Over the last several weeks my appointment book has been more full than usual. As I've toured around a variety of different restaurants and coffee houses, I've been observing life in action and learning much about the state of the church and the challenges we face in youth ministry moving forward.
Roughly 3 weeks ago our staff reluctantly said good-bye to two great teammates. During one of our farewell lunches, our staff team enjoyed the spoils that the Cheesecake Cafe has to offer. One of my teammates, Grover, went to use the washroom, came back to the table and encouraged me to write a blog about our Cheesecake experience and the church of today. Well G...here is the rant you were waiting for!! Upon our arrival I noticed several things:
1. The place was nearly empty
2. The decor & ambiance was extremely outdated
3. There was an expectation from the restaurant staff that this place had a relevant voice in the food industry
It was quite obvious that the Cheesecake Cafe had grown content with what they had become, and they did not seem to have any desire or vision to continue to push the envelope in the food industry. Instead, this food-chain seemed content to rest on its' laurels, or dance with what got them to the party in the first place. The Cheesecake Cafe relies upon their reputation for Cheesecake to draw in the consumer, instead of being creative about how to engage an emerging consumer base. Not only that, but their menu consisted of 15 pages of items...serving as a sort of buffet style dining experience "masterpiece."
This may be a significant leap to make, but don't some of these same observations about our Cheesecake Cafe dining experience seem erringly similar to what is happening in the context of the church?
Buffet Spirituality or Discipleship, seems to be the sign that hangs above most churches and quite frankly, the majority of youth ministries. Program is King and relationship is often difficult to be found. As youth pastors we have asked families for buy-in to a system that dominates the calendar because our mantra is busy = safe, happy & content.
I recently sat down and went through our current ministry calendar. Doing simple math, I calculated that we are asking for 25% of a family's calendar within a given year. This percentage did not include extended activity such as retreats or missions trips, but simply connection point activities that seem to still reign supreme in the realm of youth ministry. What is shocking to me is that this 25% (roughly 90 days) is drastically lower that what our youth ministry (and others) have often demanded from families in the past. I recognize that this 25% does not represent the entire allotment of time we have in any given year in terms of hours, but what it does represent is our expectation and definition for success in the pursuit of discipleship as a youth ministry.
Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares was one of my favorite shows a couple of summers ago. Not only did I enjoy witty English banter, I also appreciated Gordon's passionate pursuit of simplicity in the culinary world. Often times Gordon would step into a failing restaurant's context and offer them a new perspective, one that was based upon serving "simple and honest cuisine." Massive menus were hacked and slashed until this achievement could be made. And it was during this process of refinement that these restaurants on the rocks found their identity once again.
I can't help but think youth ministry across the board is in a similar place in time right now. I think we've become known for our activity, our buffet-style ministry, that it is now really difficult for us to offer anything "less" than what we have previously been accustomed to. The only issue is that the "more" we seem to feel we are offering is in fact less. Sure the quantity may be there, but is the quality?
Frequency is a fantastic concept. But if frequency is the goal, would we ever have any depth to what we do? I may frequently visit the grocery store or shopping mall, but do my visits have any lasting significance unless I am focused during the time I spend at these places?
I guess I'm wondering if we've simply offered too much of a "good thing" in youth ministry, and we haven't had enough depth to what we've been doing which has led us to the place where we are at today; a place where the quantity doesn't seem to be enough and that quality simply isn't there.
Maybe it's time for our Gordon Ramsay moment in youth ministry. Perhaps we do need to refine what we do and rediscover our identity once again, so that we may forge ahead with renewed vigor and enthusiasm to make disciples who will revive the church and change the world.
Who knew cheesecake could make one think so much? Be blessed!!