Make It Relevant

Courtesy of George M. Groutas/Creative Commons License 

I knew I was old when I referenced a 1-800 Collect commercial to a group of middle school students.  The mention of a phone where you inserted coins to make a call seemed absurd.  Their curiosity and confusion of what once was, has become amusing.  I have found enjoyment telling teens about the days without Facebook, youtube, texting and the Internet.  They look at me like I have three heads, I can see the wheels turning as they imagine the pet dinosaur I must have had when I was their age.  I’m 31; yet, to them I’m a 1000 years old.  When it comes to stories, anecdotes and examples I have to be careful not to lose students through irrelevance.  That because irrelevance tells others that:

  • We’re out of touch.
  • It’s about me not you.
  • We don’t understand.

When you are irrelevant teens leave and you confirm any skepticism they may have had about the church.  What you need to do is make sure timeless truths never lose their value.  So how is that done?

  • Research The Culture – Even if you are obsessed with Twitter there are trends you are going to miss.  While there are many ways you can keep up with what’s current I recommend:
  1. Talking With Your Teens – Get a gauge on what’s going on locally.  Gather a group of students (either your leaders or any small group), treat them to lunch and just ask them, “What’s happening in life?” You would be surprised to hear what they have to share.
  2. Checking What’s Trending Online – What’s hot right now?  What are people talking about?  Hit up sites like the Huffington Post and Mashable.  They’ll tell you what’s going on, what people are talking about and even stuff you don’t want to know.
  3. Ask Others In Your Field – It might be big in your neighborhood, but the youth pastor one state over could have no clue.  By networking and connecting with other youth ministers you’ll learn about trends that aren’t on your radar.
  • Embrace Technology – There is a fine balance between entertainment and worship.  I’ll admit I’ve used technology because I was WOW’d by it and didn’t answer the question, “How does this help me communicate God’s message effectively.  But, we need to embrace technology because our teens are tech saturated.  If we can show them healthy use of technology that can translate for them.
  • Look For Transferable Principles – You might not feel like you are running a business; however, in a small way it’s reality.  Your teens can be like clients, employees, potential voters and the list goes on.  Don’t be afraid to study other fields of business to gain an understanding of how to do yours better.
  • Do Not Fear Tradition – If it’s old we tend to reject it and throw it away.  I’ve found using some of the life long traditions of my faith in student ministry has been effective.  If something has withstood the test of time, then it’s got to have relevance.  All you need to do is find the right time to participate in them and clearly explain their purpose to the teens.
  • Make It Relational – Relationships keep relevancy because of trust.  If I trust you and you trust me then you aren’t going to have a problem with me showing you something.  When you fake it and try to put on a performance teens will see right through it, so embrace the authenticity of a real relationship.

You don’t have to be cool, hip or “with it” to serve teenagers; however, you have to be aware of what’s relevant and what is not.  What’s important is to be aware of the world that’s changing around you.  Embrace it, study it and listen.  When you feel confident with the culture you can share that with the teens.  And that’s something they want…confidence.

How do you stay relevant?