I was in class last week from Saturday through Thursday, out of town. Because I’m a seasoned traveler, I charged my shaver. Upon arrival at the hotel I discovered that its usefulness had expired. Clickety-click. No lights. No brrrrrrrrzzzzzzz. Crap.
Because I am only nominally an adult, I have never learned the art of shaving with a blade. I don’t care, shut up. I needed an electric shaver. There was a time that I might have gone to the store and bought the best available shaver at the store. Or two stores, to compare. Or I could have blindly sought out the Remington brand because some adult I knew as a kid had one.
But I didn’t do that.
I marched into CVS on the hunt for the crappiest shaver available for the least dollars. Success! The Vivitar 3-ring, or some such. A full $11. This is about youth ministry–stay with me. It was absolute garbage. Fully charged AND plugged in, it could barely make it through a shave. And it made the same sound as when you leave a spoon in your bowl reheating soup in a microwave.
Why would I do that?
Because I knew that in a matter of moments online I could find the perfect alignment of my shaver budget, water-proofiness, razor head angle, charge life, and my face. And free 2 day shipping. Because I have a device in my pocket that contains all the world’s knowledge and I do not use it to take pictures of food and look at cute kitty cats.
I am a professional consumer.
I grew up when a good sales pitch still worked. Bought my first few cars from good sales pitches. There were times when I would ask someone at the store what they knew about a given product, because I did not. And in all of those cases, the salesperson involved steadfastly insisted that their version of whatever it was happened to be the best one.
Today all of that has changed–the consumers know everything, and, in many cases, the sales people know nothing about what they’re selling.
What’s that got to do with youth ministry? Nothing and everything.
I’m not going to call out youth ministry on the whole as being poor salespeople to increasingly sharp spiritual consumers with state-of-the-art BS detectors. But you know that last part is true. And if we’ve been getting by on well-intentioned, good-hearted youth ministry that’s simply trying to pass down what we’ve always known, we’re about to be dead in the water. If we don’t know why we believe what we believe, we’re sinking. And if we’re not living it, breathing it, and being transformed by it, it’s over. The mystery dies with us and we’ve lost that with which we were entrusted.
I’m not suggesting that what we believe is wrong. Or that Sears doesn’t sell the finest vacuums in these United States. But we need to change our sales pitch, because having memorized the info card for our product isn’t good enough anymore. Few are buying in to the faith because it seemed to work for dad. Because finally and blessedly the culture in which we are ministering isn’t always taking sides on issues or chasing a well-developed brand but seeking to know why, a change we need to actively embrace. We need to stop counting them and start teaching them to ask the right questions in the right places. Become their spiritual Google. There’s risk in dismissing the concept of quota–“How many youth were here last night?” isn’t going anywhere. But if we can learn to count it pure joy when a kid leaves your group because he or she has been equipped to seek God and is genuinely finding God taking them somewhere new, we’ll experience a break-through in our product line. Disciples, for the transformation of the world.