Required reading

You need to go right now and read the excerpt from Eboo Patel’s latest book that’s on the Web site. Patel points out that totalitarians and fundamentalists have done a very good job at recruiting teenagers to engage in “targeted assassinations and mass murder” in the name of religious beliefs. Pluralists and religious liberals and moderates, on the other hand, don’t invest in teenagers, and even actively push them away:

Too many adults secretly consider the absence of young people in mainstream religious communities the natural course of events, viewing the kids as too self-absorbed, materialistic, and anti-authoritarian to be interested in religion. The result is that adults pay lip service to the importance of involving youths in faith communities but let themselves off the hook when it comes to actually building strong, long-lasting youth programs. Youth activities are typically the top item in a congregation’s newsletter but the last line in the budget. Youth programs are the most likely to be funded by short-term grants, and youth ministers are the first to be fired when a religious community has financial problems.

Next time you hear someone in a Unitarian Universalist congregation say, “Well of course we don’t have any teenagers, kids that age don’t want to do religion” — challenge them on that point, tell them that if they keep saying that it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, tell them that simply by saying that they are helping to force our kids out of our congregations.

Then go read Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why most youth ministry doesn’t last and what your church can do about it by Mark DeVries. DeVries says that building a thriving youth ministry is possible, but it requires long-term commitment and hard work:

If you’re looking for a book that can give you easy steps for building a thriving youth ministry in the next three months, I’m afraid you’ve picked the worng one. Oh, there are steps (and rest assured I’ll be giving them to you), but they’re anything but quick, and on occasion, they will be so difficult that you’ll ask yourself why you got into this enterprise in the first place. But there is good news: building a sustainable, thriving youth ministry is not only possible, it’s actually predictable. Sadly, most churches don’t have the patience….

Most mainstream churches (and Unitarian Universalist congregations) don’t have the patience, that is. The totalitarians and fundamentalists do, and they have built thriving youth ministries that produce fanatics. If we poured the kind of energy and effort and money into youth that they do, we could nurture a huge cadre of young people committed to spreading peace and justice and love throughout the world. If only we had the patience….