Utilizing Youth Culture Series: Part 2

6 Ways to Increase Your Knowledge of Youth Culture

In Part 1 of this series, I stressed the importance of engaging with youth culture as we seek to translate biblical truth and communicate that truth effectively to the youth with whom we work. 

But if you’re just starting out in youth ministry or if you’ve been stagnant in engaging youth culture, you may feel like a fish out of water when it comes to having meaningful conversations about the music, books, movies and TV shows your youth are listening to, reading and watching.

Here are some good places to start in your ongoing effort to remain abreast of current trends in youth culture:

1.  Ask your youth, their friends, and their parents what they are currently listening to, watching, and reading.  This is the most helpful way to go about learning your youth’s cultural diet. You can start by engaging the book, movie, and musician that is currently most popular amongst the kids in your youth group. 

2.  Keep an ear out for cultural references your kids make.  In overhearing conversations, I’ve learned that many in my youth group are currently fixated on the TV show Psych.  As far as I’m aware, that show isn’t a cultural youth phenomenon – but within my ministry context it’s relevant to be aware of what Pysch is about.

3. Visit iTunes and pay attention to the most popular downloads.  You can even sample songs and albums without buying them, getting a feel for the song’s lyrics and mood.

4.  Visit Amazon and look at their list of top selling young adult fiction.  If a book’s been in the top 100 for a while, it’s probably worth learning about.  Doubly so if it’s being made into a movie.  Even if your kids aren’t reading these books, it’s likely that they are aware of them.  Moreover, these books will tell you something about the ethos of youth today – there’s a reason the book has become so popular.

5.  Don’t feel like you have to read or watch everything yourself.  Movie reviews and book reviews can be a valuable way to cover a lot of material in a shorter amount of time.  Most major newspapers review movies and popular books.  Amazon’s “most helpful” reviews also can be helpful in discerning a book’s basic plot line.  You can also just ask your youth who seem well acquainted with the material – this has the added bonus of giving you insight into what they think the story’s about.

6.  If you don’t feel like you know how to analyze youth culture, then find blogs that review youth culture from a biblical perspective and learn from them.  One good blog along these lines is Mockingbird (www.mbird.com).  If you know of another one, I encourage you to list it in the comment section below.

Cultivating expertise in the “language” of youth culture requires time, effort, and perseverance as youth culture is constantly shifting with new movies, books, artists, and TV shows.  Admittedly, I really like this part of my job most of the time.  I mean – come on – we get to listen to music, read young adult fiction, and watch movies and call it work…?  Score.

Mark Howard was a youth pastor for five years before joining Elam Ministries, an organization that seeks to strengthen and expand the church in Iran and surrounding areas. Through Elam, he's had the opportunity to work with Iranian youth as well as talk with American churches about God's work in Iran. Mark has his M.A. in Theological Studies from Wheaton College Graduate School and serves on Rooted's steering committee.

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