Understanding Youth Culture

Okay here I go. I’m just going to say it. Perhaps the most apparent belief system held by young people today is that of hedonism. But, it’s not just young people, it’s an entire culture that has become accustomed to getting and having whatever they want when they want it. Television, Internet, Social Media, Video Games, Pornography. They have become mainstays of our culture and have a dramatic impact on the spiritual condition of the American Church. They also represent a lifestyle that is becoming increasingly self-focused, self-indulgent and self-deceived.


Because this is a blog for youth ministry I will try to stay focused on that. Hedonism is not new, but has found fresh traction in our day. With each new generation the hedonistic way of life becomes more and more prevalent. For instance, the subject of conversation in a youth group today is more likely to revolve around “The Walking Dead” or the Kardashians than any meaningful discussion of the things of God. And it is far more likely that selfies and Facebook postings will be shared than Bible verses. Hedonism is the belief that meaning and fulfillment is found through the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. If you have any doubts about whether or not that describes your young people ask yourself how often they utter the word, “boring!” If something is not personally enjoyable then it’s deemed of little or no value.


Those given to the belief of hedonism exhibit behavior according to three rules. Rule #1 “What’s in it for me?” Personal gratification. Actions that bring benefit and blessing to others have little attraction if they involve personal sacrifice with no sense of personal enjoyment or payback. Rule #2 Subjective gratification. “If`it feels good do it!” They have little interest in your assurance that they will enjoy something because others did. What’s important is their own subjective assessment. Rule # 3 Immediate gratification. The hedonist lives to receives pleasure now! Your appeal that “you’ll be glad you did this latter” is unconvincing and irrelevant to them.


The rules which young people live by have important implications for how we approach youth ministry. The question: Do we do fun activities or do we have serious Bible related activities? My answer: Yes. We do both. There is nothing wrong with having fun, in fact God loves to see young people enjoying themselves. But there are some dangers that we must avoid.


First, let’s not feed hedonism by having fun for fun sake, or making fun and end unto itself. If our youth ministry goal is simply “have fun” then we will lack a redemptive element by which our young people will find meaning in Christ. We are simply feeding hedonism.


The second danger we want to avoid is the promise of fun to lure young people into our meetings and then once we get them there we revert to the real agenda. That’s dishonest. By all means have fun but never use fun as a lure to hide the spiritual dimension of your ministry objectives.


So, when planning for effective youth ministry plan to have fun, but also openly share something that offers greater depth and meaning than what “fun” can provide. Replace the pursuit of hedonism with a belief system that puts loving God and loving others ahead of loving fun. In short our strategy should be to recognize the reality of hedonism while at the same time exposing its shallowness and overcoming it.


Challenge: If someone accused your youth ministry of being basically about just having fun, what evidence would you present to refute them?

Chris Wood pastors at Zion Fellowship in Canandaigua, NY. He and his wife, Joan, have been involved in ministry for over 35 yrs., and it has been fun. They have three children, two daughter-in-laws and two grandchildren. Their family is amazing!