My 17 year old is studying multiple languages and chemistry over summer break just to get a jump start, she thinks calculus is fun, and she reads complex literature in her spare time. The truth is that she’s really not that unusual. This is what today’s high school students do.
Like [apparently] everyone else I watched the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why last week.
I actually started watching it a couple weeks back but stopped after the first episode, it just wasn’t for me. But I watched the other 12 episodes in two days as I was traveling to New Jersey.
It was an intense couple of days.
With that in mind…
Here are 13 thoughts about the series
Historically, youth ministry has always been a young adults game. For many their first foray into working on staff at a church/parachurch, or even a first real professional job of any kind, comes with a call to youth ministry.
As I’ve gone to youth ministry conferences and youth pastor meet-ups over the years they always seem dominated by folks in their 20s and 30s.
Sometimes life gives you glimpses of cultural progress.
I got one of them yesterday. In a Facebook group I’m part of a youth worker posted this question:
Any suggestions on how to handle homosexual or bisexual relationships in the group. We have a new attendee that I want to be careful with teaching in love but not ignoring what God says about it.
Now, the question itself is contemporary– I’m not knocking the question, stick with me.
Lots of churches, particularly churches in less populated parts of the country, are just now engaging with the question for the first time.
The answer I gave in that thread, “How do you treat other relationships? Same diff.” is not considered a controversial one. It’s not a liberal, progressive, or even conservative answer– It’s just a common answer.
But that same answer? It was very controversial just a few years ago. When I gave a very similar answer in the Love is an Orientation DVD in 2011 it was pretty edgy. I actually had to get clearance from the non-profit I was working at to say it. There were meetings, lots of meetings, hand-wringing, fretting, vetting, and questions about if my private position should be “our” public position before they finally said it was fine for me to appear in the training videos, much less offer that advice.
This is what progress looks like on a micro level. 6 or 7 years ago the majority of church youth groups would have either not have ever experienced that question or would have an answer born out of textbooks instead of their own practical, street, theology. But today? Even relatively conservative evangelical churches in small towns would agree with the advice I gave.
Why Progress Matters
This morning, as I was thinking about this question I had a little bit of a flashback to questions I got interviewing at churches 15 years ago… questions that seem so completely foreign that we forget how fast culture progresses.
- “What do you think about mixed bathing?” — In 2002, I had multiple churches ask me if I thought it was OK, from a biblical perspective, if teenage boys and girls could be in the pool at the same time.
- “What do you think about mixed dating?” — Again, in 2002, I had multiple churches ask me if I thought it was OK, from a biblical perspective, if teenagers of different races or ethnicities dated.
In both cases these weren’t mainstream questions. But these were serious questions in interviews. Both the asking of the question and how I answered were significant matters for whether a church wanted to hire me. More importantly, I had to decide if I wanted to work in congregations where questions were still normative enough that they’d come up in a job interview with a youth pastor.
One thing is certain: Culture will continue to change and labels will continue to shift, too. Things which seem crazy to talk about today will one day be mainstream and in only 15 years will be so commonplace that we’ll assume you live in the sticks if your thoughts haven’t kept up. In fifteen years we won’t wonder about what to do with two girls holding hands in the back of the church van because… today’s 15 year olds will be the youth workers, they’ll know intuitively to treat everyone’s sexuality is treated the same, because that’s what they grew up with. It’s as native to them as their mobile phone is today, the question will feel as offensive to their sense of justice as the casual racism I was asked about.
The question for us is simply about posture. Are we ready to stay focused on our ministry regardless of changes in culture? Or are we going to hold onto “the culture we grew up with” to the detriment of the main focus of our ministry?
There’s a new fad that’s completely wholesome, brings people to church, and is 100% free. In that sense Pokémon Go is pure youth ministry gold.
But, like the 1849 Gold Rush, you’ll need to act fast because it won’t last long. I don’t see Pokémon Go lasting in the mainstream for very long… but it’ll be great while it lasts. (We’re talking weeks here… probably not months.)
What You Need to Know
Pokémon Go is a free app that takes Pokémon out of the realm of the Nintendo DS line of products, out of the trading card game, out of the holdover early-2000s geekery class, and puts the game into real life on your mobile phone. The game sends you out looking for Pokémon using augmented reality technology that’s been out several years but never truly taken off publicly in the way this game has.
