August 24, 2006
Scum of the Church 2: What churches should learn from ‘80s youth ministry
Many churches are struggling to reach young adults. The conversation on Out of Ur for the last two weeks has wrestled with this problem. Brian McLaren believes we need to be asking different questions of those who've grown up in the church and left. Mike Sares, pastor of Scum of the Earth Church in Denver, sees a clash between the values of the Boomers and today's young adults.
In part two of his post, Sares describes how his church tries to accommodate the styles and values of young adults. He believes the same strategies used in the 1980s to reach teens need to be employed today - rather than putting up cultural barriers we need to be as winsome as possible and connect with the young adult crowd.
At times we at Scum of the Earth Church are criticized for having church on Sunday nights as opposed to Sunday mornings. The fear is that we are turning a blind eye to the things that happen in clubs and bars on Saturday nights, thus enabling lifestyles which may be contrary to the gospel. That is not our intent. We just want to make it as easy as possible for people to come to church. Boomer churches understood this concept when they chose to dress casually for church on Sundays compared to the formal attire of their parents' churches.
We've taken that a step further. Eric Bain, my co-pastor, got some flak from a Christian-college-educated young man when Eric wore an MTV t-shirt while he was preaching and used an illustration taken from "Punk'd," one of the network's popular shows. According to the young man, Eric was silently promoting a television network that would be injurious to people's spirituality.
While Eric acknowledged that everything on MTV may not be beneficial, he was attempting to connect with the crowd. He was being winsome.
The same is true in the style of our services. We are extremely laid-back. People ask me if we scream punk-rock hymns and have a mosh-pit during corporate worship. Others want to know if our style is more Industrial, Techno, Heavy Metal or Hip-Hop. In truth we are more "Emo" than anything else; but we wouldn't have a problem with any church adopting the styles mentioned because we realize that those can be used in legitimate expressions of faith.
I see it all as ?80s youth ministry grown up. The emerging church movement is as varied as the youth groups of the 1980s. Youth pastors tailored their ministries to the kids God put in front of them. The Presbyterian Church in the suburbs had a totally different tack than the inner-city storefront church. Youth pastors adapted a missionary mindset depending on the "tribe" of kids they were reaching. Those various tribes each had their own music, slang language, dress codes and even moral codes so each youth ministry looked different.
The emergent church is a "flock of singularities," meaning that it's like a bunch of different birds that all fly together in some kind of loose formation. The great denominations seem to be on the decline with the next generation partly because there is a mindset that if something can be duplicated everywhere, then there is also something about it that is not genuine. It's the same thinking that leads the young people I know to distrust Wal-Mart and Starbucks; they prefer the homegrown, local varieties instead. Churches like Solomon's Porch, Jacob's Well, Frontline, The Portico, Urban Skye, etc., are as different as the people they reach and nurture.
Still, the great liturgies of the Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Orthodox churches are not going to vanish. Who knows, they may even grow with the generations yet to come! The church of Jesus has always adapted in order to love people with the love of God. And that's the way it is.
This article was edited and modified from, "Young Adults and the Church: The Way Things Are," in SAMJournal issue 159