Innovation Lab, Phase Two

By January 29, 2020Youth Ministries

Whew, y’all. January is second only to summer as the most intense season of my year. With Confirmation now part of our Youth Ministries, in the past three weeks we’ve had Confirmation Baptism, our biggest Revolution Weekend ever, Confirmation Retreat, Spring kick-off for The Refuge, and Confirmation Sunday.

And, since after this week we’ll get the coveted opportunity to return to normal for a few months, I wanted to update you on a project we’ve been working on in the background.

As I’ve written about in my blog before, in 2019 we were selected as one of 5 churches to be part of the Innovation Lab, an eighteen-month research project run through the Center for Youth Ministry Training and funded by the Texas Methodist Foundation.

The lab’s purpose is to better understand the current landscape of teenagers and youth ministries, and work with churches in coming up with innovative and context-driven solutions to the struggles our young people face.

The team taking on this project consists of two teenagers, two youth parents, two non-parent lay leaders, Associate Director of Youth Ministries Matt Britt, and myself.

In Phase One, we became anthropologists of our own context. We conducted interviews, looked at demographic data and maps, conducted a SWOT analysis, and looked at narrative histories of our church and our neighborhood so that we could more deeply understand the world around us. We learned so much, often from unexpected places and voices, and I have delighted in the process of working alongside our team.

At the end of Phase One in December, our research had led us to a very long and laborious thesis (issue statement for further research) that included information on school systems, college acceptance rates, socioeconomic dynamics, neighborhood profiles, and the like. While this work was thorough and helpful, it felt very much like a roundabout way of approximating what we were really trying to say. Our issue statement, which was meant to be a single sentence, was 132 words. Whoops.

We took a break for Christmas and regathered this past Sunday to dive into Phase Two. Phase One of the project was all about the “what” — digging into what is happening in the lives of our teenagers.

In that sense, our lengthy issue statement makes sense — the world of teenagers is complex. As we started Phase Two, we got the opportunity to begin asking, “why?” At last we were able to gain some incredible clarity.

We dropped from 132 long-winded academic words to nine very simple ones, spoken from the mouth of a young person:

“if I fail at this, I am a failure.”

All of my pontification on the suffocating effect of a lack of appropriately low-stakes opportunities for experimentation and failure — and how this lack harms adolescent identity formation by inducing a sense of scarcity and hopelessness – couldn’t convey the point  nearly as effectively as those nine words.

We will be doing some additional research and reading as a team this week on socioeconomics, class, and identity — and we will be doing it all with this core hurt as our anchor.

I have no idea where this project is headed. I have no simple programmatic solution to address a psychological and spiritual fear as base as this one that we’ve named.

I don’t think there’s a Sunday school lesson or retreat theme that could possibly alleviate the crushing fear of failure that is so core to our kids, and so severe that I’ve talked about it on this blog here,

and here,

and here,

and here,

and here,

and here.

And I take that as a sign that we’re headed in the right direction. Pray for our team, for the work of trying to minister to teenagers as best we can, and for God’s guidance through it all.


Kat Bair
Director of Youth Ministries


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