- You have to walk around to play the game, finding characters and logging kilometers so your eggs hatch.
- You have to have the app open to play.
- In order to collect more Pokémon you need check in at Poké Stops to get more Poké Balls, the app has chosen millions of public landmarks, including just about every church.
Adults Are Kinda Freaking Out
Of course, since it involves kids/teenagers/game-loving-adults and phones plus being outdoors… adults are kind of freaking out.
For the most part people who aren’t playing it seem to fall into two camps:
A. Genuinely amused to see people wandering around playing the game. (This is from a high school friend’s Instagram feed, language warning…)
B. Dismissive & Issuing Warnings
- Pokémon Go is everything that is wrong with late capitalism (Vox)
- Cops warn Pokémon Go players: Please don’t trespass to catch ‘em all (Ars Technica)
- How crazy is the Pokemon Go craze in the Bay Area? (San Jose Mercury-News)
Here on my blog you know I write frequently about things to look out for with social media apps. And yes, I could point out the security concerns or the semi-obvious-COPPA compliance issues.
But you know what? Let’s just go with this one. It’s simple, it’s fun, it’s pretty harmless, it’s getting millions of people out walking around in our communities, (the absolute BEST thing you can do to make a neighborhood safe is people out walking around!) and people are enjoying it.
Let’s set aside the concerns and just enjoy it. I mean, we let small children play with sparklers on the Fourth of July, right? It’s that kind of dangerous. Yes, somebody is going to poke an eye out or find a dead body. But most people are just going to have fun with it… so let’s have fun, too.
[Literally, you grant so many apps with the exact same types of access to your phone’s private information, I’m a bit shocked at the backlash about privacy. I mean, you can probably trust this company more than you can trust the random free photo filter apps you’ve got that use your Google account to login.]
Some Ideas for Youth Ministry
I think this little cultural phenomenon is a great way for your ministry team to connect and get to know people. Think build relationships and not evangelism.
First, if you haven’t already, go ahead and download the free app so you know what the heck everyone is talking about. Spend an hour playing it, at least get to Level 5, you might as well do this as a staff since it’s not just a kid thing… pretty much everyone is playing it. (It’s the most popular iOS app right now. It’s user base is closing in on Twitter after just 6 days on the market.)
It’s kinda big right now.
Second, see if your church is a Poké Stop. You’ll probably already know that because there have been cars stopping in front of your church or people walking up to your church’s sign for a week.
Third, if you notice people are dropping by to visit your Poké Stop, grab a lawn chair and go sit outside for a while to watch and enjoy. Wave, have fun with it. You don’t have to understand it to enjoy the phenomenon. I mean, when was the last time this many people just randomly swung by the church?
Hack the system: You can combine the first idea with the third. Sit out by the Poké Stop and play the game… if you don’t understand something, ask one of the people walking by for help. (Nerds are helpful!)
Fourth, serve ’em.
Here’s a few ideas off the top of my head:
- Put out a candy dish. Get some Poké Balls, maybe an egg, and get a free lollipop? WHAT!?!?!?! I love that church!
- Buy a bunch of battery chargers and lend them out. (The app uses a lot of power, a little charger is like $10. Get 5-10 of them and lend them out.) Sure, you might lose a couple. But you might be surprised.
- Put out bottles of water. Did you know to hatch an egg you’ve got to walk 5 KM? (3.2 miles!) Put a cooler out with free waters next to your stop, or just a jug and some cups with ice water, pretty much free and a great way to communicate you like nerds.
- Offer something simple like a free tour of the sanctuary. Chances are these players have never been in a church! Show them all the technology you use or show them what everything is in your sanctuary. Keep it short and sweet, but also keep in mind they need to walk 5 KM to hatch an egg, so they need to walk around. Oh, you’ve got A/C? Even better!
- Offer free (side) hugs. We’ve even made a t-shirt for this one.
- Host a Pokémon Go meet-up. You’ve got space available, right? Get all the players together and let them nerd out. (Since your whole staff plays, they might even enjoy this!)