Craig Groeschel and his wife decided to ban all technology in his family for four days a week. Their kids are allowed to use their electronic gadgets ‘only’ three days a week. So for four days a week it’s no iPod, TV, Facebook or Wii for them. Groeschel says he and his family have changed for the better because of it, they have more time for each other, they do more together (he mentions reading, talking, playing games) and they have grown closer. For their story, read this post on CNN’s religion blog.
We all know how much modern technology has changed our lives, including the way we do youth ministry. We do so much stuff that we didn’t do when I was still in youth ministry myself as a teenager. For us, playing a video (and I mean a video tape) was about as cool as it got. A lot has changed since then and it’s left people to wonder if all those changes have been for the best. Should we be limiting the use of technology in youth ministry?
Christianity in general has always been ambivalent towards technology. There have been early adapters, churches and people who have used every technology to their advantage, for instance to reach people. But there have also always been critics. There has always that underlying scare of the rule of technology, of the ‘evil forces’ of modern media controlling us. In Holland where I come from there’s a denomination that still prohibits watching TV. It’s an extreme measure to prevent technology from ruling our lives.
Groeschel’s approach is a healthier one. You can’t keep technology out the door. As much as we may want things to go back to the way they were in certain areas, we can’t turn back the clock. It doesn’t make sense to long for times and habits that are gone, for the most part the things we did in youth ministry when I was a teen won’t work with this generation of teens. Things have changed and we can’t pretend they haven’t. But what we can do is make conscious decisions about the amount of effect technology has on our life, on our youth ministry.
Personally, I’m part of the ‘use all means for the Glory of God camp’ and I love using new gadgets and technologies in youth ministry. But we’ve always made sure that technology didn’t rule us and didn’t rule youth ministry. The bottom line is that technology has to help your youth ministry, it has to advance your goals, not become a nuisance or a barrier, or even a habit. The minute technology becomes a hindrance to real relationships developing in your youth ministry, to people spending time with each other, to the message of the gospel being shared whenever you meet with your youth, that’s the minute you’ll have to take action.
I think Graig Groeschel and his wife realized they had come to that point, to the point where all their gadgets were preventing their family from connecting with each other. And they made a brave and radical decision to put their family first. I applaud them for that and it’s intriguing to see how profoundly this has changed his family. The fact that his kids are in the end okay with it is quite telling I think.
What’s the lesson then for us, for youth ministry? I think we could learn from Groeschel’s daring example and have the guts to do a check on our use of technology in youth ministry and in our homes. We need to honestly determine if we are ‘just’ using technology, or that we are being controlled by it. If the latter is the case, we may need to make a similar radical decision. Declare certain days ‘technology-free’ at home, organize an ‘offline’ retreat for your youth group, declare an ‘offline’ day as an experiment or do whatever creative thing you can some up with to restore the balance between relationships and technology, between people and well, stuff. Because let’s face it: people matter, stuff doesn’t.
It might also be a really interesting subject to discuss in your youth group, for instance in small group. What do your students think of Groeschel’s decision? Are they aware of the influence of technology on their lives? What would happen if they were to stay ‘offline’ for one day, or two? I think it could spark some new insights on their part!
Are you aware of the influence of technology on your youth ministry? Is it still helping it, or has it become a hindrance? Share your experiences in the comments!