If you have been working with students for some time you know that as society and technology change, the way we do our ministry with teenagers also changes. My first job as a youth minister was in the early 1980's. I ran copies on a mimeograph machine (Google it), did letters on an electronic typewriter, showed Christian movies on a 16mm projector, and did special video programs on a slide projector. Things have definitely changed over the years and they will continue to change. Because of our advanced technology those changes will be more rapid and more drastic. I've been thinking a lot lately about the significant changes we may see in the next six or eight years and what these changes could mean to those of us in student ministry. Sure, it's a guessing game, but it's fun to guess! Here are three significant changes that I think may impact students and student ministry in the next few years.
With school and school work being a major part of the life of a teenager, changes in this area affect the landscape of your interactions with students. Though there is some disagreement on the part of experts, there's a significant number of people who believe print textbooks will be completely or mostly phased out. In the next decade we'll probably see something close to uniform reliance on some type of tablet device for reading and study. And it doesn't take Nostradamus to guess that connectivity via the Internet and other networks will only continue to increase. WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOUTH WORKERS is that print resources like Bibles and devotional books may seem odd to students in 2020. The idea of a handout will be totally antiquated. And here's the deal: this isn't a change that students will have to adapt to. It's native for them. It's a change youth workers will have to adapt to.
Your students are bombarded with information. And the pace of this information flow will only continue to grow. I read the other day that if you could take all the information digitally available right now and put it in two standard file cabinets, by 2020 there will be THIRTY new file cabinets of information available! Take a student going to college in August of this year. By the time that student is a junior, one-half of what they have learned in college will be either old or outdated information. Want one more? An Exabyte is 10 to the 18th power bytes of data. 1.5 Exabytes of new information will be generated in the world TODAY! WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOUTH WORKERS is that students will continue to experience information overload. The time they give to investing in unique pieces of information will be minimized. The amount of synthesis and retention is declining based on the overload of information. The smart student minister will continue to teach that the truths in the Bible are timeless. While the world changes rapidly, God's word never changes but has remained relevant to people since the beginning of time. We'll have to adapt our methodology to make sure that we help students and their parents give the truths of God the attention they need, helping them know them and put them to work in their life.
Cisco says that by the year 2020, 50 billion "things" will be connected by the Internet. Whether through smart phones, devices in cars, home appliances, or things not yet invented, students will continue to be influenced by the power of information and ideas communicated over the Internet. Microsoft believes that over the next few years, our digital interactions with technology will shift to more of a human-to-human reaction. Students in the year 2020 could potentially have a constant technological mentor that will respond quickly to their individual needs. WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOUTH WORKERS is that teenagers may very well feel less and less dependent on adults to serve as mentors. In a depersonalized society, the idea of an adult who invests in them may be something they don't FEEL they need. But I believe (and I bet you do, as well) that the influence of an adult in the life of a teenager is essential. And that the concept of a personal Savior is even more so. But it might be that we will have to go against the grain of culture and make this case. Youth workers will have to work hard at emphasizing that a personal relationship with God is much more than interacting with a machine.
As ministers of the Gospel, we have to always be open to changing the method, but we can't ever change the message. Technology will demand that we change the way we do things.The youth worker of the future will have to be in tune with trends and shifts affecting teenagers, just as the youth worker of today will. One thing that won't change will be the ability of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit to change hearts and lives. By making our personal study of the Bible a priority, student leaders can lead teenagers in any generation to discover that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." Hebrews 13:8
- What trends do you see coming that will affect the way we do ministry?