Life as a teen in America today really is different than it was twenty years ago. Most churches are struggling to reach teens. Much of this struggle comes from the church’s lack of understanding of the postmodern worldview. The vast majority of teens in America have a postmodern worldview. Postmodern teens think differently and act differently than past generations.
How does a postmodern teen think?
A synopsis of postmodern thinking can be found in George Barna’s book, The Seven Faith Tribes, on page 209. Barna writes, “This is the most commonly held worldview in the United States today. It maintains that there is no “meta-narrative” or grand story that explains life and reality or gives it purpose. Each person makes decisions about how to live based on feelings and experience. Nobody has the right to dismiss any of those decisions as wrong or inappropriate. Morality is a private matter, and if a choice is deemed right by someone, it is therefore right for that person and others must be tolerant of that choice. Life is a random series of subjective experiences, and a person’s ultimate purposes are comfortable survival and personal expression. The things that matter most in life are having experiences and relationships. One may believe in the existence of God but cannot compel anyone else to do so.”
In light of this viewpoint, when teaching postmodern teens:
1. Be prepared to discuss deep and complex issues. Today’s teens are not interested in a light devotional. If they have made the effort to come to your Bible study or youth group, it means they want to wrestle with the tough questions about life and discover deep answers to life’s perplexing problems. They want to know why evil exists or why there is suffering in the world. They want to know why God lets bad stuff happen to good people if God really is so powerful.
2. Wrap the entire lesson around a single scripture passage if at all possible. Using a large number of additional verses that are not part of the main text is actually counter-productive. This is because most postmodern teens are biblically illiterate. They don’t know all the Bible stories, nor where the books of the Bible can be found. Jumping around from passage to passage is very confusing to them. Most teens are not convinced that the Bible is without error. So giving them additional verses actually does not convince them any more than just giving them one passage on a subject. Postmodern teens are curious about spiritual things and they do want to know that the Bible says about various issues, it may just take awhile before they accept it as truth.
3. It is vitally important that interactive and experiential methods are used to teach today’s teens. Postmodern teens do not just want to sit and listen to someone else talk. They want to experience something. It is important to interact with them during a lesson. Interview one of them or ask questions for them to discuss. If music is going to be used, consider using a music video that will engage their eyes as well as their ears. If music is going to be sung by the group, make sure it allows the teens to talk TO God, not just ABOUT God. Let them clap, hold hands or dance. They want to interact with the leader and each other. They want to experience the lesson, not just listen to it.
4. Use technology (videos, power point, etc.) Most of today’s teens grew up surrounded by technology. It is the only way many of them know how to learn. Use this to your advantage and become good at utilizing these tools. Technology can also be used to encourage discussion and Bible study before or after the lesson. Facebook or MySpace are great tools for posting review questions or to start follow up discussions from lessons. If you don’t know how to use technology, invest some time in learning how.
5. Use stories from your own life, especially about your failures and weaknesses. Most postmodern teens grew up in a culture of brokenness. They relate well to your own journey toward wholeness. There is a good chance their parents are divorced. One out of three of the girls and one out of seven of the boys have been sexually abused. A large number of them have at least one parent who is suffering from some type of addiction. Life has been very hard on them even though they are still young. They need to know that there is hope. Sharing how your faith gave you hope is a very powerful teaching tool. By the way, sharing your own story is much more powerful than sharing an illustration you found in a book from someone else’s life.
6. Use “we” and “us” statements instead of “I” and “you” statements. Most postmodern teens want to “belong.” Use statements that help them feel part of the group instead of isolated from the group. Never create a “you” versus “them” atmosphere. They will perceive that as a judgmental attitude and it is unlikely that they will return. This desire to belong is also why they gravitate to larger groups. Three to five teens sitting in a circle staring at each other while a youth leader teaches is very uncomfortable for them. If you don’t have a big group, think of ways you can let your group interact with a larger group. Otherwise your group will eventually disintegrate.
7. Don’t ask them to make a commitment to something on the spot. Instead challenge them to think deeply for a period of time and then act on their reflective conclusion.
Teaching today’s teens is a greater challenge than ever before. But we must learn to overcome the obstacles and reach out to this vital section of our society. Research shows that only a small percentage of this age group has a relationship with Jesus Christ. Even worse, most of them simply are not going to come to a church until they have a relationship with someone already in the group. This means that we must build relationships with teens in order to be able to effectively teach them.