Digital Life – A Youth Group Study Now Available

This week over 4,000 youth from United Methodist Churches around the country will be gathering for Youth 2015 in Orlando. As part of the follow-up to presentations I will be making at the event, today I am releasing a free PDF that examines four critical issues facing today’s youth.  Digital Life – a Youth Group Study is designed for use by youth groups and it also can be used as a resource for small groups, for parent groups, and as an outline for a sermon series.

Here are the four key issues covered in this material:

Lesson One: Screen In
Today’s world is filled with screens. Whether at the store, school, home, in a restaurant, car, or even church, the screens on smartphones, tablets, computers, and TV monitors provide a constant stream of images and sounds designed to capture our attention. This lesson is designed to help youth explore how they use digital media and to discover how this affects the way they live on a daily basis.

Lesson Two: Face-to-Face
As youth spend more time on their techgear (smartphones, computers, and tablets), they spend less time in face-to-face conversations. While texting, emails, and messaging may be convenient, when it comes to serious matters, nothing is better than face-to-face interactions where we learn how to read and interpret non-verbal cues, a skill that is essential for developing ongoing, healthy relationships. This lesson explores the importance of face-to-face conversations.

Lesson Three: Branded
Through the use of digital technology, companies make a profound impact on the lives of teenagers. They now have the ability to track individuals through sophisticated online monitoring. Companies can now send ads and messages tailored to specific individuals. This lesson explores how youth experience and understand brands.

Lesson Four: Distracted
One of the most dangerous intersections in the world of digital technology is the car. This lesson explores the dangers of texting and driving as a way to explore the larger issue of how youth and adults live in a distracted state of being. The one myth to explode is the idea that multitasking is a good way to get things done. In the digital age, learning how to focus on one thing at a time is an important skill for mental, physical, and spiritual development.

Additional materials, including a presentation and handouts are also available for your use.

Use the link above (iKids Group Studies/Downloads) or click here to go to these materials.

The Problem with “Nones”

Over the years, the Christian community has been very creative in the terms it uses to categorize people who are not coming to church. “Unbelievers” was in vogue in the 1960s and 1970s. These were the people who did not believe in Jesus. The church’s job was to convince them to believe by using tracts like the “Four Spiritual Laws” to change their minds. In the 1980s and 1990s, the term “seekers” was used to describe people who did not come to church but were interested in spirituality of some kind. So churches created seeker services that did not expect attendees to do anything but listen to a band play contemporary music, watch video clips, and listen to a message with fill-in-the-blank outlines. The goal was to help people become seekers of Jesus.

Now the people who do not affiliate with a particular faith tradition or go to church are called the “nones.”   According to Pew Research Center’s recently released study on America’s Changing Religious Landscape, which reported on the rapid decrease in people who are part of mainline Protestant churches, the number of the religiously unaffiliated adults, the so-called “nones,” has increased by 19 million people since 2007. Now there are approximately 56 million religiously unaffiliated adults in the U.S., which makes them larger then Catholics or mainline Protestants. While 11% of older adults are in this category, more than 36% of young adults do not participate in a religious faith community.

The most damning finding from the survey is that while 85% of adults were raised as Christians, a quarter of these no longer claim a religious affiliation. Former Christians now represent 19% of the U.S. population. This is in contrast to mainline Protestants, who have declined from 18% of the population to 11% since 2007.

In my mind, the use of the term “nones” is a convenient term that lets the church off the hook. We can say they aren’t coming to our churches because they have lost their faith or because they don’t believe in anything. I believe that “the nones” is a pejorative term to use for a group of people who don’t buy into our notion of what it means to follow Jesus. For those us who are steeped in the theology of John Wesley, the idea that someone is a “none” is completely foreign to the concept of prevenient grace (before a person knows Jesus, God’s grace is present in his or her life).

I think people have turned away from the church because of “us.” Maybe they have chosen not to participate in church life because they are not interested in our unrelenting debates about who is “in” and who is “out.” Instead of finding our houses of worship places of grace, they have encountered toxic personalities they do not want their children to emulate. Could it be they can better live out their faith without having to put up with people whose goal in life is to get rid of the pastor who doesn’t measure up? Or maybe they refuse to listen to preaching that constantly judges them and their friends’ lifestyles as being sinful and unchristian.

In all the articles that have tried to shed light on this issue, the one by Reba Riley on “Losing My Religion: America’s ‘Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome” hit me the hardest.  She says, “I see thousands of stories of brokenness. I see the millions of people who crash into religion when they go looking for God. I see people so tired of being spiritually bruised that they give up on faith altogether.”

