I found an interesting post on why teenagers enjoy eating fast food. It got me thinking about what we (youth workers) can learn about why teenagers might enjoy being involved in a youth ministry. Look at a few of the reasons noted for why teens like fast food…
The food is affordable.
The place is comfortable and safe to hang out
They can choose what they want.
Affordable = cheap.
Most youth ministries have many, many events that are free or low cost. Do more teens come out to events because they are free or low cost?
Comfortable and safe.
There are not too many ministries out there who are not trying to be a safe place for teens. Does it count as comfortable to have couches and games? Do more teens come to a youth ministry event because the couches are comfortable?
Choose what they want = get their way.
There are options. We have a small group on Wednesday, basketball on Tuesday, outreach on Thursday and a youth service on Friday night. Does that sound like enough choices for a teenager? Is that what draws a teen to a youth ministry event, the fact that they can go to something they want to?
I think if we look at youth ministry the same way the fast food industry looks at itself, we are going to find ourself in trouble.
Yeah, teens will come to events that don’t cost much. But if that is all they are coming for or to then you might find yourself with a teen who isn’t growing. (with the obvious exception of Bible studies/small groups which don’t usually cost much to attend) Maybe the concern shouldn’t be on the need to have cheap events, but on having quality events. If you can’t do many quality events without charging the students more than you want, then try doing less events – just make the quality. Remember teens will go to more expensive places to eat, just not everyday.
Feeling comfortable is very subjective. The methods you use that make “Timmy” comfortable may make “Tony” very uncomfortable. As a ministry, you cannot expect to do the same thing for every student and achieve the same results. (but isn’t that so much easier to do?) Accept the students for who they are. Make sure they know you are concerned about them and want to know about who they are (ie hobbies, sports, interests…). Use their names whenever possible.
Of the three, I think the multiple options is the hardest for a ministry. Unless you are a large youth ministry, it is difficult to have systems in place to “appeal” to a wide range of likes and interests. Maybe the choices aren’t always as easy to see. Maybe the teenagers get to help pick out the music you listen to on a trip. Maybe you allow them to pick the place you stop to get gas or pick up food. Maybe you let them help you decide which topics to teach or how long you teach them. Even at a fast food restaurant the choices are limited to a relatively small menu board.
And really, do you want to be like those fast food places and give the teens a “mildly fulfilling” stock product?
In the end, I don’t think youth ministries need to try to be like McDonald’s or Wendy’s and especially not Taco Bell. But who says we can’t learn something as we drive-thru.