Amy Jacober
October 13th, 2020

Trends can be controversial. Why? Because what is a trend in one place, may not exist elsewhere. Trends, by their very nature, change rapidly. And, it can be difficult trying to keep up with them! For certain, trends aren’t what they used to be.

Gone are the days when all adolescents liked or knew the same things. There was a time when broadcast television reigned supreme and what everyone talked about was what was on tv last night. This gave way to narrowcasting and the advent of entire channels dedicated to cars, cooking, or crocodiles.

Today, every adolescent with access to the internet can curate, as they see fit, their own world. Personalized playlists, channels, private forums, and input into everything from the design of clothes to phone cases to shoes is possible at the fingertip. 

Without trying to be exhaustive, here are three big trends to keep in mind as you plan and program for youth ministry:

Youth Led Movements

Youth have always been at the forefront of major shifts in culture. While often celebrated in hindsight, it freaks people out in the moment.

Adolescents have been at the forefront of everything from the German Wandervogel to Billy Graham Revivals. They started holiness clubs, punk rock, and hip hop. The trend of youth led movements definitely falls in the category of what was old is new again.

Today, the stakes can appear higher than ever. Young people are not waiting for adults around them to do something or give them permission to do something. From climate change to gun control to the #metoo movements, youth are taking point and often leading.

In many cases, youth are naming the atrocities done and prevention left undone by the preceding generations and calling out the people and systems in need of change.

There is a golden opportunity for youth workers in this. We have the ability to be a prophetic voice reminding them that social change, while important, must be accompanied by being Christlike. We must talk about what is going on in their worlds and encourage activism, but not for the sake of activism.

To callout and correct societal wrongs is certainly in line with the model of Jesus. Jesus sought to serve the sick, the hungry, the widow, the alien, and the orphan. 

Experience Over Things

Let’s face it, our closets, backpacks, and offices are dumping grounds for unwanted swag. A pen here, a hat there, stress balls, cheap water bottles, and keychains abound. The item advertising one’s church or cause becomes clutter that communicates we are cheap and wasteful rather than careful stewards of our resources.

As retail trends race to keep up with adolescents, one thing is clear, they are not interested in stuff for the sake of having more stuff. They are interested in experiences. They want to be engaged, involved, and know that their presence matters. Rather than buying one more item with your youth ministry logo, consider investing in infrastructure that allows teens to be involved in greater ways.

Ask them what they would like to spend their money on and make it a group effort. This doesn’t mean no camp t-shirt. It means that every choice of buying prizes, giveaways, and things with logos is intentional and well thought through. 

Demographics Are Shifting

While the number of adolescents is growing, the percentage of adolescents is decreasing. As demographics shift and the number and percentage of adults increases, the struggle for resources will increase.

This matters.

For those committed to youth work, skills in talking with adolescents must be accompanied with skills in advocating for them. Our ethnic make-up in this country is changing and adolescents are a reflection of this increased diversity.

Where we live is changing, as well. While most adolescents currently live outside of urban centers, according to current projections, our suburbs are predicted to grow even more. This will impact where our churches exist and the availability of jobs. It will also impact the services available, such as libraries, health care, or special education teachers.

As youth workers, being aware of what is available in your community, and the needs of the actual youth in your ministry, empowers you to be a trusted advocate!

So there you have it. Three trends that reflect what appeals to adolescents and impact the way you spend your time and money within your ministry.

Two final pieces of advice.

One, trends reflect deeper issues. Trends that may die down as hashtags, but the reality of what they represent isn’t going anywhere. In your evaluation of trends, be certain you are looking below the surface.

And two, trends are ephemeral and narrow. They may not apply to every kid in your youth group.

Even if they don’t, there’s a good chance the next trend will. 

Amy Jacober

Amy Jacober is a youth ministry veteran who has been serving marginalized communities including those with disabilities, for a few decades now. She gets to spend her time teaching, serving, and hanging out with her husband, three kids, and an oversized dog. She legitimately is always looking forward to camp and an entire month of being with teenagers.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.