She brings home a point that is often lost in the desire to fix blames. “People who leave or are left by their faith lose a lot more than a place to go on Sunday morning. They lose relationships with family and friends, social status, tribal approval, self-esteem.  They lose their God, their identity, their certainty, their gravity.”

This week, I have been hanging out with Paul Moon, the founding pastor of BrokenBuilders, a United Methodist Church birthed in Manhattan six years ago. The church now has three sites and six worship services. The primary attenders are young adults, the group that is missing from the vast majority of our churches. The Rev. Moon says the number one goal for the church is to create safe communities. Rather than launch worship services or small groups, the starting point at BrokenBuilders is creating space for community to form. People who gather in these spaces can be anything: Buddhist, Muslim, agnostic, gamers, or Christian. It doesn’t matter. As people identify shared interests, they may start a yoga class, launch a theatre group, or create a worship experience.

The leader’s role is not to create a program or run people through a series of Bible classes. Instead it is to pray constantly and to give room for the Holy Spirit to touch peoples’ lives. Moon says, “We should acknowledge we don’t have any influence over young people in their culture. Our role is to ask the Holy Spirit to come and work in their lives. We are called to create space for people to experience the grace of Jesus. Transformation is not our goal; it is a byproduct of our experience with God.”

So as we grapple with a growing population of young people who have left the church or who have never been part of the church, perhaps prayer and seeking God’s wisdom is the place to start — not with rollouts of new programs or initiatives to reach the “nones,” but with humility and a self-awareness that causes us to take stock of our own attitudes, actions, and words that hurt, damage, and destroy people’s faith in God. It could be that a lot more of us than would care to admit are very close to joining America’s fastest growing religious group.

Who is Tending to the Minds of Our Boys?

”An intelligent mind acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.”

Proverbs 18:15

As I entered the local Barnes & Noble bookstore the other day I was greeted by a beautiful table covered with books with and an inspirational sign that said, “Inspiring Stories for Unstoppable Girls.”   Try as I might, I could not find a similar display for boys.

I first encountered this bias in our publishing and book world when my daughter, who is now in her twenties, got her first American Girl book back in the late 1990s.   Started by the Pleasant Company, American Girl books tell the stories of characters like Kirsten Larson, born in 1854, a Swedish immigrant who settles in the Minnesota Territory, and Josefina Montoya, a young Mexican girl living in New Mexico who was born in 1824.  The books come in a set of six books with colorful pictures, whose historical fiction is designed for 8-to-11 year-old girls. But the books are just the start. Girls can also buy dolls based on the books as well as furniture, clothes, and accessories. Bought by Mattel in 1998, the brand has expanded to include American Girl Stores, where girls can buy the books, dolls, and costumes as well as dine with their dolls in a specially themed restaurant.

As you might expect, American Girl has become a very profitable enterprise and has done a great job introducing girls to the world of books as a fun and lively experience, especially for those whose parents or grandparents can foot the bill for the dolls that cost over $100.00 each.

But you will not find an American Boy series of books or stores that help capture the imagination of boys. Somehow because they are boys, they are supposed to figure this out on their own without the encouragement of the book world. My son who is in his young teens has found some series to be interesting like the Percy Jackson books and 39 Clues. But other than that, few books capture his attention.

He and his friends would much rather play video games and talk about the characters in the games than discuss anything they would find in a book. It seems as a culture we have ceded the minds of our boys and young men to the influence of the creators of video games, whose most popular titles such as Call to Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and Bloodborne invite them into a world of violence and mayhem.

As parents, we see an ongoing battle for our boys’ minds. How do we get them to read when the publishing market is all too content to cater to girls? How do we balance boys’ desire to play video games, whose online interactive features encourage them to connect with one another, with the importance of reading for the development of their imaginations and learning to focus? Why is it when I Google “Books for Girls,” I find sites that talk about empowering girls, but when I Google “Books for Boys” I find sites that merely recommend good books or “great” books?

I don’t have a ready answer for this except to say that our boys need to be empowered as well. They need to feel they will be able to offer something positive to the world in the future. Just like today’s iKids girls, our iKids boys need to be encouraged to read during the most important period of brain development a human ever goes through, from ages eight to fifteen, when the brain develops its ability to think, to make decisions, to discern what is good and evil, to value relationships, and to make choices about faith and belief.

Craig Kennet Miller is the author of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age.  For more info go to http://iKidsgen.com

What “House of Cards” Teaches Churches

If you are a real fan of House of Cards, the political thriller staring Kevin Stacy as Frank Underwood, you will finish Season Three by the end of this week.  Last year 668,000 households finished the series in three days or less. Today Netflix releases season three with Underwood having ascended to the Presidency.

