Few would argue that some of the most passionate, gifted energy among us is housed in those who are college-aged. And yet few have succeeded in pointing such passion and energy toward lasting, healthy ends-especially in the church.

Most churches and families have programmed a finish line at twelfth grade. We walk our seniors out the door, breathe a deep sigh of relief, and let them disappear. The problem is most never come back. Too old for youth group-and feeling too displaced by labels like “single” or “young adult,” the majority of college-aged Christians disconnect from faith communities. “They’ll rework themselves into our system once grown-up,” we of an older generation surmise. “Once they’re married with kids and able to tithe. For now, however, they seem like a lost cause and our attentions are better focused elsewhere.”

This slow fade is slowly eliminating the potentials and influence of this generation and thus, the impact of the modern church.

What would it look like for a senior pastor, a college pastor, and a twentysomething to sit around the table and flesh-out issues of the current generation’s fade from the church? In The Slow Fade, Reggie Joiner, founder and CEO of the reThink Group, Chuck Bomar, former college pastor of Cornerstone in Simi Valley, CA, and I have done just this. Moving between perspectives of pastor, father, and friend, we confront this fading generation and lend insights toward its halt.

The typical model of twentysomething ministry involves about four worship songs, a sermon, and an emotive ending song to stir the heightening finale. (In the more eclectic circles, the front- and back-ends of worship might be swapped.) From here the emotionally caffeinated crowd disperses to the nearest coffeehouse, Waffle House, or frat house and flirts with the herd until the next gathering.

And we wonder why adolescents are struggling to adequately move into adulthood. We wonder why eighteen to twenty-five year olds have little to no lasting involvement with our faith communities. When the reality is, as adult believers, we have some responsibility in this. We’re among the reasons adolescents are not healthily assimilating into adulthood, because we’ve not shown them how their role matters. Furthermore, how crucial they are to our whole, should we ever hope to bring lasting Love to the world.

A discussion of the most overlooked and underdeveloped facet of the modern church, The Slow Fade makes a case for inter-generational relationships as the way to keep college-aged people engaged in faith. Leveraged belonging is necessary for lasting connectivity. Connecting college-aged people to the life of the church requires more than a flashy band, or even a relevant sermon. It requires individual care and a felt sense of belonging. If you show me my part in the whole, I will continue to show up. Meaning, the answer is not a new program and doesn’t cost a dime. The answer lies within any willing adult wanting to have influence.

College-aged people are making some of the most critical choices of their lives. And any adult who chooses to invest in the life of a college student is likewise choosing to invest in a generation. More than ever, this age-stage needs a community of faith and willing individuals interested in their lives. And we have the chance to play that role. A clan of sleeping giants lies in our midst, and we have the chance to wake them-and maybe even be woken-up ourselves.

Abbie Smith wrote her first book, Can You Keep Your Faith in College (Multnomah, 2006), while a Religion major at Emory University. She recently graduated from Talbot Seminary, in Los Angeles, with a degree in “Spiritual Formation and Soul Care” and resides in Savannah, Georgia.

Each summer I examine what we are going to teach the students. Not sure what your ministry does but we deliver most of our teachings through message series in our worship and small group programs. I’ve tried creating my own stuff, only to find that I’ve wasted months writing something that’s not useful.

When it comes to curriculum or resources there are millions of options out there, some from reputable publishers, others we aren’t so sure about. There seems to be a definite challenge to find something that perfectly fits the way we do ministry, while staying true to our faith. That’s why I’m constantly looking at what I can adapt. So instead of trying to create my own I spend more of my time and energy on adapting what’s out there. So, why should we adapt?

It’s easier, it’s saves us stress, time and energy. When it comes to writing curriculum we need a jumping off point, a good resource is an excellent foundation to creating something that will fit your ministry. I think we feel as if we have to have something original, because original means new and new means hype. But adapting something, putting your twist on it will make it fresh and produce the same results with less work.

Now I know the pushback might be we don’t want to plagiarize and there is the pressure of being original. So some of you might wonder, “How do we borrow without stealing?”

Look for the resources that give you permission. Believe it or not there are a lot of publishers and authors that encourage adapting. Next look at taking pieces of the resource instead of changing around the whole thing. Many publishers will encourage taking pieces of what they produce and using it in the context of your program. There have been many times I’ve used a video but not the discussion questions, or I’ve taken an exercise but not the teaching. As long as you are borrowing and not stealing it’s fine. A lot of the resources I use are from out of my denomination (Roman Catholic); however, I’ve found a positive response by taking pieces here and there and adapting it to the context of my faith.

It’s hard being original all the time, some of us don’t have the time, some of us aren’t shaped to design, create and write resources, but that’s okay. The great thing about being a youth minister is being a part of a community that shares with one another and offers resources.

