I am an avid reader and admirer of author and Princeton professor Kenda Creasy Dean. In response to a question “What’s the biggest challenge facing youth workers today?” on the Youth Specialties blog, she says:
The biggest challenge might also be the best thing to happen to the church since the apostles and that is the fact that, even though 3/4 of American teenagers say they are Christians, most people in our culture really haven’t got a clue what the church is about, or why Jesus matters, or what on earth the Holy Spirit is doing in the world. The fastest growing religious preference among Americans—especially among young people—is “none”. And the “nones” aren’t in other people’s families or churches—they’re in ours. Churches are going to keep shrinking and the “nones” are going to keep growing, at least for another 10-15 years, mostly because churches are now so darned hard to distinguish from any other well-meaning institution in middle class American culture. It’s very hard for kids (and if we’re honest, for us) to figure out why we should follow Jesus Christ when Christians are caught up in the same rat race as everyone else. So what does that mean for youth ministry? We can either spin our wheels trying to stem the decline of any number of wobbly Christian entities or we can go out and do ministry among the “nones.” If the church depends on Jesus Christ instead of on us, I think maybe it’s time to spend less time worrying about dying and more time hanging out with young people who are dying—literally—to live. It’s never occurred to most of them that Christianity has anything to offer in the “get a life” department, much less that we might offer something that is distinct from what is offered everywhere else. I think one way youth workers will serve the church in general in the next generation is to re-weirdify Christianity, and remind young people, and the church as a whole, that we live by distinctive standards, standards of grace, humility and hope, that make no sense in a world where the primary objective is to “get ahead”.
Good stuff. If you haven’t already, you might want to check out Kenda’s book Almost Christian. It’s the best book I’ve read on youth, youth ministry and the church in years.