Two years ago Netflix changed entertainment as we know it by releasing all 13 episodes of season one season of House of Cards the first day. This revolutionary approach to TV directly challenged the broadcast model of rolling out a series by showing an episode a week. It also catered to the new way Americans like to watch their TV, binging on one series at a time.

In our busy, techgear distracted lives; there is something about immersing yourself in a story that is quite satisfying.   A generation ago, people would get this experience by reading a book. They would buy the latest blockbuster like Gone with the Wind or Shogun and read it late into the night. Today’s twenty-somethings can remember the pleasure of getting their hands on the latest copy of Harry Potter and locking themselves in their rooms until they made it through over 700 pages of text.

But rather than reading book, we inhale each TV series as the characters and images burrow deep into our consciousness. While broadcast TV is trying to combat this media trend by launching their own online services like CBS TV, the model of once a week viewing is going by the wayside.

The media habits of today’s children and youth (the iKids Generation born since 2000) are greatly affected by this approach as well. If their family has Netflix or Amazon TV, they are used to watching their favorite series, one show after another. They are very much growing up with the idea of instant entertainment at their beck and call whether at home, in a car, or eating at a restaurant. It almost doesn’t make sense to them that they would have to wait a week to see the next episode of their favorite series.

Most churchgoers view worship much like they approach entertainment.   For those who are older, going to church once a week at the same place and time is much like it was when they turned on the TV to watch their favorite show on a Sunday night. Worship is just part of the regular routine and schedule of the week.

Dawn Chesser, Director of Preaching Ministries at Discipleship Ministries says, “It is critical to keep pushing on the essentially corporate nature of worship, especially in an age of such individualistic lifestyles. The nature of binging in whatever form it comes is I do it when I want to and I do what I want to, according to MY schedule and MY particular taste. There is a lot of ME in there and not much we, and it is important to caution against thinking about worship as only being about ME.”

But what happens when people no long follow a routine for their entertainment options? One week they may watch House of Cards and the next last season’s Game of Thrones or The Good Wife.   And the next week they may take their child to see a movie after their child’s soccer game.

In fact the idea of a regular routine is also at risk. After all, when does the workday start and end? When we are 24/7 connected to the office or to our customers, work never ends.

To connect with our binge watching, routineless population churches will need to teach people that worship is not just another entertainment option. That worshiping with others matters.   Even more profound, worship is not about fulfilling our needs but engaging with others in the worship of God. It is a means of grace.  In the greater picture, binge watching is a symptom of a much greater issue, how we use our time.

Taylor Burton Edwards, Director of Worship at Discipleship Ministries says, “Using the means of grace matters — and it takes time to use them, time that will not be there if we do not actively encourage the participation of the people in all the means of grace, including corporate worship, but also searching the scriptures, personal and family prayer, fasting or abstinence, and the ministry of the word, read or expounded, to name just a few of those listed in the Third General Rule. Each has its own integrity, all are necessary, and of them, only corporate worship is corporate worship. Worship is not a lifestyle. Rather, worship symbolically represents the lifestyle we are to have as members of Christ’s body in the world.”

Perhaps the closest we get to binge worship is Holy Week, when a person can walk with Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, can dine with him on Maundy Thursday, can die with him on Good Friday, and can celebrate him on Easter.  Of course, people still need to show up at the right place and time, but if they do they will embrace the totality of Jesus’ meaning and purpose in their lives.

Foremost in all of this is the story. Whether its House of Cards or a blockbuster book, what grabs our attention and solicits our passion is a powerful story that compels us to experience human emotion and challenges us to look at our lives in a new light.   While many of us will indulge in 13 hours of Frank Underwood and his devious ways, a greater story is taking place during this season of Lent as Christians immerse themselves in the story of Jesus. Not just to hear a story, but to live changed lives.

Three Takeaways:

  1. See worship as part of the corporate lifestyle of living in Christian community
  2. Live the means of grace throughout the week through small groups, missional encounters in your community, prayer, and connections through social media
  3. Embrace binge worship by marketing all the worship experiences from Palm Sunday through Easter as Holy Week so people can connect the dots. Offer all the services. If you have a small staff, just opening the church for silent prayer on Good Friday gives people an opportunity to live the story.

For resources on Holy Week:

Holy Week Resources from Discipleship Ministries

Holy Saturday on Twitter

 

The Diverse iKids of CA

 A significant change is taking place in California that signals a remarkable shift in its population. In times past, California’s population growth came from outside the state. After WWII, huge numbers of people drove west on Highway 66 from Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, and other mid-western states to move to the golden state. “California here I come”, was a popular line for a song extolling the benefits of its weather, jobs, and an opportunity to reinvent yourself.