Blogs like this are a perfect place for sharing ideas, so I would encourage all of you who read this to share something that you’ve used and adapted for your ministry.

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more about his blog Marathon Youth Ministry (link to http://blog.youthnativity.org)



Congrats to Jeff Stapleton, random winner of the contest this week for 2 tickets to the Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Chicago this March. Get to the Windy City for some youth worker training with 3,000 of your closest friends, too!

Jeff Stapleton at 10:31am September 2
I’m a youth minister just beginning my third year in a small East Texas town. The resources and support from SYM (newsletters/products/podcasts) have been huge in my development as both a teacher and a leader. To learn and worship with other youth ministers is a tremendous encouragement, and something I look forward to. I hope to make it to the SYM conference one way or another…and get the chance to sit in on an epic live podcast. Thanks for all you do Josh!

JG

This summer we took some risks and planned a summer calendar for our high school youth group that looked pretty different than years past. I think for the most part it paid off – here are some of the new ideas (for us) and the results:

Summer camp moved to the beginning of the summer
This was the biggest game-changer for us – for years we’ve let camp be the “end of summer event” that catapulted us into Fall Kickoff and the new school year. I blogged about the Benefits of Early Summer Camp, not in an effort to justify the move but to make sure we took advantage of the strategy behind the move. Camp now kicks off the summer, and gives us momentum in a typical downtime for youth groups. COST: $299

Midweek Bible Study replaces small groups
For the longest time our small groups (now Life Groups) have met only during the school year. But this year we decided to have a discipleship/worship/fellowship gathering call WE(MID)EK all summer long. The consistency was a win – students knew that every Tuesday night we gathered to sing, pray, learn and connect. And yes, I realize that Tuesday isn’t midweek but it was the last day available. Cost: FREE

Bible study just for girls
This year one of the ideas was to have a Bible study just for girls – not necessarily on girl’s issues (it was actually an Old Testament character study) but so girls could learn together away from the distractions of the boys. Bagels & Bibles was a great 8-week success – and the guys want one next summer, too! Donuts & Dudes, here we come! Cost: FREE

Fun and relational time every Friday
Every Friday we spent 2 hours at the park, and 2 hours at The Refinery hanging out and playing games. Athletic kids loved the outdoor games, and everyone loved the cold Cokes at lunch. Great opportunity to bring friends or have a surprisingly deep conversation. Cost: FREE

Lots of guest speakers over the summer at the weekend worship service
This summer I did a significant amount of teaching when our freshman we’re incoming, then turned it over to other voices in our youth ministry team. This past weekend, two volunteers spoke, which was incredible. It gave me a chance to go on vacation and for our students to hear from different personalities, styles and backgrounds. COST: FREE

Two service projects, no mission trips
This summer we didn’t go on any mission trips – saving that for our Spring trips to Kenya and Spring Break trip to New Mexico. But our students were involved in service projects in the community, we did a Pancake Breakfast for a needy area and helped pull off Operation: Backpack. COST: FREE

JG



We used this video in our LAUNCH series opener to help convey the truth about the Great Commandment. Good stuff, looked great and very student-friendly.

JG

Just finished up reading Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet, a new book by Jonathan Merritt. The book is an attempt to reclaim environmentalism from the left, and make Creation care an issue that everyone should care about, regardless of political sides. According to Jonathan, caring for God’s creation is largely a spiritual issue and an act of worship to the Creator. He’s careful to distinguish between worshipping the creation and the Creator, and is quick to admit the shortcomings of his own journey. I like it that just a few years ago he held many of the traditional (read: irresponsible) views that many Christians still share.

To be honest, green is a “something” to me – I still have a loooooong ways to do – but loved the series we did called Save the Planet a couple years ago and The Refinery at Saddleback was Lake Forest’s first LEED-certified building. All in all, I really dug the first 2/3rds of the book – before it begins to read like any other environmental book you can’t seem to avoid these days. To me, what sets this book apart is the Biblical perspective on creation and our responsibility to care for it, which was refreshing and encouraging to read.

JG



What a tough decision … the stories you submitted in the LIVE Curriculum contest were amazing and heart-stirring. The nominations, the effort, the heart of youth ministry in all of them – wow. So hard to choose! So … I didn’t, exactly. I took my 5 favorite, and then picked one at random. Here’s the winning story, congratulations to Bree Klemme:

We desperately need the LIVE Curriculum. In order for you to understand why, I will start at the beginning of our crazy journey.My husband and I moved to a rural community about a year ago (so he could farm). We looked non-stop for a church, and not until 3 months ago did we find one that was Bible based and preaching the Word. The church body is a wonderful group who loves the Lord and wants to do what is right and immediately we felt at ‘home.’ Two months ago (right before we were going to become members) the pastor was released from his duties because of serious moral and spiritual issues; the biggest wasn’t even that he spent most of his days at the church looking at porn online. Recognizing that a church is more than just a pastor and that this was where we felt led to be and serve, we stayed and became members.

