Book Review: Youth Ministry 3.0, by Mark Oestreicher
Mark Oesteicher, aka "Marko", in his new book, confronts our commonly held assumptions on youth ministry and offers prophetic guidance on moving forward that can benefit greatly the new evangelization. He launches into this project with these disturbing words: "The problem is this: The way we're doing things is already not working. We're failing at our calling. And deep down most of us know it. This is why we need an epochal shift in our assumptions, approaches, models and methods." Youth Ministry 3.0 proposes to help guide 21st Century youth ministry into just such an "epochal shift".
Adolescence is a recent phenomenon. In the last 100 years we have watched at the holding period between childhood and adulthood has increased, from G. Stanley Hall's mere 18 months in the early 1900's to 15 years of adolescence today, starting with puberty and ending in one's 20s! This lengthening in of adolescence caused the evolution of youth culture in America. Knowing the experiences that define the adolescent years are crucial to responding authentically in youth ministry.
There are three main phases of adolescent development: Identity (Who am I), Autonomy (How am I unique), and Affinity (Where do I belong). Marko uses these 3 phases to locate major shifts in youth culture and our ministry response. Early teen culture (1940's-1960's) was about answering the Identity question as they processed their own life experiences inside and outside the home. Youth culture shifted to prioritize Autonomy (1970's-2000), with Church helping them carve out their own uniqueness and contribution.
As youth culture has progressed beyond Identity and Autonomy to Affinity, the Church is still answering the first two questions.
"We adjusted to the first change in priorities (from identity to autonomy), but we've been slow in our response to the second change (from autonomy to affinity). Youth ministries are built on assumptions and values and methods that are outdated for the teenagers we passionately want to serve today."
Youth Ministry 1.0 was dominated by guys like Billy Graham, evangelists in suits and ties who stood in packed halls and preached for hours to the youth. While the messages were largely condemning of the then-emerging youth culture, they still took the young people seriously and responded to them in a manner that attracted the youth. This era of youth ministry "was primarily proclamation-driven. Small groups didn't really exist yet... Youth ministry was primarily about preaching to teenagers."
Youth Ministry 2.0 marks the shift to relational ministry, the birth of formal church-based youth ministry and of youth industries and marketing. Youth culture became confident as it became commoditized. It's priority shifted to autonomy, as the culture, sure of its identity, pushed back against, and defined itself in opposition to, adult society. Youth ministry was now program-driven, focusing on "Discipleship and Creating a Positive Peer Group" (hence the birth of Youth Specialties and Life Teen, Inc., etc.).
Youth Ministry 3.0 requires something different from us. Now youth culture is the dominant culture in America: moms in skinny jeans, dads with tattoos, kids and adults sharing similar media habits, and the stats that teens have the highest discretionary income in the U.S.!
This shift has 3 parts: a pop-y, public face that is shared with adults; a private, subterranean face that teens keep to themselves; and the splintering of youth culture. There is no longer one dominant form of youth culture, no more social hierarchy. "The desire for autonomy was so successful (in a way) that it created an affinity vacuum. A monolithic youth culture (or youth group, for that matter) was no longer able to meet the affinity needs of teenagers."
Marko believes 3.0's main driver, he says, it is "...not-driven. It's time to do away with being driven or driving... Instead, let's say: Present."
While Catholics have copied Protestant youth groups for 50 years (our previous youth ministry being Catholic high schools) and have played down our ancient traditions, the emergent church movement is picking them back up! We need to return to our abundant traditions in order to re-evangelize and catechize our youth.
In sum, get this book and let it bother you.