Bottom Line Goal Of Creating Memories

Originally published in 2001. 

I have had the privilege of raising special group of youth called “Gods’ Family” over the past eight years.   This group is responsible for giving me a completely new outlook on ministry as I have grown as they have grown up. They are now scattered in their young adult lives and I am continuing to grow with them.  They are the heartbeat of my life.

I was blessed over a recent weekend to visit and catch up with three of them.  Those were precious hours to me learning firsthand how their lives and faith are continuing to grow.  It was also fun to go over some of our memories.  I was particularly blessed to learn how those memories have made up their faith as young adults.  Those memories formed their faith.

My husband and I visited two of our girls who are attending a top-ranked college and one of our boys who is serving some time in prison.  Very different outcomes in their lives (at this time) but these two things remained constant.  All three had a growing faith and all three had the same memories.

There are some things I have learned over my 20 years of youth ministry that are certain.  Those are (1) I was put on this earth to work with a group we have called God’s Family.  (2) Youth ministry has become a subculture unto itself–not always a good thing.  (3) Everything in youth ministry needs to have the bottom-line goal of creating memories. And (4) everything in my personal life needs to have the bottom-line goal of integrity.  This group, God’s Family, taught me this truth about creating memories years ago and now it is being reinforced in their young adult lives.

Think about it in your own life.  Make a graph of your own spiritual journey.  It will be marked with times of memories (the good and the bad).  My guess is that those times are what formed your personal spiritual journey.  Whenever I start my Relational Youth Ministry training class for youth leaders, I ask them to write a list of the five most influential sermons you have ever heard.  Then I ask them to write out five of the most influential people they have had in their lives.  Can you name five sermons which have influenced you?  Can you name five people who have influenced you?  My guess is you could have named ten people and still be struggling with the five sermons.  That is because there are memories associated with those people which have influenced you and have made your faith what it is today.

Whether we admit it or not, youth (and people mostly) keep coming back to the church because of emotions.  They have felt accepted and/or have experienced warm feelings in the presence of God–whether recognized or not.  In such a setting, they have found a sense of purpose and worth.  It has become a memory they want to keep and they want to build on.

I learned this little lesson the embarrassing way in year 9 of my youth ministry career.  A 12- year old boy was in the hospital with leukemia.  As I was visiting with him, the hospital chaplain came in to visit.  Phillip eagerly introduced me to the chaplain as the coolest youth pastor ever.  My head swelled.  The chaplain asked why.  I couldn’t wait to hear Phillip’s answer envisioning in my swelled head of all the great teachings I had taught–that were done in a cool way, of course.  I was remembering Phillip’s many “altar times.”  But Phillip exuberantly blurted out, “She plays the coolest games.”  Those games provided memories to Phillip that he associated to his faith which he held onto even in his death.

One of the new sixth graders in my church was asked what she would like the youth ministry to do.  She wanted us to play kickball and other games all the time.  Some youth leaders would look at that and say she was so shallow and our youth ministry would never be so shallow.  But I heard it differently.  This Amanda is an athlete and she wants youth group to be a place where she feels comfortable and that is in playing sports. More importantly, it would be bringing her faith together with what is important to her.

Experience is something that this generation is all about.  That adolescence is all about.  They want to experience everything.   They want to experience it all for themselves.  Piercing and tattoos are experiences and serve as real markers for memories.

Here is a truth.  If youth have no important memories of the faith, of the church, of an experience with God, of worship, or of spiritual feelings, they will find themselves in a faith vacuum as young adults.

At my church with our church family-based youth ministry, we’ve instituted a “project-to-project” scheduling instead of a week-to-week program.  We may do one event a month or we may do three.  But every event we do will be a memory maker that will in turn be used to build our youths’ faith.  Creativity runs wild as we tie together solid teaching with memory making.  The extra bonus with our church family-based youth ministry is that memories are being made as families.

Barna Research Group’s recent report  has statistically proven the importance of this.  Seventy-one percent of adults have regularly attended a Christian church for a period of time in their childhood.  Of that 71 percent, 61 percent still regularly attend church today.  See the connection?

So everything I do in youth ministry has a bottom-line goal of some sort of memory.  Something that during this time together, they will have some positive experience which will form their faith and which they can look back on when they are 19 years old, 25 years old and when they are 35 years old–and telling it to their own children