We jumped in with both feet and have been looking for ministry opportunities…I was going to help lead worship and be on the music committee, Brian was going to help on the work committee and start a program for new visitors and we thought we might be helpers in the youth group …when, last month the husband of the couple who were going to take on the Sr. High Youth Group was struck down with migraines that caused him to have a multiple strokes from which he is not even close to recovering from. There isn’t anyone else that either wants to do it or isn’t already committed to the Awana Children Program, so after much prayer and thoughtful consideration we are going to do it.

This is not something that we are taking lightly; I had awesome youth group leaders that set a wonderful example for me. The leaders were there for usually at least 4 year stretches, they were very involved in the schools and in the kids’ lives including extra-curricular activities. Brian didn’t have that…in fact he was the youth group; his pastor would taking him golfing for youth group because it was just him. Brian is wary of what is going to happen because he hasn’t ever seen what a youth group is like. He isn’t concerned about teaching the Bible, he is a very wise godly man and has led other Bible studies, but isn’t quite sure what subjects we need to cover or what to do with the rest of the time that makes up a youth group meeting.

Part of our problem is that there isn’t a program already in place. There have been 3 different youth group leaders over the last 3 years! And, last year the leaders wouldn’t show up and the kids were left hanging (which is a crappy thing to do to them!) None of the last youth leaders had any materials or any kind of structure. We are going to have to rebuild the Sr. High Youth Group from scratch.

We are desperately trying to follow God’s leading, and we are going to do that whether we get the LIVE Curriculum or not. But, I do know that it would help us to be better youth leaders and help us reach out and draw more youth in and have an impact in the community with the program. I know this might sound made-up, but our story is true and clearly explains why we need this program.

Check out the LIVE small group curriculum at Simply Youth Ministry today!

JG

“So, if the “Zombie Apocalypse” occurs, what skills will you bring into the new future?

It was a confusing question. The family was sitting down for a picnic dinner and my young adult children were playing a game called Zombie Apocalypse. It was “What can you contribute to the general good?” sort of game… which is not an uncommon young adult sort of question. What did zombies have to do with it? A staple of horror films, zombies are formerly dead characters walking this world mindlessly attempting to consume the life and flesh of the living.

My eldest daughter explained her understanding of the game, “We’ve grown up with so many real-life villains — from Columbine to the 9/11 terrorists to Hurricane Katrina to British Petroleum – that zombies pretty much reflect them all. The game reminds us that we must all share what we have with one another.”

The zombies of my own youth came to mind, the back-up dancers in Michael Jackson’s video “Thriller.” As dancers they were choreographed to be slow and stilted in their gate, emotionless in their steps, and slightly menacing.

This summer, youth ministry programs around the nation will be taking young people off to summer youth conferences, leadership camps, and work-camps helping those in need. During these summer days, they will attempt to live out the model of the early Christian Community, devoting “themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

In these moments, they will experience the Church that Pope Benedict XVI discussed in his instillation homily in 2005. As a Catholic, I was emboldened when he proclaimed “…The Church is alive. And the Church is young.” As these young people return to their own church communities, this is a good time of assessment for us. Are they returning to a Church that is alive and young? Or might it scarily resemble the slow, lifeless, faith of the undead?

As faith communities, there are many things that we can do to ensure that the vitality and vibrancy of our Church.

> We must find more ways to inform, form, and transform the faith of parents. They are the first witnesses of faith for young people. Whatever kids understand about the Church was likely both taught by and caught from their parents.

> We must make a commitment towards greater inclusion of young people into the ministries of the Church, especially within our communal worship. We must work towards inclusion in our worship and engaging “the life” of young people into it.

> When we do minister with young people, we must find ways to elicit their energy, passion, and skills towards making a meaningful difference in the world. Pope Benedict encourages young people to make “definitive choices” regarding their lives and faith and we should do the same.

As Church, we need to recognize that young people are fully ready to engage against that which is perceived as assaulting civilization with hostility towards human life. Young people must recognize the Church as alive and young; we cannot risk sending them the perception that we are a lifeless zombie culture.

From their summer experiences, hundreds of young people will be returning to parish pews this summer and will look at the Church through new eyes and ask “What can you contribute to the general good?” Our response must match the rhythm of their lives, expressive in our response, and slightly reassuring for the future. Let us consume the fullness of life together with the One who came who that we might have life more abundantly. (John 10:10)

D. Scott Miller is the coordinator of adolescent Faith formation for the Division of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He blogs at www.catholicYMblog.com