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Has A Youth Worker's Influence Shrunk?

Youth Ministry


excerpted from YouthMinistry360:

In conversation after conversation with youth workers, I hear one theme repeated over and over. It's articulated differently, but at its heart, the message is the same:

Many youth workers seem to feel their ability to influence teenagers may be lessening.
I don't have any data here. It's simply an observation I have come to based on the many (and awesome) encounters we get to have with youth workers. And I need to be very clear: I am NOT saying that the youth workers whom I encounter are less capable of influence. On the contrary, I am routinely blessed by the amazing people who devote their lives, or at least large parts of their lives, to journeying with teenagers as they deepen their faith. This is not about a failure on the part of youth workers. It seems the factors I hear over and over again are more environmental.

What are these factors leading to this perceived shrinking of influence? As I have tried to look for trends in the conversations we have, I think it boils down to a few things:

Time: Teenagers are busier now than ever before. With athletics (not only school but travel-teams), the increased demands of school, clubs and other extra-curricular activities, jobs, and so on, youth workers actually have less face-to-face time to influence students through relationships. 

Noise: What I mean by noise is a competition for attention. In his book You Lost Me, David Kinnaman calls this "Access." Our teenagers are constantly connected (nearly 60% of US teenagers have a smart phone) and therefore are constantly exposed to a landslide of voices, messaging, and opinions. The youth worker of a generation ago was a main source of truth and wisdom. While the youth worker of today is no less wise, there is unbelievable competition for teenagers' attention.

Culture: I am no alarmist, but let's face it: the culture our teenagers are growing up in is not exactly an environment that is conducive to absolute truth, monotheism, and so on. So, by nature of this cultural affect on students, they may be predisposed to give less weight to a voice that is in conflict what much of what they experience in their worlds.

I'm sure we could come up with more factors. The point is that it seems to me that many youth workers are experiencing a drop off in opportunities for face-to-face, relational influence, and that when they get these opportunities, they're finding it's more difficult to break through.

If this is the case, what can we do about it?

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