When Claire asked me to contribute to the youTheology Blog, specifically on the topic of “change in youth ministry,” the first image that popped into my head was: the sombrero. We have a sombrero in the youth room at First United Methodist Church North Kansas City. It’s not really for fashion, but, instead, is turned upside down and used as a receptacle for cell phones. For our swift-fingered kiddos and their need for constant communication, it would be nearly impossible to facilitate youth group events or faith formation classes without confiscating the cell phones.
A delightful side benefit is that the youth have embraced this practice. One night as youth group was getting started a 9th grader approached me and said, “Can I go get the sombrero? My phone won’t quit and it is distracting me too much.”
I recently read an article from the New York Times about a middle school in the Bronx that decided to experiment with a two-day texting reprieve. Students were encouraged to take a break from Facebook, Twitter, texting, and other forms of instant communication for 48 hours. The results were enlightening. One student said she typically texted her mother at least 10 times a day. The authors spin it this way: could you imagine reaching out for mom ten times a day? That would seem odd. But texting blurs the lines on that one.
I’ve recently read a book on church leadership titled Simple Church. The authors address the fact that as our world technologically advances around us and becomes more complex, simplicity becomes more and more attractive. (They describe the simple technology of iMac as an example of this.) I don’t know that collecting cell phones is a simplification process, but it’s a start to something. As the church, if we expect to attract young people just by reflecting the busyness of the world all around us, chances are they won’t be interested. But if we have a recipe for slowing down, or a concise explanation of the ministry and space we have to offer – that may just be the ticket.
From here on out, I’m sure that texting, Facebook, and other forms of technology will be the main tools I utilize in communicating with young people. However, just as the school in the Bronx was willing to experiment, I think the church is up for a trial run, too. I think we have an opportunity before us as mentors and shepherds of young people to point them to Christ and offer reprieve and rest from the bells and whistles that seek to distract from that relationship. It’s more than just a sombrero and a cell phone collection: it is a protest (part of our tradition, right?) against the busyness of a world that often tries to crush our spirit. My hope is that in the rest and pause between so many activities and responsibilities, our youth will find themselves connecting with the Spirit of God.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor