Giving Thanks For DCB & The Volume Knob

I’m in the middle of a wrestle here between personal boundaries and social responsibility. We are still in the middle of transition in staff positions at my local church, with more to come in the form of a new senior pastor sometime in the new year.

There is a high density of structure being introduced in the new youth group plan for 2008 forward. However the Sunday night service is the domain of the young adults pastor, who has recently come from the very traditional church I spoke at last week. There is some hangover of this, as well as personality coming through at the moment and I feel highly conflicted about this quasi-worship leader, quasi-youthworker role at the moment. Everything in my life is about youthwork – everything influences or is influenced by youthwork and impacting young people – which for the sake of this post reflects my heart for the young at heart. I think in reflection I have found preaching at Milford last week one of the more spiritually fulfilling experiences of the year.

However – there is a big gap starting to emerge in the Sunday night service. I was very surprised when I came back at the larger exodus of young adults and 13-14year olds from a youth ministry that has previously been vibrant, full of energy and life in this age range. The kids are switching off and switching on their cellphones in a way that we haven’t seen before. We’re observing a culture shift within our community, a specific response to a set of variables that can almost be measured.

Having observed now for several months, and then refreshed the information since being back from the States for a month> the common trends are unfortunately becoming more obvious. The preaching roster is almost turnabout, as is the populus. There is a core that will sit through one preacher and not the other. They are walking with their feet. The others that stay are demonstrating something that we’ve rarely seen before. A record 17 cellphones were picked up and used throughout the duration of the sermon on Sunday night. They were mostly all youth group members rather than young adults. The young adults have a week-about attendance cycle as well.

The mid-week programme is being decimated in the younger age group as well. The older groups are more established in relationship with one another, so there are less consumer impact variables to deal with. Kids are literally flowing out the back door, something that is painful and hard to watch.

In addition to this, the overwhelming flavour of Sunday nights has moved from a sense of celebration and community to a very serious, intense time of worship. While I can totally support a proposition that suggests effective communication in the 20-30 year bracket will have some buy-in and attraction with teenage ministry groups, I’m not convinced that the 20-30 year olds that are also walking are going to buy the package.

What is there to be done about it? The first thing that struck me when I got home was the absence of fun. There was an enormous sense of energy missing from the room. In the past two weeks as a music team, we’ve simply focussed on recreating energy and engagement. That’s meant lots of songs that are easy to clap to and fun to sing. That’s where DCB come in.

I spoke last Sunday niht in worship about the joy it is to be able to sing songs together and share in our story. I spoke about my previous post regardless ‘one-worship’ and ‘others-worship’. It went down really well as the kids took hold of each other by the hand, around the shoulder. They moved closer together so as to embrace one another and then laughed together.

Sure enough – there was a slight complaint about the nature of that voice break.

So what to do? I’m out of the youth ministry loop and the current staff just don’t want to talk about it, most approaches from a wide range of players are being rebuffed with a defensive offense. The hard part is how bad I want to see these guys suceed. The youth pastor especially is young and full of energy – he should be in the prime of it, enjoying the ease of the first couple of years – finding his feet, developing a team of leaders around him in good relationship. Instead, we’ve got energy disappearing and job descriptions that would be tough for anyone, let alone fulltime youthworkers, let alone volunteer leaders. Partly, my empathetic heart just wants to tell them to relax, but it seems there is no voice .. advice welcome.

I said that I would stay, especially now that the senior role is in flux. If nothing else, I’ve been through this before and I know that I can provide support leadership to my community within my role. But how, where, when to address the other stuff in the broader context. But there are so many church communities struggling with little to no youth ministry leadership – and I feel that if I was to leave, I would need to go to one of these communities.

I feel so frustrated and useless in my church community at the moment. It’s like seeing all we could be and we’re only a degree and a half away. Slight adjustments, a little bit of fun, flavour and relaxation and we’d be there – back in the fertile soil that breeds great community. I’m more and more convinced that spiritual formation as a key value doesn’t translate to spiritual growth in young people. I think that healthy holistic communities will raise healthy, whole young people who are engaged in journey with God.