A few weeks ago I was talking with a former youth group student who is now in his late 20s. He was sharing with me how it is really difficult trying to find a quality woman who loves God now that he is out of college, and in a community with few peers. For the New Year he has decided to take the plunge and take his chances with a dating website. As culture continues to change and as media becomes more and more personal, it seems that the trend is for people to hunker down and live out their lives online. Gone are the days where people actually go outside, meet up with friends, and do something together. Everything has become centered on the individual.
Individualism is king!
This trend is great when I think of the shows, movies, music, blogs, and news that I like to consume. I don’t have to bother people around me who would be annoyed with my passion for old skool Amy Grant. But for building community, for making new friends, and for finding a potential spouse (for my friend) this trend is making these things increasingly difficult.
Most of the younger youth workers I am in contact with have grown up in this culture and are totally comfortable doing a lot of their contact work through Facebook and Twitter. They have a strong presence online and are actually really involved in the online lives of their students.
But the more I have reflected on this trend, the more I am convinced that people in general, and youth workers specifically, are choosing to invest their time online. It makes sense: that is where students are and we want to meet them where they are at, so online it is. But while we can “connect” with more people more efficiently online, we are missing a huge part of the ministry equation.
No matter how slick your online presence is, so matter how empathetic, authentic, hip, available, whatever, it is still a one-dimensional way to connect. It is like my friend who is going to try online dating. He can take the best picture, create the most amazing profile, and actually come in contact with many women to date. But at the end of the day, it will be him, in real life, across the table with a young woman, who will determine if there is a future.
It is actual human interaction that creates the "sticky" in relationships:
Sometimes the work and effort that is put into websites, graphics, Twitter updates, and Facebook messaging is not that important. While we are attracted to those things at first, and those things often get people in the door, it is the real connections and interactions that provide the “sticky” for students. By “sticky” I mean, imagine the tiny hooks that are on velcro. Those are like relationship connectors, we can’t see them, but we can for sure tell when they are there or when they only appear to be there.
A one-hour lunch with a student, showing up and cheering on the sidelines, goofing off after church … these are the things that actually create relationship. In real relationships there is loyalty, empathy, love, joy, and potentially pain. These are the things that we must not give up in pursuit of this new generation.
Students think they don’t need other people and that their online community satisfies their needs. But that is not true. They are like a group of people who have never encountered salt. Sure, they know food, but they don’t know, know food. Add spices to your recipes and your food is transformed from a utilitarian exercise for calories, to an eye-opening experience.
With all our access to social networking, let us not succumb to culture too much in our attempt to connect with students. Let’s go old skool and bring back human interaction. It is much more difficult, but the connections and relationships that come from human interaction will be much deeper and stronger. And it is in this incarnational connection where God knits students to others and to himself.
So, let’s close down Facebook, grab some students, and go have some fun!