This three-part series is a set of (lightly edited) excerpts from the book Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1.
According to a 2004 Barna Group study, nearly two-thirds of U.S. Christians accept Jesus before reaching the age of 18. Winning students to Christ is great for the Kingdom, and it also can lead to the parents of youth getting involved, or more involved, in the life of a church. When parents and youth are active in a church, that church attracts other families.
Working with teens can be rewarding, but it is widely regarded as the most challenging of all church ministries. Today’s youth are, for the most part, extraordinarily busy. A typical school day consists of seven hours of academics followed by several hours of an after-school activity such as sports, music, drama, a club, or an after-school job. Dinner, homework, and family activities round out the day. Weekends often are equally busy, especially for youth who are involved in club sports, which often involve weekend tournaments nearly year-round.
When they aren’t involved in an activity, most of today’s youth are on their smartphones. They interact electronically with dozens or even hundreds of online “friends”, some but not all of whom are true friends in real life. They watch countless videos and share even more photos and videos, some of which they have taken or created. They are entertained, amused, and informed on a six-inch screen.
To engage with youth and win them to Christ, a church needs at least a few adults – the more, the better – who are committed to youth work. Ideally, these adults should have spiritual maturity, a heart for youth, a great deal of patience, a commitment of at least several years, and the ability to relate to youth. That’s a tall order! Younger adults often can relate well to youth but may lack spiritual maturity, whereas older adults may lack the patience required or be viewed by youth as “out of touch”.
A Brief Exchange with Shane Sooter
When I spoke with Shane Sooter, the founder of City on a Hill Productions in Louisville, Kentucky, about how churches can use media, our conversation turned to how to reach youth through media.
Bolinger: Back in the day, when I was a little younger and you were a little younger, often we would look to the youth. “Hey! We’re going to do a drama! We’re going to do a play!” Who do you get to do it? You get the youth, right? First of all, the youth are probably bored. But you’re going to have some talented youth who say, “Sure, I’ll get up and do that. I enjoy doing that.” You may have to strong-arm some of the others, but usually you can find enough who are talented and willing to do it, and they’d feel really good about it. On those rare occasions where you did it, the congregation was wowed because they got the Gospel presented in a completely different way. Everybody patted the youth on the back and then, a year later, you did it again.
Now, these kids are doing this all the time. At my kids’ school, they actually have video production classes that they can take. There are clubs in different schools and, a lot of times, even without any structure, kids are getting together and doing it themselves. One of my kids, my son, what did he want for Christmas last year? He wanted a green screen. What kid asks for a green screen?
Actually, my kid is not unique. These kids are everywhere these days, because this is their world. They are seeing this all the time. Their friends are producing videos. Why can’t I do that, too? Hey, I can do that on my iPad, or my iPod.
I think that this is something that churches can tap into. This is the way to bring more youth into the church. I’m not suggesting that they’re going to find Christ through video, but this is a common interest. Some of the younger folks in the church already enjoy this, and they are much more willing to invite their friends to make a video than to have a worship service.
I think this is something that can get momentum in a church and, as long as it’s given direction, the outcome of this can be used in worship services. It can be used in youth group. It can be used across the board. It can be put on the church’s website.
Sooter: And there are so many good things that does. It brings young people into the life of the church. It reminds the older generation of the value of youth. It empowers them and makes them feel like part of the life of the church rather than these loud people that we keep over in a separate room or a separate building.
I do think that the kids can use it as evangelism because there so many kids who are interested in that sort of thing. “Come to my church. We’re making a movie tonight.” That’s great. I agree totally.
In Part 2, we look at the impact of social media on teens and why church youth leaders should try to co-create media with teens.