ASHEVILLE, N.C. (ABP) — Sometimes the best way to minister to youth is by offering them less, said veteran youth minister Sam Hestorff.
Youth ministry often contributes to the overwhelmingly busy lives of young people, said Hestorff of Bayshore Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla. He advised youth at his church to do more by doing less. He reduced youth time on Wednesdays to 30 minutes and started a study hall with church members as tutors.
Citing statistics from his doctoral research at Fuller Theological Seminary, Hestorff said Millennials — the generational cohort that includes today's youth — average 70 hours a week of school and extra-curricular activities.
“They are getting so fragmented, so compartmentalized, that they don't see how it all fits together,” Hestorff said. “The object of adolescence is to figure out who they are. They don't have any time to sit down and figure out who they are.”
This time crunch causes teens to give up church and youth group activities. By reducing the time required of Bayshore's youth, he said, he actually increased their involvement. “At least I get to see them now,” Hestorff said. “Before, they weren't even coming on Wednesdays.”
During a recent workshop devoted to youth ministry, sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Hestorff cited social trends among Millennials, those born between 1980 and 2002. He applied the trends to ministry, offering ways to shape church programs for youth in a contemporary setting.
“In the '80s, if you built it, they came,” said Hestorff, who is also the president of Professional Ministry Consultants Inc. “It's not true any more.”
Hestorff identified six trends: Millennials are too busy, all alone, stressed out, believers in relative truths, remaining in the period of adolescence longer, and connecting to peers through “clustering.”
Bayshore has a small-group-based model in which the teens have a group meeting in a home each week led by adult volunteers. Hestorff said the smaller group attracts young people because they are more accountable to their peers, and the groups are formed around natural affinities. And by utilizing volunteers, Hestorff has expanded his ministry.
“The church-growth movement killed the church,” Hestorff said. “As a result of that, we have church hopping. The attitude is ‘I'm going to the biggest and best thing out there.'”
The loneliness trend springs from feelings of parental and institutional abandonment, according to Hestorff. To combat it, churches and parents must not abdicate their responsibilities just because teens complain about them. Parents and youth ministers must stay involved in the lives of teenagers, Hestorff said.
The isolation Millennials feel, plus their busyness, leads to overwhelming stress, the third trend Hestorff identified. “This is the first generation of kids who are suffering from stress-related illnesses.”
Their stress comes from school, biological sources and family conflict, Hestorff said. Effective youth ministers have to deal with a range of stress that may come from all three sources.
The Millennials' worldview is much broader than that of teens even 10 years ago. Hestorff pointed to the influence of the Internet and a media-driven culture that is more multicultural, multireligious and multisensory. All of these inputs make it difficult for a teenager today to accept one, universal truth.
“When I was growing up, I barely knew anyone who was Methodist,” Hestorff said. “Now kids have friends who are Muslim. That's how they come up with the attitude of ‘your truth may not be my truth.'”
With the onset of puberty getting earlier and earlier and the age of adulthood moving later and later, Millennials will spend a longer time in this uncertain age of adolescence than previous generations, according to Hestorff. From a programming standpoint, churches have to see this trend and reach out to young adults across the full age range of 10 to “twentysomething.”
The final trend is how Millennials run around together. Hestorff called the new method of peer-group selection “clustering.” It begins at mid-adolescence and the goal is to be accepted. A cluster is usually no more than five to eight students and tends to be gender specific. A cluster is formed around a similar self-concept and parental attachment, Hestorff said.
“Kids are no longer looking for a group to hang around with,” he said. “They are looking for families.”