What game are we going to play tonight? Here we were again, another youth group night ready to begin and the appeal for entertainment was already showing itself. It is not that these teens are starved for entertainment. In fact, history will tell us that these students have more at their finger tips than any other generation had at their age. They are able to instantly watch videos, listen to music, see what their friends are doing in real-time. They see all the latest movies, listen to music while they sleep, watch hours of television and are looking for constant stimulation.
In the allure of entertainment, I fear that some youth groups have lost their identity. Summer comes and with it the appeal to go to the beach or have pool parties. Then we have the constant questions that come about when we are going to a theme park or when we are having an event at the beach.
I don’t fault teens for wanting to have fun together. In fact, a lot of what we do in youth ministry will have an entertaining component to it. I want them to enjoy being with each other. This, when not properly thought through, can quickly take the place of the real substance of the ministry. Teens then start looking for the latest and greatest entertainment, while ignoring the truth of God’s Word.
I might be on the fringe, but I am not interested in entertaining students. In fact, I do not walk away from youth group asking the people who came if they had fun. I hope they had fun, but that isn’t the goal. The goal is that they would have had an encounter with God. When that happens, it doesn’t matter how many lights you have on stage or if there is smoke in the room or not. What matters is that someone realizes that the God of the Universe knows them, loves them and wants to have a relationship with them.
So, no, I am not interested in entertainment. We are not very good at it anyway. My youth group does not do games that involve goldfish being swallowed, hot dogs being eaten from toes, or soda being sucked through someone’s nose. I do not see the redeeming value in those things. Our summer schedule is not just pool parties and trips to a theme park, but time in worship and learning God’s Word. We want to be purposeful and classy in what we do. We want to be different from the popular culture which says it is all about what makes each person happy. We have truth and new life in Jesus Christ! That matters more than what makes someone happy.
This has been on my mind a long time and then I read a book called “Giving up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture.” All I could say when I saw the title was, “Amen.” There are four take-aways that I see here that might be meaningful to anyone who wants to reach the next generation, whether they are in youth ministry or not.
Stop Worrying About the Wrong Things
How many students do you have in your ministry? Numbers do tell a story, but they don’t tell all of the story. We have a lot of teens who will come once in a while. Does that mean that our ministry with them is not meaningful? Absolutely not! In fact, even if we have 10 students who show up, or even just 1, we have an opportunity to minister to them. God wants people’s hearts anyway. For me, if we are at a meeting and someone there asks me “where is everyone,” I immediately get defensive. The reason is because that communicates that there either aren’t enough people at the event for it to be meaningful, or that their friends aren’t there, so it must not matter. There are no throw aways! Every single conversation and every single person matters.
Teach the Word of God
This is hard work and it involves planning. It is so important, though! Plan ahead, read the Bible, pray, plan and consider how to teach it well. Never just throw something together at the last-minute. That should never happen in ministry! Even if the students don’t know the plan, you must have a plan. If Bible study was meant to be done without prep it would be called Bible winging it and not Bible study. If you don’t have time to plan a game because you had to study, that is fine. Just throw a game together, but never throw the Bible lesson together. It is that important!
Some ministries underestimate their group’s ability to pray for each other. We might think the group is too young, too heathen, too old or any combination of them. They might not feel comfortable praying and they might not know what prayer is. Is that any reason not to pray? I get around this by putting up a verse for them to use as a prayer, especially if they don’t really know how to pray. This teaches them the importance of prayer and scripture. Even Jr. Highers will do this so we shouldn’t sell them short on this.
Giving Instead of Getting
The entertainment culture is all about getting something for themselves. The popular views today are that God is just a “cosmic therapist” who gives us what we need when we need it. That means that people will often approach church with the question, “what is in this for me.” In a way that is not a problem. But, when they want to be entertained in the same way they are when they go to the movie theater, they will be sorely disappointed. Youth groups need to be serving together and understand the importance of not always getting, but also giving.
Youth groups need to give up the gimmicks and let God be the draw. That is where life change will occur! Leave the smoke machines and edgy videos for entertainers.