Jeff Jarvis, Maggie, and The Walk (part 2)

I blogged yesterday about Maggie the Magnificent and her really stellar leadership of our church’s involvement in a local hunger walk.  Maggie is a high school student who is “disconnected” in programmatic terms from the church’s youth ministry activities. But she’s doing good work in the world, and it made me sad that the church wasn’t positioned as a platform for her to do some of that work. So I invited her to lead the walk efforts, and she killed it. She totally killed it.

Another thing that emerged, though, from this year’s walk effort, was that the youth at our church who participate in it are not necessarily the same ones who come to youth group.

In the past, Sunday youth groups would be cancelled on the day of the walk, since our youth would presumably have already done something that day. I had my doubts about that presumption.

So this year we held youth groups on Sunday night per usual, and, as I expected, that was exactly zero overlap between the students who walked for hunger and those who came hungry for Sunday night community. Ze-ro.

The walk involved the same number of youth as regularly come to youth group gatherings, but they were (this week at least) a totally different group of youth.

This is an emerging attempt on my part to put into practice Mark Oestreicher’s Youth Ministy 3.0 contention that there’s no such thing as a youth ministry, in the singular. Instead, churches have ministries to different groupings of youth. Trying to craft a comprehensive program that will attract all manner of students is foolish. It’s also kind of lazy.

Of course, it’s also a continued grappling with Jeff Jarvis’s thoroughgoing What Would Google Do? with its unambiguous answer that Google would create a platform for youth to do what they already want to do.

My next question, then, is this: if a hunger walk gives youth a platform to do good work on behalf of needy people, then what are youth groups a platform for?


8 thoughts on “Jeff Jarvis, Maggie, and The Walk (part 2)

  1. Can we narrow it to the sponsored youth group meeting?

    All I can come up with is that they provide a space for something to occur, which then influences other spaces to behave similarly.

    Gmail is now ubiquitous and it has prompted other email clients (web and desktop) to behave in certain ways, to provide similar functionalities.

    My take on the youth group meeting is that is provides a space for normal social expectations to be suspended for a while. The UnCool kids don’t have to worry about being judged, etc for a while, and the Cool kids don’t have to maintain their mask for a while. Perhaps the youth group meeting is a place where that behavior is learned, influencing their lives at school.


  2. So it’s a space for a different kind of socializing, a space for community and kinship (hat tip: Greg Boyle) to be experienced by adolescents who are most likely not experiencing those things in the social hierarchy and meritocracy of school.

    I totally buy that. It means that the environment is more of a curriculum than any “content.”

    That still leaves me with the question about a platform, though? Are we saying that youth want this kind of space and want this kind of impartial and gospel-tilted community experience and that they’re looking for spaces in which to practice it? Or are we saying that we think they need it, so we’re going to provide it?

    ’cause I am firmly coming up against my limits to provide anything I think is important; the youth coming to my group will accommodate my Bible lesson, but they’re going to do what they came there to do: talk with their friends, relax, and not think about everything else for a couple of hours.

    1. Yes – environment as curriculum. I would say that I believe they need it, and I’ve been shown they want it. I’m basing my assertion on a few things.

      One, is Andrew Root’s twin contentions that social status is the capital of these kids lives, and that Jesus’ incarnation was an act of “place sharing.” His thoughts on this led me to decide (when I was running youth group) that the only goal of youth group should be to create a liminal space in which social status was not relevant (as much as possible).

      Two, the kids in my church have responded positively. When I was prepping our new youth group sponsors I told them, “Please do not prepare a ‘lesson.’ These kids just enjoy being together, and if we can help them to build good relationships and work through the stuff they need to work through, that is the best ‘lesson’ we could ever give them. Just be with them and make sure they know they are loved and cared for.”

      Going back to my Gmail image, even though Google allows us to use their email program there are still a few rules about using the service that we have to accept. We must agree to the Terms and Services, and if we violate them, we get locked out. I think we have similar things in a group as well. We will provide you with a platform, but here are the Terms and Services that you must agree to. You can use out platform for whatever you like, but understand that certain behaviors are forbidden and we’re gonna “put a contextual ad on your page based on the content of your email.” Sure, people can hack that and make those ads go away (I do), but I’m not worried about the people that can hack their social situations. I’m worried about the folks who can’t.

      As a side note, have you noticed that we treat youth differently than all other groups in a church? Apparently, they need not only Sunday School and Worship, but some other experience as well (and not the kind we’re discussing here, but a heavily Jesus-y programmed one). Why is that? We would never offer the same kinds of experiences for adults that we do the youth. Maybe we should.

  3. When Mark DeVries was about three years into his tenure at his current church, he suspended all the youth programs. He decided it was important to spend a year walking alongside the youth, listening to them, and accompanying them, and that the existing programs were getting in the way of that.

    A regular youth group re-emerged, but on the youth’s terms and, I presume, more as a platform for what they wanted to do.

    I’m still struggling with the conviction that part of our responsibility vis-a-vis the youth in our churches is to hand on the content of the faith to them. I can’t get past the imperative to have some kind of lesson, whether it’s a Bible study or some kind of guided conversation on a topic. But I’m 0-for-about-100 in having any success with that.

    What’s that well-work definition of insanity about doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result?

  4. Hey guys – great conversation.

    I often find myself asking what the point of youth group is as well…this year we switched and now we’re combined (7-12 graders) and “youth group” is now just games/connecting/community building/hang-out time. When I started doing it, I felt like I was “selling out” to just making youth group a time of games…which is what they said they wanted.

    And if I’m still honest – I probably still feel like that a little bit…I get it – I get the idea of the curriculum actually being the environment…but on my cynical nights, I just feel like I’m providing an “after school program” or just giving them a social place to hang out – and I have to ask myself, “What makes this Christian?” Or what makes this “spiritual” even?

    And perhaps that’s just the old ways of youth ministry speaking and little voices in the back of my head trying to convince me that it’s not “Jesus-y enough”…I don’t know.

    1. Adam, if you’re making that move, I trust your sensitivities and your integrity. I have the same hangups about needing it to be Jesus-y enough, but what if we let the community-building space give rise to specific Jesus-y entry points into our youths’ lives. Let the curriculum emerge.

      Thanks for your honesty, guys. I’m more comfortable moving in that direction already.

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