I thought I might write a bit about sofas and teenagers, so here’s my submission (I’ve also attached it as a separate document):
Not to brag, but my church has three sofas, a load of comfy chairs and a pile of bean bags. And they are good, soft, squishy sofas. I know a few people, myself included, who have had naps on them. When someone announces they’re going to have a lone, quiet prayer-session in the lounge, you know what they really mean.
I’ve run quite a few youth socials in that lounge, from film evenings to a sit down meal with communion. We can pull the sofas around to make a sort of home cinema, or arrange them around coffee tables for a cafe feel. They help to make a really welcoming and relaxing environment and quite often visiting teens will comment on the swanky set up we have.
These sofas, however, aren’t as great as they seem. The first time I visited the church, one of the teens fell off the back of one. Last Friday, one of my youth found a crème egg that was probably lost at Easter nestled between the cushions. I dropped something down the back and, going to reach it, my hand emerged covered in fluff and youth-snack debris. But my concerns over our church sofas goes further than this.
Feeling the youth program needed a bit of a shake-up, I told the teens that we were looking at doing a few things differently. One of the panicked teens asked, “We’re going to keep meeting here? I love this place.” At first I was touched. I thought to myself, “we’ve created a really positive environment, where teens just love to hang out, relax and discover who Jesus is.” But this comment has begun to worry me. What if the teenagers only come for the sofas? What if they don’t want to follow Jesus, and they’re only interested in the squishy cushions? Is the identity of my youth ministry about living life to the full, with God at the centre, or is it built around the room we meet in?
My worry is that the swanky set up only feeds in to the consumerist mind set prevalent in society today. We are simply there to provide a comfortable place where people can chat and relax. The teens just come, eat, play games and go. This isn’t fulfilling Jesus’ commission to us; Jesus did not ask us to “go, buy well upholstered furniture and scatter pillows,” but rather to go and make disciples, baptise them, teach them to obey. The teens just see the lounge as a place where their needs are catered for and any suggestion that they take the initiative and try to put Biblical living into practice go largely ignored.
So, in a way, I miss pews: I have a theory that most missionaries went on their travels to avoid sitting on them another week. I love the fact that our church lounge is welcoming and a fantastic place to show hospitality and inclusivity, but are we just breeding a generation of teens who can’t be bothered to live out their faith and get up off the sofa?
I really hope not.
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