There are signs of a shift in how young people are participating in faith practices, that I am not sure 50 years of contemporary worship in Christianity and its influence in youth ministry will be able to shift from. (and to). In short, Youth Ministry in the UK has tended to have a gravitational pull towards gatherings of charismatic worship. Concert in style. But….
Whisper it quietly. But Young People are rejecting concert led, ‘contemporary’ worship. The stuff that looks like this. But in smaller doses and settings.
Despite the best efforts of all the people, and there are alot of people, who are the business of encouraging young people to find spirituality within this style of worship and practice of the christian faith. There are signs not only that young people are rejecting it, it is that they are maintaining a christian faith without it, and are exploring faith in a whole different way. In a way that provides meaning for them.
They are joining Choirs. They are happy in an anglican service. Liturgy is on the rise.
And, its not just here in the UK, not that one article ‘proves’ anything, but this is insightful: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/why-millennials-long-for-liturgy/
It is as if the old liturgy, that was replaced by ‘contemporary’ smoke machines, guitars (in 4 chords) and the band, and the entire ‘worship’ movement, is being returned to by young people.
From the article, this may be the reasoning: “If you ask me why kids are going high church, I’d say it’s because the single greatest threat to our generation and to young people nowadays is the deprivation of meaning in our lives,” Cone says. “In the liturgical space, everything becomes meaningful. In the offering up of the bread and wine, we see the offering up of the wheat and grain and fruits of the earth, and God gives them back in a sanctified form. … We’re so thirsty for meaning that goes deeper, that can speak to our entire lives, hearts, and wallets, that we’re really thirsty to be attached to the earth and to each other and to God. The liturgy is a historical way in which that happens.”
There is a reality to be faced. It is that Contemporary ‘worship’ when traced back became the rebellious act of the youth fellowships of the 1950’s and 1960s, and the underground alternative to Rock music, as Larry Norman sang, ‘why should the devil have all the good music’. Yet what became alternative, as an alternative culture, grew and became the staple and the mainstream. And subsequently the industry that maintains the ‘contemporary music’ movement has developed its own practice, some would even say that it is a religion in itself. There are times when the songs reflect ourselves singing and we worship the words and the band. What was a relationship, a movement has become its own self fulfilling religion, a religion of contemporary relevance.
Possibly, the only people who desire that young people go to ‘these things’ are parents. It is hardly a youth led movement as it once was- therefore it wont last, but its on its last legs anyway. And this isnt a new question.
Yet the desire for ‘contemporaryness’ is embedded in traditions, and implied in and through the practice of youth ministry. When conferences perform the same format, sing ‘new songs’ with a band of some sort, then liturgy , often prayer, silence, and reflection, and even Bible reading are nearly completely absent, its 40 minutes of singing and someones witty funny stories. (Conferences embed practice, and set the watermark. Its why spring harvest and soul survivior become implicitly influential). Let alone the physicality of movement, signs, symbols and connection with the cosmos. Often the rooms are dark and only lit by stage lighting. It is an industry in itself, and one wrapped up in its own religious practices.
It is a funny thing at the moment. The only people i see playing Pokemon Go! are youthworkers. Young people, the ones who were even playing at, gave up weeks and months ago. It is possible that the people dictating that contemporary-ness religion is part of the christian faith are those for whom are still playing it, not just youth ministers, but also parents and those for whom found faith in that same worship led movement, and so want it for their children. And who then see it as the mission strategy for other young people.
The reality to be faced, is if young people are on a search for meaningful, and finding it in liturgy, symbol, physicality then, whilst it would be easy to dismiss this as ‘spiritual’ but not religious, young people are doing this in a church in faith communities, and merely resorting to practices that contemporary worship scene left behind for what was thought to be better.
The question is, can ‘the worship scene’ adopting youth ministry adapt to a turn that young people might want ‘meaningful faith’ and this seems not to include the ‘folk worship’ led singing type service.
Would we be brave enough to suggest that those who find faith within this contemporary scene do so, and create identity in it, but that the statistics will say that these ‘events’ regionally and nationally are collapsing without an alternative that helps young people do meaningful (in their view) faith. Of course it would be spurius to look at the numbers who attend ‘youth events’ in the 1990s and compare them now and say that ‘there arent the young people’ what is more likely is that age has passed. Practice hasnt moved in the times, because the guitar still silently weeps in the youth ministers office. And i play one.
Of course, there will be some who might suggest that this is a heretical piece. But if you want to suggest that I am being anti Biblical, with the exception of a few references to singing ‘a new song’ and that David sang psalms, find the places where the blue print for contemporary worship is laid down in the Bible. Worshiping Jesus in spirit and truth, doesnt suggest guitars and a three verse song with an attractive bridge set in a minor chord. What is interesting is that churches that received commendations in Revelation, were for their good works, their love – it wasnt their worship. So it isnt evangelical to do worship in this way, its has just become the staple of evangelical. It would be evangelical to perform worship in the way Jesus would have us do it… so thats loose the captives, make disciples, freedom to the oppressed – even Luke 4 and Matt 28 barely reference worship in a sung variety. It is not that worship is not important, but that young people are reluctant to participate in the same ‘rock concert’ practices should inspire, and cause, youth ministry to reframe worship in a different way. And leave the guitars to Fall out boy, U2 and Coldplay. They use them better anyway.
But can youth ministry shift? , if its leaders and industry and identity is wrapped up in the norm of the contemporary worship scene, and the powers that maintain this, via the CD’s, the bands (which are disappearing) and worship music that keeps being updated.
Of course, the other reason young people might be rejecting these practices is that in the vast majority of churches that families find themselves in, contemporary worship has become the ideal and norm, as influenced through its industry and those conferences. What we mustn’t mistake is young people not participating in this form as losing religions, just not adopting these practices. Not that every young person acts in rebellion, but the thing they might do in faith, to be distinctive, might not be to copy the same, cranked up a notch, so they rebel by hitting the liturgy, candles and meditation. If youth ministry wants to say that its own contemporary music practices are ‘for’ young people, then i wonder how many of these types of events have actually been created with young people involved, often they do just turn up and conform to the music, and have they prioritised relevance over meaningful?
If young people are searching for meaning wrapped in life rhythm, in liturgy, in social action and participation – yet they ‘get’ same church done bigger, then its time for a rethink.
Young people it seems are not losing their religion, theyre not even losing their relationship with God, but are seeking practices that provide meaning. It cannot be dismissed that these traditional practices are not developing faith, or generating it, and for some they find meaning in the contemporary liturgy. Young people are developing a deepening relationship with God. If there is space for both, then challenging the norm of ‘contemporaryness’, and seeing ‘liturgy’ and ‘mediation’ as alternative, might be the first step for youth ministry.
Young People are not losing their religion, for The only religion that is being lost is that religion of contemporary music Christianity, but it will put up a fight, just wait till the next new CD is released. Youth ministry task is to embed a broad base of practices of worship, especially if young people are paving the way with a return to liturgy. It is almost as if they see the ageing rock gods on stage and want instead a grown up church….