in small groups where teenagers open up and real life change can begin to take place. The big meeting pulls the pin on the grenade (the Biblical take on whatever issue is being taught that night) and the small groups do the clean up afterward.
In addition to synthesizing the small groups into the bigger meetings, a monthly leadership meeting could be tagged on before hand (after?) so that adult leaders and student leaders could be on the same page. Maybe this could even be tied in with a meal so the meeting could be started sooner rather than later.
In this busy-and-getting-busier culture we must learn how to synthesize our meetings for maximum impact. The best way to synthesize is to test what works best for your particular ministry context and find something that sticks.
3. Gospel activism must be organized.
What if you began to help teenagers see themselves as Gospel activists and their circle of friends and school campuses as opportunities for social impact? What does the Gospel have to do with social justice? More than you might imagine!
Throughout church history Gospel activism and social impact have gone together like peanut butter and chocolate. Missionaries, seeking to spread the Gospel in suspicious cultures, built hospitals, launched orphanages and started schools so that lives could be changed, communities could be transformed and disciples could be multiplied!
We must reframe evangelism as Gospel activism. We must help our teenagers see the spread of the Gospel through our lives and lips as the primary way we can make an impact on our society. Once teenagers get this then it changes the way the view school and how they interact on social media. Suddenly their conversations are missionized and their peers are Gospelized.
This approach also helps you and your leaders begin to view "youth group" as a week-long endeavor (as opposed to just a one night meeting during the week.) With this mindset your teenagers become your ultimate outreach meeting because they can be engaged in some sort of Gospel outreach all day long.
You and your adult leaders (and maybe even your student leaders) can become "life coaches" by helping your teenagers live and give the Gospel effectively throughout the week...at home...on social media...at school.
It's time to redesign youth ministry to fit Gen Z? I think so. What do you think?