Part 1 of 3.
I remember when I was in jr. high I lived for our youth group’s weekend events. I would go to every possible one. Roller skating? I was in. Camping? I was in. Lock Ins? I was in. Every Wednesday night I would go to youth group. I did this all the way through my high school years until I graduated. I loved the fun that youth group brought. I loved just hanging out with my friends and youth group brought that social opportunity for me. I didn’t go for the great teaching I was receiving from some awesome youth pastors. I was going so I could be socially active with my peers and friends. I never asked myself, “Should I go?”. Now granted my parents played a big roll in that as well because church was not optional.
Twenty-five years or so ago when I started on this student ministry journey students were just like me. They loved coming to youth group and going on activities because it connected them socially. The only way to connect back then was by the phone on the kitchen wall. Cell phones had not arrived on scene. Then came the cell phone but then students still loved youth group and activities because cell phones could do one thing and that was make a call. Students wanted to connect face to face.
Fast forward to 2013. I began to wonder in student ministry, “What are we doing wrong?” For the past several years we have been constantly changing things up because we could see the noticeable drop in student’s participation in youth group and church. We were doing things that kids would have lined up for 11 or 12 years ago, even 5 years ago. Last year we had our lowest number sign up for camp. Last year we had two events that we had to cancel because two, only two, students signed up. They weren’t lame events either, archery tag was one of the events. I have even noticed this at Friday night football games. Where are the students?
In my frustration I started praying and seeking and reading and trying to figure out what is going on with our youth group. As I talked to other student ministers they were experiencing the same things we were experiencing. One friend’s youth group went from running 80 students to running only 25 the next year and they were doing the same things that made youth group exciting and relevant for the 80.
Over the past few weeks I stumbled across articles about the iGeneration (Generation Z). Students who have known smartphones for the majority of their lives. I started reading the articles and studies. The impact that smart phones has had on our teens is incredible, both for the good and bad. Sexual activity is down. Why? Because they aren’t dating like students did years ago because their faces are constantly looking at a screen. Suicides are up about 200%!! Why? The abuse and loneliness that has set in from a constant attachment to what everyone thinks about you and it’s being snapchatted and instagrammed constantly.
I finally made the connection. None of these articles have had anything to do with God, the church, or youth group. The articles have all been about the mental state of our teens. They have looked at the huge changes in our teen’s social lives as a result of the smart phone.
I went to youth group growing up mainly to fill a social need in my life. I wanted to hang with friends and youth group and youth group activities gave me that opportunity. Students today are having that social need filled by looking at a screen, texting, snapchat, etc.
Why come to youth group, especially if their social need is being met elsewhere?
I have been saying for a few years now that youth group has changed. What will youth group look like over the next ten years? Remember we used to lose sophomores and juniors when they got their drivers license? Now we lose them when they get their iPhone. . . . 5th grade. Let me just say to all of us in student ministry that they days of doing youth group the way we have always done student ministry is gone. It is time to figure out student ministry for the future, for youth group in 2017/2018.
What will have to change in your church’s approach to student ministry to keep student ministry alive and viable?