Is Youth Ministry Going Viral? What Does that Look Like?
I've been doing a lot of reading recently. One book I just finished is Youth Ministry 3.0 by Youth Specialties president Mark Ostreicher. Mark breaks down two previous eras in the way youth ministry was done in the past, citing some absurd examples of things that (unfortunately) happened in the course of real youth ministry. Some of you older youth guys like me remember the initiation ceremonies and the mild hazing (I remember being hung on a bunk bed by the back of my underwear as pre-teen at church camp and getting my first swirly as a 6th grader at youth camp) that went along with being the new kid in the youth group--stuff that we now know has the potential to scar kids for life (I went into youth ministry--what does that tell you?). Then he explores "Youth Ministry 2.0" where we've moved into the more civil and modern program-driven model. When he gets to the section about 3.0, he points out some cultural trends in youth ministry but doesn't really lay out what this new paradigm looks like. Another thing is that technology is changing so fast I don't think we really know what tech devices and programs are here to stay with teens because it's all coming at us so fast. I've been reading blogs and other books trying to figure out where youth ministry as a whole is headed. It seems it's going "viral." If you've ever clicked the "Retweet this" button at the bottom of a post, you've helped to make it viral (feel free to retweet this, by the way). By "viral" I mean that the information in the church bulletin is not the main form of communication. Technology has afforded us opportunities to arrange informal, spontaneous meetings with the "send" of a text message. So ministries can be "formal about being informal". And these meetings are often seen as more intimate and genuine because they were not promoted in the church bulletin, and did not have an agenda predicated by a postcard the week before.
Yesterday I read another blog post about how one youth worker doesn't plan for the summer. If there's anything I've learned from reading books and going to conferences, the last thing we should do is try to copycat what is working in another ministry. That is not my intent. But I do want to find ways to make elements of this approach work in my ministry. I've always wanted to be the guy the kids drop in on in the office and hang out, or they just come over to my house. But our church has a pretty rigid sexual ethics policy which discourages less formal encounters in ministry. Also, the majority of the kids who attend our downtown church live on the outskirts of town, some even 10+ miles away. But the more I read posts like this, the more I wonder if this is the new paradigm for youth ministry? Ministry that's not done on a Wednesday night with a band and a Power Point, but done down the street at the coffee shop sitting around a Bible and a mocha latte.
So for those of you who are reading this, I covet your feedback. Is your youth ministry "going viral." Have you gotten away from putting scheduled events in the church bulletin and gone to impromptu meetings prompted by a text message? If you've been able to do this, what obstacles have you encountered or overcome? How has this approach given your students a sense of being an insider to something more meaningful than just being part of a youth group?