I finished up the book Youth Ministry 3.0 earlier this week. Marko from Youth Specialties laid most of this out in his talks at the National Youth Workers Convention(s) last year, so I kind of knew what to expect. It was a quick read (especially since I am a crazy skimmer), but there is a lot of good stuff in it.
There has been a lot of talk of it being somewhat controversial, but I don't see it. It's most likely because I already do most things the way he lays it out. Not that I'm trying to say that I have things figured out or I do things "right" - it's largely a function of the group and resources I have, and I've decided to let our groups work themselves out. What has developed in the last four years is a youth group that is very low on programming and has few events. The kids in Monument just don't really show up for events that much. I have fun with the few that do, but all of the planning and expenses got old. What they DO like is missions and missional living. When we are participating in something bigger than us, it works.
Marko, in a nutshell, says it's time to de-program and launch into meaningful life investment instead. Communion and mission are the priorities, which I am all for. One of the basic principles he talks about is the idea of affinity groups, which has caused a lot of hang-ups with reviews I've read. I get it, though. It's about communion - providing points of meeting (in an unprogrammed way) is still important to me, where all the groups get together for worship or a retreat, or a missions trip. I think it makes sense, when you consider that small groups are basically set up this way anyhow. When forcibly picked, small groups have issues, even when they eventually "work out."
Part of the reason I resonate so much with the ideas is that our mission (both on trips and in a missional context during "normal" times) is what drives me in youth work, and is also what motivates most of our teens. (If YS wants to read my manuscript on mission and teens, that's firstname.lastname@example.org, LOL. But, seriously ...) I believe that connecting to a bigger purpose is what drives teens to figure out living out a missional life. When we see our teens catch the vision for a rebuilt New Orleans, many of them have come home and had their lives changed by seeing the potential for those around them to be "rebuilt" too. I'm trying (and wrestling) with the idea of how we make things more missional on a day-to-day basis after reading stuff like Alan Hirsch's The Forgotten Ways and Missio/Adallum's The Tangible Kingdom (also Neil Cole, Tony Jones, and some more). This is a piece that I hope to develop before next semester. ( I like the use of John 17:18 here, too. We are sent into the world, and it's important to recognize what that means for each of our ministries).
I think the idea of affinity is getting misunderstood a lot as Marko is using it. He isn't necessarily advocating a group for just, for instance, the white kids. Or a group that mandates that jocks, skaters, and goths each meet separately. If that's the natural split, I guess it creates some new questions for your group - but small groups that are based on affinity are actually, in my opinion, the norm. In our church we have a bikers' small group, most conservative-conservatives meet together, those into social justice issues seem to find one another, etc. It's about breathing life into what is already.
I like, also, the ideas of contextualization and being present. I think they both gap some of the things I found compelling and also lost with in Chap Clark's Hurt. Being present is an obvious bridge to reaching those that feel abandoned, but it is also a wonderful word to describe what I think is youth ministry at it's best. When we are just there, embodying the Holy Spirit to teens it is a huge thing.
This also bleeds over to ideas of programs and events (we do still do things, after all). I have been bothered for a long time by the idea that we all regurgitate other peoples' ideas. While I understand the need for help, and don't think it's "wrong," I've never been able to do it. I need to tailor things specifically to my group, whether it's topical or teaching through, say, James - I have to be able to teach it o them, not in general. That's part of the contextualization piece. Marko writes, "You know your students; you know your community. Dream and discern with them to create a localized ministry that brings the gospel to the real kids you see every week." (page 86).
In closing, the idea of affinity is a funny one, because I feel that with this book. I need to do these things better, of course, but I love the affirmation of deprogramming, using a house church model, and stripping down the events we do. I am anxious to talk about some of these things with friends and colleagues, but overall - I resonate with just about every idea that Marko brings to the table in this sucker - good stuff!