April 10, 2008
Live from Shift: Ministry 2.0 in World 2.0
Five adjustments we need to make in a changing culture.
Darren Whitehead leads the student ministry of Willow Creek. He compared the church in our changing culture to his own experience as an immigrant (he's from Australia). Most immigrants suffer from "cultural freeze," he says. This is the tendency to maintain their old culture in the midst of the new one they find themselves in.
He says the church is doing the same thing. We're preserving church from the 1960s in a world that changing. He says this is really uncomfortable for newcomers. When someone comes into the church "it's sort of like walking in on two people making out. It's intimate and you feel kind of strange being there."
This has led to what Whitehead called an "epidemic of ineffectiveness." He cited numerous studies that all show huge numbers of students leaving the church after high school and never returning. He says, "The rate of change in the culture is far exceeding the rate of change in our youth ministries."
Technology is changing the world and the culture. Whitehead referred to Time Magazine's observation that we are seeing the emergence of version 2.0 of the internet through user-focused sites like Wikipedia, Youtube, and Facebook. This means students are growing up in World 2.0 where "consumers are now content providers." This has led to five critical shifts in the way Willow is approaching youth ministry. These five ideas may well apply across the board.
1. Moving from passive to interactive
In the new World 2.0 people are creating content. As Whitehead says, in the past people were interested in how professional your ministry was. But today, "Any 14 year old with a Mac can produce really slick videos." As a result students "don't want professional, they want personal." This should be good news for smaller churches without a big staff or budget. It means getting the people involved in creating the music, videos, and other content of the ministry. Whitehead says "students are no longer attending our ministry, they are our ministry."
2. Moving from resolved to unresolved
The new generation isn't looking for easy answers. They are even insulted by trite answers to difficult issues. This means they "are trying to be tour guides rather than travel agents." Whitehead says they're trying to walk along side of students rather than simply telling them what to think. He wants them wrestling with questions not just absorbing answers.
3. Moving from imitation to imagination
Whitehead says that for years we've been trying to clone students. We've shown them what we think it looks like to follow Jesus, and we're not giving them space to imagine how it might look for them. Part of this has contributed to making "young people spiritually dependent on us." This is why they fall way when the leave the high school ministry. Instead, says Whitehead, we need to be teaching people to be "self-feeders."
4. Moving from informational to experiential
Darren admitted this isn't exactly a new idea. Most of us are wrestling with how to be creative and engaging for those who have a variety of learning styles. Some things they've done: talking about vision with 3-D glasses, cooking food on stage to illustrate the aroma of Christ, and an experience of walking to the cross blindfolded.
5. Moving from confession to compassion
Finally, Whitehead says that young people aren't interested in merely telling (confessing) what they believe. They've become activists. Toward that end they've made James 1:27 (you know, true religion is caring for orphans and widows) their ministry's theme this year. They are partnering with local and international ministries to engage their students in compassion projects for single mothers and students in Africa. He wants students to realize that "following Jesus isn't just a belief system - it's something you do."
One of the biggest challenges that student leaders face comes from the home. Whitehead says these kids go home and see that their "mom and dad don't live differently than anyone else." The students are hungry to be challenged, but the lukewarm faith of their families is a problem. "We got to be sure that we don't under challenge them."
How are you seeing these five shifts occurring in your churches? Which ones seem to be universally applicable? As Whitehead articulated - this isn't just a youth issue, it's the direction our whole culture is moving.