Are Conversations Dying?

Courtesy of polandeze/Creative Commons Licenses

Not sure how you communicate with your teens, but when it comes to my small group of 10th grade guys the easiest way is through Facebook.  This past Sunday I wrote them all a note, asking whether or not they were going to make our service project this upcoming weekend.  Right away I got a response from one of the teens saying, “Sorry, won’t be able to go.”  I found myself a little upset, not because the teen couldn’t make the event; it was due to the fact that he was in the next room and didn’t tell me face to face.  I got up, walked over to him and jokingly said, “You couldn’t have just told me that?” He said, “I wasn’t sure how you would react.”  Instead of diving into a conversation about why he couldn’t serve, he thought it was best to just tell me and be done with it.
It’s interesting how we communicate today.  Doesn’t matter if it’s bad news or good we Tweet it, post it or share it on our wall.  But, is this a problem?  Is the fact that we have so many ways of communicating electronically hurting or helping us?
In Sherry Turkle’s New York Times Article “The Flight From Conversation” she claims:

We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.

It’s a statement that I go back and forth on, because I wonder about how technology has hurt; yet, helped the conversations that I have had.  It’s helped me invite teens into a deeper conversation.  It’s non threatening to send a text that says, “Hey, can you meet me after group to chat for a few minutes?” or “Haven’t seen you in a while, can you stop by tonight for worship?”  But, then again Turkle warns that this trend of electronic communication is leading us to an isolated life:

We’ve become accustomed to a new way of being “alone together.” Technology-enabled, we are able to be with one another, and also elsewhere, connected to wherever we want to be. We want to customize our lives. We want to move in and out of where we are because the thing we value most is control over where we focus our attention. We have gotten used to the idea of being in a tribe of one, loyal to our own party.

Basically, technology can remove the tension in relationships that lead to growth.  It gives us a control that fools us into thinking that our relationships are growing stronger.  Don’t get me wrong, communication can help us connect with teens, and reach out to their peers in non threatening ways; but, does it help grow healthy relationships?
With or without technology the healthiest relationships need to have a solid foundation, and as Christians we believe that foundation is with Christ.  One of the best places teens can learn to be relational in their faith is through small groups.  It’s through small groups that we can teach teens to grow together and hold one another accountable.  And to do that you need to:

  1. Go Beyond The Questions – It’s easy to ask questions; however, to truly dive deep into the answers is a whole different task.  Many times we find that our new small group leaders bust through the questions like they are taking a test.  The idea isn’t to complete the questions, it’s to create more.  Going beyond the questions means creating opportunities for life changing conversations.
  2. Embrace The Silence – Nothing is more awkward than staring at a bunch of teens blankly; however, it’s something we need to allow because silence gives us time to reflect.  It’s easy to claim that successful conversations have noise; however, silence allows ideas and thoughts to develop.  When you take the time to listen, process and then speak you allow the conversation to become rich.
  3. Build Trust – Chances are your teens don’t trust you if they aren’t willing to talk with you.  That doesn’t mean you aren’t trustworthy, it just means the trust isn’t there yet.  In order to build trust you need to be transparent, vulnerable and honest.  Sometimes that trust can be built in a group, other times it needs to be done one on one.  Either way make building trust one of the cornerstones of your ministry.

Is conversation a dying art?  Probably not, it’s just evolving; however, Sherry Turkle’s article gives us plenty of examples as to why your teens aren’t engaging in the conversation.  Is it technologies fault?  Probably not, it’s a tool and we just need to see how we can use it to initiate and provoke it in our ministries.  If we can create opportunities for healthy conversations in our ministry then we can create healthy relationships.  And the healthier the relationships the stronger we can be together.

How do you promote conversation in your ministry?