Starting in the 1980s a new wave of people arrived from outside the state, this time from countries like Mexico, China, the Philippines, Tonga, and El Salvador. These first generation immigrants brought with them their rich cultures, foods, traditions, and languages that have transformed California into a creative tapestry that makes it a hub of innovation, diversity, and change.

But since 2000, the inflow of new residents has plateaued. This is most clearly seen in the population of its youngest generation. Since 2000 of 90% of the iKids Generation, those born since 2000, were born in California. Dowell Myers, in a USC Price report on “California’s Diminishing Resource: Children,” says, “Almost all CA children are born and raised in the state, unlike in past decades when many migrated from other states or nations. As these children grow into adulthood, they are beginning to remake the state. The historic transition to a “homegrown” majority is so recent, that its significance is not yet appreciated.”

While over 29% of California iKids have a least one parent who was born outside the United States, over 90% of them are Second Generation Americans. When looking at ethnicity some surprising information emerges. 91% of Whites, 94% of Blacks, 95% of Latinos, and 85% of Asians and Pacific Islanders iKids were born in California.

What does this mean for the future?

  1. In the past California’s growth was based on the inflow of new people from outside the state. Now is growth will be determined by the success of its own homegrown children. Economic success in the future will be based on how well California educates, trains, and equips its own children.
  2. While 52% are of Latino descent and 11% are of Asian descent, these Second Generation Americans see the world much differently from their parent’s generation. Churches, businesses, and educational institutions should realize the young Latinos and Asians of California are different than their parents. For most of them their primary language is English, they resonate with the American popular culture, and they share an American worldview.
  3. Because there are less people coming from outside the state, the percentage of children to the overall population is going down. This will be most clearly seen in the coming decades as the older adult population will skyrocket. In 2010 there were 22 senior adults per 100 people age 25 to 64. By 2050, when this generation will be in their prime earning years, there will be 46 older adults over 65 per 100 people who are 25 to 64.

Another study from the Pop Dynamics Research Group at the University of Southern California focused on the importance of developing intentional strategies for Second Generation Americans as they enter what they call the “Training Age” from age 18 to 24. This is when young adults go to college, trade schools, and have their first experience of work. From 2010 to 2030, 98% of the job growth in California will be attributed to Second Generation Americans. The study says, “This underscores how vital the second generation will be both as a source of labor forces and as the major source for replenishing the work force that would otherwise be depleted through increasing numbers of retirements.”

One of the primary places this information impacts is on California’s churches whose primary strategy over the years has been to reach newcomers to the state.  In the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s the focus was on welcoming people from other states who carried with them mid-western worldviews and  were primarily white and black.  In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the focus was on reaching new immigrant populations by offering ministries in their native languages and who reflected the cultural heritage of the country from where they came.

Today’s generation of young people under the age of 30 in California are Second Generation, homegrown residents. They are the ones who are finding it difficult to find a place in California’s overcrowded colleges, who carry with them huge student dept, and will find it difficult to find housing in an expensive and competitive real estate market.  The future of the church will depend on its ability to connect with its homegrown population.  To reach this generation churches will need to pivot their approach to focus on the cultural norms and expectations of a diverse young adult and youth population whose main identity is Californian.  Not the California of the past, but a new California whose values and worldview is being re-imaged by a Second Generation whose cultural diversity defines them.

iKids Presentations Ready to View

Six 30-minute presentations on iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age are now available for your viewing.  Each prerecorded webinar takes you through a series of slides and images that will allow you to go deeper into the iKids material as you think about the implications of digital technology in the lives of those born since 2000.

Led by Craig Kennet Miller, the author of iKids, the presentations are based on the iKids book and the Six Values for the Digital Age PDF, a free downloadable study guide designed for use with small groups, Sunday School classes, and group meetings.

Go to https://ikidsgen.com/ikids-webinars/ 

Or click on the “iKids Presentations” Tab at the top of this page to access the material.

iKids Group Study Update

An updated version Six Values for the Digital Age: A Group Study based on iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age is now available.  Its been great getting feedback from those who have used it and those who are planning to use it in a variety of ways.  Some will be doing a series on Wednesday evenings, others are using it as a blueprint for a sermon series, and some are using it with small groups and Sunday School classes with parents.

What is Six Values? It is a free PDF download designed for use by parents and adults in church small groups and Sunday School classes who want to discuss the ideas found in iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age. The study is sure to produce lively discussions about the use of techgear (smartphones and tablets), how digital media influences family life, and how to balance the spiritual and digital lives of iKids in our homes and congregations.  It includes highlights from the iKids book and biblical passages for reflection.

Go to https://ikidsgen.com/small-group-studyteaching-helps/ or click on the iKids Study/Download tab and scroll down to Six Values for the Digital Age to download the PDF.