I think we may be missing the mark in a very important area. And of all the people to point it out to us…I think it’s the Emergent Church.
Now please understand something; I’m not emergent. Far from it. I find their doctrine (or lack thereof) to be appalling, I find many of their methods to be over-the-top in a lot of ways. In general, I consider myself to be as opposed to the Emergent Church movement as I humanly can be. However, there is one thing the Emergent Church gets right; they understand the importance of creating a sense of community in the church.
When we look at the lives of our students and how they interact with each other, it should quickly become apparent to us that they do things a little differently than we did. The average teenager does not check his email regularly. They carry cell phones, but rarely will you see a teenage girl in the corner on the cell phone with anyone other than Mom. So where are they talking? Facebook. Twitter. Skype. Text messaging. They’re still connecting, but they’ve moved the conversation.
So they’re interacting – potentially more than ever before – in an electronic space. But it’s not just the medium that’s changed. Consider the last fellowship you organized for your youth group. Maybe you planned it long in advance. You probably poured over the internet or reached out to some peers to try to uncover a new game or icebreaker your group hadn’t seen 592 times. And yet still, while your group most likely had a blast, you couldn’t help but look around the room and notice pockets of kids totally disconnected…the same kids that probably went out to eat at Chili’s with everyone afterward, even though they eschewed the pile of fried chicken boxes at your event.
It seems our students, by virtue of their technological connections, are changing their whole approach to connecting with each other. Instead of carving out time in their day to call each other, they simply access each other any time they have the whim to do so. As a result, they seem to crave less face-to-face time, preferring random meet-ups to well-programmed, scheduled, Youth-Pastor-led events. In other words. if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit we aren’t as adept at creating a sense of community in our youth groups as we used to be. No, there’s been a revolution; a social media revolution. And like it or not, the world has changed forever.
So the question then is this: do we ask the mountain to move to us, or do we move to the mountain? We’re Apostolics; what would the Apostles have done? I’m reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:22 – “I’m made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” Obviously Paul wasn’t talking about altering his doctrine…but he certainly would believe in altering his method.
As a matter of fact, if Paul was around today, I think he’d be on Twitter. And Facebook. And YouTube. And anywhere else the conversation was taking place. I think all the Apostles would. Why? That’s where people are finding community. And what did the disciples do immediately following the first outpouring of the Holy Ghost? They intentionally created a sense of community among the believers (Acts 2:42).
You may be thinking to yourself “I’ve got that covered. We have a Facebook page.” Well, so do we. The question, though, is “Does that Facebook page create a sense of community for your students?” Are they interacting there? Are they posting on the wall? Do they tag your Facebook page in their photos? If they don’t…why don’t they?
And what about the students that visit your group? How are we creating a sense of community for them? Certainly connecting them to our young people and getting involved with them personally is still relevant, but if they are used to interacting regularly in this new virtual community, are they connecting to yours?
I think, if we’re going to take our Student Ministries to the next level, we have to move beyond “entering” the online community into becoming “intentional” in creating an online community for our students. How do you do that? Well…that part I’m still working on. But I think together we can figure it out.