As you might have seen in the September 12 FUMCFW Weekly Enews, Youth Ministries is embarking on an exciting new project. As one of five churches accepted in the Innovation Lab, a research grant run through the Center for Youth Ministry Training, and funded by the Texas Methodist Foundation, we are setting about a project that will use a combination of design thinking and practical theology to creatively imagine what the future of ministry to the young people in our midst might look like.
Youth Ministry has looked basically the same for about 60 years, since the modern youth group was invented in the 1950s. But teenage life has changed dramatically. When the modern youth ministry was conceived, it was to keep bored teenagers from lingering around the soda fountains and away from the corrupting scourge of rock and roll music. Teenagers now face a totally different set of pressures, anxieties, worries, temptations, and struggles — but they still have just as much of a need for a place where they feel safe, known, seen, and loved, and where they can experience God’s call on their lives and learn what it means to follow Christ.
So what does it look like to be faithful to them in that? What does it mean to be the Kingdom of God to the young people around us? We’ve worked with a certain set of assumptions for a long time, and God has been doing incredible work in our young people through them, but it’s worth us to ask the question if there’s something else God is calling us to that we haven’t heard yet because it sounds so different than what we’ve done before. God may be calling us to keep doing exactly what we’re doing, but isn’t it worth it to at least ask?
There’s a running joke in youth ministry circles that youth ministry is “the R & D department of the church.” For a lot of structural reasons — the rapidly evolving tastes of teenagers, its location on the edge of daily church life, its usually fairly young leadership, and its reputation as being chaotic and un-sacramental already — youth ministry often gets license to experiment, innovate, break, and rebuild that very few other ministries get.
And that’s where the most exciting part of Innovation Lab comes in. Yes, this project is about our young people, their community, their world, and how to be faithful to them in that, but in 5 years, those same young people will be young adults, and what we learn about them, about our community, about the world around us, can shape not just youth ministry, but the whole church.
But don’t worry, we’re not coming in a with a bunch of new ideas and shaking up things just to shake them up, the Innovation Lab will be a five-step process over eighteen months in which we’ll seek not just to throw it all at the wall and see what sticks, but dig deep into the world around us, see what “the thing behind the thing” for our community is, truly understand the issues young people around us face, then understand why they are facing those solutions, what Good News we may be able to offer in response, prototype those solutions, make tweaks, and then implement any changes.
You’ll be getting intermittent updates from me during every step of the process, and I encourage you to reach out if you want to learn more or be kept even more in the loop.
Right now, we’re in the middle of Phase 1: Describe. In this phase, we are becoming anthropologists of the world around us, acting as students and observers of the young people of Fort Worth. We’re interviewing teenagers and adults who work with teenagers outside of church contexts, creating maps, identifying patterns, and incorporating some of the Focus First data to put together a portrait of our city and our place in it. We’ll keep you updated on what we learn when we reach the end of this phase, but for now, we encourage you to pray over the team and the work that we’re doing, and to cheer on the lovely mad scientists on our team as they get to work!
Director of Youth Ministries