I spent several enjoyable days in Orlando last week. Sure, the hours of fun at theme parks with my wife, children, and parents was priceless. But I was officially there for the annual gathering of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators. This was my first time at APCE and it was great to finally experience this conference I have heard much about from colleagues. I have mostly avoided it because I incorrectly assumed that it was primarily for ministry with children, not youth ministry. Not only was I wrong about that, I was pleased to have the opportunity to offer a workshop on youth ministry, namely Ministry with “MIA” Youth After Confirmation.
For those who were at my workshop and for those who were not, here is the slideshow that accompanied my presentation:
As I’ve written before, I consider it a sign of our post-Christendom times that youth (and adults) will not participate in church with the frequency or depth of engagement that was once normative in American culture. Because this is a pervasive cultural shift, not simply a failure on our part to provide attractive or relevant ministries (though this is no doubt a major contributing factor), I do not think that mainline Protestants (or other forms of American Christianity for that matter) can simply “do a better job” and keep youth engaged in programs that we offer in our buildings. We must understand these cultural shifts and respond with paradigm shifts of our own.
Attractional models of youth ministry simply will not cut it anymore. At worst, this approach mistakenly assumes that we can be “cool” enough to compete with the myriad of activities and commitments vying for the time and attention of our youth and families. At best, we hope that we will provide an alternative community that youth find compelling and meaningful enough to make time for. But the reality is that most of our high school students will not have a regular presence in our churches or youth ministries.
I suggest a two-fold approach to this issue. First, we must rethink how we do confirmation. I am convinced that typical mainline Protestant approaches to confirmation are leaving our young people with a misguided way of thinking theologically that will not sustain them during young adulthood and is a contributing factor to the so-called “rise of the nones.” If confirmation is the last time we will see most of our youth, we better make sure they walk out the door with something good. (This is the topic of my DMin thesis.)
Second, we must find more and more creative ways of ministering with youth (and adults) who are not present but still consider our churches their communities of faith. This was the topic of my workshop last week. I suggested two strategies and provided some experiments and ideas for each: 1) fluency in digital culture (not simply proficiency with digital technology) and 2) nurturing faith development in family homes.
Rather than attempt to reproduce and 1.5 hour workshop in a single blog post, I’ll plan on breaking this down into several future posts. And for those in the Chicago area, I’ll be offering a version of this same workshop at the L.E.A.D. event on March 2.
Here are the books I referenced (or alluded to) in my workshop:
- Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church
- Elizabeth Drescher, Tweet If You ♥ Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation
- Elizabeth Drescher & Keith Anderson, Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible
- Doug Pagitt, Church in the Inventive Age
- Elizabeth Caldwell, Making a Home for Faith: Nurturing the Spiritual Life of Your Children
- Kathleen Long Bostrom, 99 Ways to Raise Spiritually Healthy Children
- Paul Fike Stutzman, Recovering the Love Feast: Broadening Our Eucharistic Celebrations
- Simon Bryden-Brook, Take, Bless, Break, Share: Agapes, Table Blessings, and Liturgies
As always, I welcome feedback and ongoing conversation about these ideas.