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Why innovate in youth work?

 

We are going through the biggest and fastest period of cultural change since the industrial revolution. What does this mean for youth work?

 

A fast-paced world

The world is changing – fast – every single day. What was new this week will feel out of date in a couple of months; in a few years’ time, the technology that we’re currently raving about will be regarded as positively prehistoric. Thanks to the digital revolution, and the sheer speed at which its influence is increasing and being felt, we are currently living through the most rapid and widespread period of societal change since the industrial revolution. It’s exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure.

Always-on Wi-Fi with fantastic download speeds; photo-realistic video games that immerse you through virtual reality headsets; huge instant-access libraries of film, books, music and other media; phones which fit the entire power of NASA circa-1990 in the palm of your hand. The list of signs and wonders of the age is endless.

 

This rapid change isn’t just affecting the way we store our media, play games or control our central heating though – it’s also leading to more profound social and behavioural change. The digital revolution affects how we communicate with each other, how we hear and share stories, how we learn; even how and where we congregate.

"Young people are at the forefront of all this change; they’re the natives of a digital culture and they’re also often the pioneers. Meanwhile adults and their institutions are racing to catch up."

Martin SaundersYouthscape Director of Innovation
 

The Internet – along with advances in micro-technology – really has changed everything: what we do, how we do it, and the tools with which we navigate our lives. Young people are at the forefront of all this change; they’re the natives of a digital culture and they’re also often the pioneers. Meanwhile adults and their institutions are racing to catch up – trying to adapt to this brave new world.

 
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The Church

And yet there’s one institution which consistently lags behind; which insists on hanging on to the old way of doing things. The Church, still seeking to reach all people, even in this culture, but mostly trying to do so through methods which were created before the digital revolution even began. As part of this, it offers ministry to those same young people whom culture is inviting to be dreamers and pioneers, which still largely looks the same as it did when church offered teenagers a fun alternative to four-channel TV and a cold park bench.

Sadly, this period of rapid development for the rest of the world is coinciding with the worrying decline of the church, and its engagement with teenagers in particular. Young people are walking away from the church every week; while in a post-Christian culture, many will never even darken its doors. The old ways of reaching young people simply aren’t working.

Before you despair at all this narrative of crisis, decline and out-of-touch thinking, there are also good reasons to feel hope. The message of Jesus Christ – saviour of all mankind – has not changed and will not go out of fashion. He is far above any cultural moment, and his essential message of love and redemption does not require any innovation or improvement. Our job is simply to find ways of making sense of following this same Jesus, to a new generation.

 
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This isn’t radical thinking. The Church has always innovated in order to help people connect with God, and to some extent, an exercise in contextualisation takes place in every generation. Christians were at the forefront of creative advances such as the printing press and even broadcast media. The ancient saints thought outside the box; the Apostle Paul was incredibly creative in how he shared the Christian message. We are simply joining the line of creative thinkers who have sought to build bridges between the world and the kingdom of God.

 

So in a world that has seen innovation on a massive scale – and continues to see it every day – youth ministry needs to embrace new ideas and new ways of doing things, and be prepared to risk everything in the process. Assumptions about the way we meet young people need to be cast aside; the tools we use must be assessed and reinvented.

"Youth ministry needs to embrace new ideas and new ways of doing things, and be prepared to risk everything in the process."

Martin SaundersYouthscape Director of Innovation
 

Lessons from innovators

We have plenty of lessons to learn from the way that the world’s great innovators – from Henry Ford through to Steve Jobs – have developed the ideas that have shaped the Internet age, and a robust theory and process of innovation is a key component of how they succeeded.

That’s why Youthscape is advocating so strongly for innovation: not because it’s the latest buzzword, but because it’s a vital key to reaching this generation of young people – and adults too for that matter. Borrowing from the kind of thinking that is currently shaping our world, and empowered by the x-factor element that even Apple can’t lay claim to – the Holy Spirit – we can innovate an exciting new future for the Church, and most importantly for an emerging generation of young people.

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