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Should you use technology to reach young adults or offer them something wholly different?

There are some pastors who work with youth and college students who say, "We cannot compete with the world in terms of technology and entertainment.  What we can offer is relationships.  We need to focus on people, not programs." 

Similarly, many people from liturgical traditions report that the young adults they know are turning to liturgical traditions and mystery and contemplation. 

See for example Christianity Today's February cover story:

Chris Armstrong | posted 2/08/2008
Christianity Today

In this month's Chronicle of Higher Education, there is a similar story by a University of Virginia professor suggesting that college professors need to help their students slow down and think, rather than pursuing the latest technological teaching technique.  The article is a must read for people who have an interest in college students because I have never read a better description of the internet generation.   

Dwelling in Possibilities: Our students' spectacular hunger for life makes them radically vulnerable



From the issue dated March 14, 2008

Hat tip to Gary Friesen

Five comments about whether the answer to reaching young adults in the church is to use technology or to offer them something totally different.

1. In the church, you have to motivate people to come back.
  It is probably appropriate for an English teacher with very highly motivated University of Virginia students to try to slow them down.  As a professor the last two years at Taylor University, I was amazed at the power the professor had over students in comparison to being a pastor.  As a pastor you need to motivate people to want to come back.  As a university professor, they have to come back - their grades depend upon it. 

2. Excellence in communication and teaching needs to be pursued.
I would not want university professors to rest on the fact that students don't need technology, they just need old school teaching methods.  College students need outstanding classroom teaching to interest to help them engage the subject.  Regardless of the style, technology or no technology, the teaching task still needs to be done well.   Ditto, churches.   

3.  The liturgical tradition is certainly not winning the day in terms of any sociological measure that I have seen.  Roman Catholics and Mainline churches are losing great numbers of people.  Many are becoming evangelicals.  But also many are becoming "no-religious affiliation."   See Pew's Survey The Religious Landscape of the United States for the latest example.  "While nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24%) describe themselves as Catholic. These losses would have been even more pronounced were it not for the offsetting impact of immigration . . .  members of mainline Protestant churches and Jews are older, on average, than members of other groups."  There is much confounding here: there are too many variables to sort out why people are turning away from mainline and Catholic churches but I am simply pointing out that liturgy is no automatic solution for attracting young people. 

4.  I like liturgical and nonliturgical churches and I think they can both learn from one another.  I think it is great to have liturgical churches and I have tried to push all of the evangelical churches I have pastored to greater appreciation of the church's past and to implement forms of liturgy thoughtfully.  However, when I am around people (often connected to Wheaton College or Duke Divinity School) who argue that informal liturgical styles are woefully lacking, I tend to defend "the three songs and a biblical sermon" evangelical-style as having much to commend it.   

5. I continue to argue that pastors need to think like educators or missionaries.
  Educators who teach second grade, gear their programs to that age level.  We have to do the same in the church.  Meet people where they are at.  Similarly, missionaries to a new culture, need to speak the language of the people.  Though I agree with the Professor Edmundson that sometimes the culture is poisonous and needs to be critiqued - he argues that the frenetic lifestyle of students hurts their ability to understand life - we also will not be able to critique that culture until we demonstrate (as he has) that we know it well.  What I mean is that churches, if they expect to be effective at reaching un-churched or de-churched people with the gospel, need to be able to communicate with them.  I think the question, "How will someone experience our church if this is their first time here?" is an extremely important question and people need not betray their tradition to address it.  They may simply need to explain their tradition better so that the new person has a better experience.

I think there is great reason to be suspicious of highly fragmented lives powered relentlessly forward by dizzying forms of technology.  However, I do not think that purposefully anti-technological liturgy communicates clearly enough with many people who are immersed in American culture.  We need meet un-churched and de-churched people half-way with modest uses of technology and draw them into community and contemplation from there.