The Keys to Cultural Relevance
Along the way, we?ve discovered several keys to successfully reaching
1. We emphasize community and authentic friendships.
In youth culture, community and friendship trump everything else. Most teenagers, especially those from dysfunctional homes, value their friendships over their families. That?s why we focus on building a strong community of friends that strongly welcomes young people who have little or no connection to the church. We continually remind our young people that the church must remain outward-focused or it will wither.
Last month I got a phone call from a 15-year-old girl named Clare. A local government-run youth services organization gave her my number. This timid, frightened girl eventually plucked up the courage to tell me she was in the midst of a major crisis with her family, and she had nowhere to live. A youth worker at the government agency told her we might be able to help her because no one else could.
As my wife and I walked through the agency?s door to pick her up, you could see the relief on her heavily pierced face. We looked to be two young, normal-looking people. Clare later told us she was expecting an overweight, balding man, who had only a passing acquaintance with soap and was wearing a big cross. Clare moved in with us that evening.
Clare?s biggest need was community, and that?s what we gave her. She started coming to our Warehouse gatherings, and she soon built friendships with Christian teenagers who genuinely accepted her for who she was, not what she did or how she looked. Three weeks after we first met her, she gave her life to Jesus.
2. We make youth-led cell groups the backbone of our ministry.
Your ministry structure must work to serve your goals; it?s an ineffective structure if you?re working to serve its needs. Our youth-led cell group structure is helping us reach and keep young people. One of our cells had three regular attendees who were not Christians. Two of the three had no church background at all. Within just a few months they?ve all become Christians. We use our cells as an outreach tool, not simply a discipling strategy. Our cells are the basic building blocks for reaping and keeping our young people.
3. We tear down the cultural hurdles that scare away young people who are seeking Christ.
If our goal is to introduce young people to Jesus, it?s so important that we show them him, not an elaborate set of religious conditions. We must not ask these young people to culturally emigrate in order to follow Jesus. I remember when a young nightclub DJ named Kenny showed up at our church a few years back. He?d been told by a number of church leaders that his occupation was sinful. Trust me, he loved Jesus, and his mission field was an unreached group of young clubbers. His pulpit was his decks, and he played tunes with the intention of ushering the spirit of God into some very dark places.
I went with Kenny to clubs when he played. I had numerous "God chats" with people while he worshiped God through his music. He?s impacted literally thousands of young people with the gospel in a cultural arena that no starched, middle-class pastor could ever have penetrated. There are many dark places in youth culture. But it should be our goal to redeem people who gravitate to those dark places, not avoid them like the plague. Darkness needs light.
This generation of young people is crying out for Jesus. He?s the only one who can truly fill the void that modern-day marketers promise to fill with products. We must clear away the fog that obscures the real truth?Jesus.
Dan Slatter is leader of the Warehouse, a youth congregation connected to the Revelation Centre church in Chichester, England.
Used my permission, Group Magazine, Copyright November/December, 2000, Group Publishing, Inc., Box 481, Loveland, CO 80539.
About Group Magazine
According to David Skidmore, "Each issue is a feast for hungry youth workers." This quality magazine comes out six times per year, giving us input from others on the front lines of youth ministry. Includes lesson ideas, well-written articles, relevant news and new resources. Find them online at www.youthministry.com, where they offer lots of free online resources.