by Laura Larsen
The first major conference hosted by the Center for Youth Ministry Training, From Txt2Speech, held at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, November 29 through December 1, 2012 was not to be missed. Focused on how to proclaim scripture to youth in a digital age, the three-day conference was packed with innovative main sessions and constructive break out seminars. The conference asked four main questions essential to anyone thinking deeply about communication and technology in youth ministry:

  1. What’s changed? 
  2. What must change?
  3. What doesn’t change?
  4. What now? 

These four main sessions addressing these questions were different than a typical main stage or keynote address.  In each session, three different speakers were given 20 minutes to answer the session question, followed by an audience Q&A session with all three speakers. The flow of these main sessions gave a solid, logical framework to think comprehensively through the topic at hand. The format of the three speakers plus Q&A provided space for the same prompt to draw out drastically different responses and for speakers to organically integrate another presenter’s ideas into their own. Since the main sessions presenters were a mix of academics and practioners, the presentations were both thoughtful and practical. Presenters included Rev. Rosemary Brown, Monroe Street UMC; Rev. Kenda Creasy Dean, Princeton Theological Seminary; Rev. Travis Garner, Brentwood UMC; Stephen Ingram, Canterbury UMC; Mike King, Youthfront and Immerse Journal; Rev. Dietrich “Deech” Kirk, CYMT; JP VanDelsem, Olathe College Church of the Nazarene; Dave Ward, Indiana Wesleyan University; and Rev. Andrew Zirschky, CYMT.
Here are a couple of main ideas to mull over if you couldn’t make it to the conference yourself:

Preaching still has an important place in the church.

As Dave Ward spoke on the fragmentation of identity that has taken place within the church, both individually and corporately, he asserted that preaching still has an important place in the church. As large or mega-churches become more and more prevalent, many churches have the freedom, sometimes even the need, to differentiate and compartmentalize congregants based on small affinity groups, even into different physical locations in multi-site churches. The preaching of the sermon, Ward said, is the often only thing in the church that unifies across all cliques and groups and affiliations.
Ward suggested that preaching has always aimed to form a worshiping community, a doxological community. A sermon has four functions in forming that community: teaching, healing, saving, and liberating.  Surely no sermon can accomplish all of those goals, but he was adamant that each of these functions should be addressed regularly.

The model of mass media is changing.

Andrew Zirschky spoke on the effects that a changing model of mass media can have on youth ministry. Mass media, any medium used to transmit information to a large, distant audience, has changed significantly over the years. The first significant mass media paradigm was one of traditional broadcast media: the consumer is passive as a static message is essentially injected into them. The second major model was that of the opinion leader. In this influencer-based model, the audience remains passive as the charismatic thought leader changes the opinion of the crowd. Next came a viral, word of mouth method of mass communication. The audience becomes active participants in passing the information they deem more attractive or unique.
Today, says Zirschky, we are functioning in a spreadable or participatory model of mass communication. The audience now functions as a co-creator, spreading messages they can actively participate in. The mass audience is empowered rather than controlled as they decide the information to pass along. Zirschky encouraged youth pastors to see this model of communication as an opportunity for youth to participate in the missio dei, to be living participants and witness to Christ’s in-breaking kingdom. Adolescents are formed and transformed in encountering the words and action of Christ in the world around them. In this model, youth ministry is less about doing something to youth and instead focuses on inviting adolescents into participation and creation.
Below are some “quotables” from the #txt2s Twitter feed. We will also be making available the audio files from the conference…stay tuned!

  • Teens are not addicted to the cellphone. Teens are addicted to the relationship the cellphone fosters. —Andrew Zirschky, @ymprof #txt2s
  • Social media is the modern day confessional for teens. —Andrew Zirschky, @ymprof #txt2s
  • We live in a faceless, face-to-face society. Teens seek relationships that restore their humanity. #txt2s
  • Teens don’t want our technology, they want the intimacy of our community. —Andrew Zirschky, @ymprof
  • Let youth ask scary theological questions. —Mike King, @MDKing #txt2s
  • Radical hospitality is about letting people belong deeply, long before they behave well. —Mike King, @MDKing #txt2s
  • We must give youth opportunities to own and operate their faith. —Mike King, @MDKing #txt2s
  • Don’t let your desire to have youth in church be distracted by the siren song of technology. Go back to the intimacy of Christ. #txt2s
  • Students will not remember how you used technology, but how you lived the gospel together! #txt2s
  • If we don’t own (embody) our sermon the congregation will never be owned by the sermon. —Andrew Zirschky, @ymprof #txt2s
  • Mike King (@mdking) just stated that it is harder for parents to talk to their kids about faith than it is to talk about sex. #txt2s #yikes
  • With youth culture being more fractured, could it be better to have niche community of believers? #txt2s
  • We need to find students’ hunger. —Dave Ward, @davewardwriting #txt2s
  • Are we credible, substantive, relative or authoritative? As youth ministers, youth groups, and churches! —Dave Ward, @davewardwriting #txt2s
  • Stop asking your questions and start asking your students questions! —Dave Ward, @davewardwriting #txt2s
  • If you don’t want to do hard work, get out of the ministry. —Dave Ward, @davewardwriting #txt2s
  • The book of Revelation is not about the end of everything, it is about the end of everything we know. —Kenda Creasy Dean #txt2s
  • We need to stop scaring our kids to death and give them a life worth living. #txt2s

Laura Larsen lives in Kansas City working at both Youthfront and Second Presbyterian Church.  Currently a DMin student at Fuller, she would be happy spending every afternoon with students and tweeting from @thelauralarsen.  Laura is most spiritually disciplined in the fall when she is busy praying and fasting for her beloved LSU Tigers.