youth ministry 3.0 is the working title of a book i’ve mostly written, which is expected to release this fall. it’s an attempt to name where and how we’re missing the mark in youth ministry, and what needs to change in order to more truly live into our calling as youth workers.
we’ve decided to open up the book a bit and solicit youth worker contributions as sidebar comments, and i’m going to use my blog for this purpose. until late april, i’ll be posting a series of snapshots from the rough draft of the manuscript. i invite lots of comments — questions, disagreements, ideas, very short stories or examples, reflections — which will be considered as additions to the book.
by posting a comment, you are giving permission for your comment, with your screen name, to be added to the print book.
so, here’s the sixteenth bit, from chapter 6:
One of the most important, dangerous, and courageous steps any youth ministry needs to take if they’re going to made the shift from Youth Ministry 2.0 to Youth Ministry 3.0 is to cut programs. But this is where it has to start (well, after much prayer and dreaming and dialogue). There is just no way to move to Youth Ministry 3.0 by adding more programs. This is not the way, and will fail.
Let’s be honest about youth ministry: the demands of teenagers lives, parents needs, planning, preparation, communication, and everything else that comes with the turf is overwhelming. And it is absolutely never, ever done. Never completed. There will always be more teenagers who need you. There will always be more parents who would benefit from time you spend reaching out to them. Your teaching could always be a little better with more prep time. Your pastor and church board would always like more communication (or acquiescence). So, adding more gets you nowhere.
Even if you had the time to add more, doing so is a fool’s errand, a wrong turn into a cul-de-sac of misdirection.
The road forward goes, first, through the valley of doing less. Admittedly, this is counter-intuitive. Doing less feels like shying away from needs, turning away from change. We’ve been encultured to believe that change comes from doing more, more, more. But even Jesus, the Christ, who certainly, as God incarnate, should have been able to do more stuff than you and me, pulled aside for prayer and rest and intimate dialogue, often when the to-do list was at its most substantial and critical.
Strip down your programming so you have space to spend time with teenagers, spend time with God, and consider rebuilding something new and fresh.
Remember the Steve Martin bit, “Let’s get small”? It was one of the lines that launched him into massive stardom. Of course, Martin was making a “laugh at them while you laugh at me” joke about drug use. But his advice couldn’t be more apropos for us who are trying to embrace Youth Ministry 3.0.
Let me say it plainly: large is part of the value system of Youth Ministry 2.0; small is a cornerstone to Youth Ministry 3.0. Communion necessitates small. Contextualization begs for small. Discernment requires small. Mission is lived out in small.
No, I’m not merely saying every good youth ministry should add a small groups program (though much good has come from the move toward small groups as the primary fabric in many youth ministries). I’m not even sure we should continue using the phrase “small group”. It comes with too much baggage, and instantly brings mental and emotional memories of forced community, programming, and utility .
Smallness is both a value and a practice, though the value has to precede and continue on through the practice. Smallness values community where teenagers can be truly known and know others, rather than being one of the crowd (even if it’s a really fun crowd). Smallness champions clusters of relationships, rather than a carpet-bombing approach. Smallness waits on the still, small voice of God, rather than assuming what God wants to say and broadcasting it through the best sound system money can buy. Smallness prioritizes relationships over numbers, social networks over programs, uniqueness over homogeneity, and listening to God over speaking for God.