Benjamin Kerns on Digital Natives and Why It’s Impossible to Do Ministry Where Your Youth Live

Remember the good old days?

Back in the 1970s Young Life dramatically changed how the church has done student ministry. With two key foundations, go where students are and earn the right to be heard, countless teenagers have come to know and love Jesus! The church was a little slow on the uptake, but by the time I started doing youth ministry in the late ’90s those values had become the bedrock of church based student ministry as well.

Twenty years later youth ministry has really taken it on the chin. We have declining numbers for programmatic ministry, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus as to an effective model, and there seems to be less and less money for staff. It may seem like the sky is falling, and it is, but not for the reasons stated above.

The reason for alarm is that even with all the challenge in front of those incredible people called to love students right into the family of God, it has become next to impossible to do the one thing most of us have been called to do. To make contact with students, meet them where they are, and earn the right to be heard as we love them and point them toward Jesus.

You are no longer welcome in their world!

The brutal reality is that as adults, we are no longer welcome nor can we really find the spaces where students are so we can do contact work and build a friendship. There are no longer common sporting events, band concerts, skate parks, coffee shops, arcades, fro-yo shops, you name it. No longer can an adult who loves kids show up in a space where kids are and build relationship with them.

For all the right reasons, some of that contact work was shut down because some adults abused their positions of power and took advantage of students, and/or developed inappropriate relationships and friendships with minors. For these reasons, I am glad that the barriers are higher and our students are protected. I am glad that my kids, who are now teenagers, are more protected from predatory adults. This is an ugly factor, but it is factor number one.

The second is the technological world our students live in. As the world has changed and every student in your ministry has a smartphone and multiple social media accounts to manage, and a variety of texting options, their real life is no longer happening in front of you. What you see, the interaction you see, the conversations you have, are now the facade. Their real life is in the cloud.

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Source: Church Leaders