by Zach Below
A few nights ago, my wife and I were reminiscing on our first year in youth ministry. It felt like the world back in 2003 was light-years behind us. We laughed about how cool we thought we were when we got our first Motorola Razr phone and it had a color version of the Snake game on it. We tried to remember if we ever texted our students or if that had not really become a thing yet. We were still in the world of Myspace, but no one really knew how to maximize it for anything useful. It was also the year “Facemash,” which would later become Facebook, went live.
Students were different, too. They didn’t sit around staring at their phones all night, which—oh my goodness—was so nice. They weren’t so easily distracted or overloaded with information, which was nice, too. But students struggled in a heavier way then. They experienced a dual struggle that every church kid prior to the digital natives went through, myself included: the struggle to make sense of how Christ intersects with their life (which still remains), and the struggle to hide their failures or to compartmentalize.
I don’t sense the weight of that burden with this generation of students and digital technology users as a whole. They have lived their own reality TV show via social media since the day they were born. Their whole life is public. They value transparency. One of the reasons I love doing student ministry in 2016 is because it feels honest. I know the naysayers will point out there are serious problems to consider with this generation, and of course they are right. But through the fog off all of the “what’s wrong with this generation,” there is even greater potential to create a movement of honest faith with our students and watch it spread like wildfire. The church has the opportunity to lead our students into the tough years of their 20’s more solid than ever before.
So how can we leverage our small groups to impact digital natives? Here are three things we need to make sure we offer.
1. Real Faith I love how transparent most digital natives are. Last night at our group, one of our members said, “I don’t know if I actually believe this stuff or if I just believe it because I was born in a Christian home.” She said this even with her mom in the room! In the time and place I was raised (the 90s), if you had those doubts—and we all did—you made sure to keep them to yourself. Digital natives aren’t as worried about that. They have lived their whole lives publicly. So as small group leaders, if you are willing to be real and transparent with them, they will floor you with their transparency. Don’t offer cookie-cutter answers; give them the good, bad, and ugly and watch them thrive.
2. Real Life Together Churches love to use the phrase “doing life together” in relation to small groups. Calling an hour or two a week “life together” is downright laughable to our digital native students who offer access to their lives 24 hours a day. If you are going to lead or co-lead a group, you’d better be willing to engage in real life together. This is easier now than ever before. In 2003, if I wanted to have true “life together” with my small group members, it meant endless get-togethers, events, and visits. To the digital native, life together is equal parts online and real world. Believe it or not, you model life together when you “like” that weird selfie with their cat on Instagram or watch some video of a monkey peeing on an electric fence that they tag you in. Select a few members and really invest.
3. A Real Journey Digital Natives today get overloaded with information. It’s everywhere. YouTube users upload 400 hours of content to the site every MINUTE! That’s a lot of content available to people. The last thing they need is for us to be nothing more than content downloaders. They need tour guides, not professors. That’s why I love small groups. It’s amazing to watch people “get it” as they talk something out. Our goal should be to get them to ask the tough questions, pointing them to Jesus along the way. Real action also goes hand in hand with a real journey. Our members want to really live this thing out. We have to offer them ways to put their faith in action.
I think this generation of digital natives will surprise us. I’d love to hear from you. Share what you love about doing ministry in 2016.
On another note, if you find yourself perpetually surrounded by, maybe even addicted, to technology and you want some help, take a look at this recently released post titled ‘What Jesus, meth, and my smartphone have in common‘.