The Young and the Traditional

Facebook, the online home of gazillions of young people, recently made a number of changes to its website and interactive features.  Thousands upon thousands of these picture-posting, online-chatting, status-updating, Piece-of-Flair-sending, TMI-sharing youngin's have protested like there is no tomorrow.

So much for the notion that young people easily adapt to new trends!  It seems that many young people are pining for the "traditional" Facebook, wanting to go back to the good ol' days of the old Facebook, back to the way things used to be.

Merits of the Facebook changes aside – and the changes are largely good, in my opinion – it doesn't surprise me that young people would protest change.  A few anecdotes from my experience in the church:

  • When I went to college in 1993, the college students sat in a pack in the back pew of the local Lutheran Church.  To protest the "new" (1970's!) translation of the Lord's Prayer used by this congregation, the college students defiantly (and rather rudely, in retrospect) said the "traditional" form of the prayer in full, punctuated voice.
  • About nine years ago, as a youth director at a Lutheran congregation accustomed to both traditional and more "contemporary" forms of music, I was struck that on Youth Sunday the kids more often than not chose to express their faith in part through rather traditional hymns such as Lift High the Cross and Beautiful Savior.
  • In my current congregation two of the most vocal voices offering opposition to hand-clapping hymnody are 18 year-olds who just went off to their freshman year in college.
  • And of course, if you have ever helped lead an annual retreat or lock-in, you know how important tradition is.  Woe to the youth leader who dares to tweak the traditions of 2AM pillow fights, rude early-morning awakenings, or campfire sing alongs.
  • Facebook includes a few groups for the traditionally-minded, church-going, online set, including Praise Bands Annoy God and Actually, young people do like traditional liturgy.

Of course, many young people do like new songs and are willing to try new traditions. 

  • Many young people love the labyrinth prayer walk experience (oh, wait a minute – that's an ancient faith practice going back hundreds upon hundreds of years).
  • I admit that Youth Sundays often include "Awesome God," that comtemporary song written in . . . 1988, years before today's high school youth were even born, and the same year that Guns N Roses' "Sweet Child o' Mine" and Amy Grant's "Saved by Love" hit the charts.

The knee-jerk assumption that young people like new things – whether in online social networking or in church – is wrong.  Young people tend to be fairly conservative when it comes to their routines, the ways they "do" school, church, camp, holiday traditions, etc..  This is not to say that young people resist all new things (they don't) or that church leaders shouldn't invite young people to engage ministry in new ways (they should).  But  we can't simply paint all young people with the brush of "change."  It ain't that easy.

There's more to say about this – including asking why Boomers and Gen-Xers assume young people always like new things (perhaps it says more about the older folks than it does the young people), and examining how we teach our traditions and engage young people in ministry.  But these are topics for another day.  Time for me to get off to the day's tasks . . .

Peace to you!

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

4 thoughts on “The Young and the Traditional

  1. I really like the new facebook! Old facebook was so incredibly cluttered it got on my nerves to go to most of my friends’ profiles.
    As for the larger message there–it’s true, I was more than upset when the summer camp I used to go to changed things (including the motions to “Awesome God”). And my boyfriend is actually part of the C&E club at his Catholic church because he’s not particularly fond of *Vatican II*. He’d much rather go to a service *in Latin* than in English, and is heavily dead-set against praise bands. The fact that I sing for my church’s praise band…will someday be addressed, I’m sure.
    I think what this and so many other “us vs. them” debates come down to is that “they” are not so different from “us”. “Young people” can like or hate changes to their routine as much as “Old people” (although, granted, they’ve had more time to get set in their ways).
    Although to put all of this in a little more context–how many people my parents’ age have facebooks AT ALL, vs. how many people my age? You’d be surprised to find out that both of my parents, and a small handful of their friends, have facebooks. But it doesn’t come CLOSE to the number of kids my age. That in and of itself is change.

  2. I’m testing out a new theory–
    The people proposing the reforms to attract ‘yoof’ are also desperately attempting to hold on to their ‘cool’ status. Baby boomers are obsessed with maintaining their own youth, so they think that since they are hip thangs rebelling against The Man, that by putting on events they like (wherein rebelling against The Man as in 2k years of church Tradition) is prominent, the yoof will know they are Christians because they are down with G-O-D, ya dig?
    Thoughts? Questions? Comments?

  3. What is NEW compared to some years ago is the church leaders actually asking the youth and other groups what THEY might want in a service.
    Regarding church music: I’ve always felt that if a song is quite singable and has a message that is in line with the church’s theology, then it should/could be included in the regular worship service, regardless of style of the music. Otherwise, the Sunday School music, camp music, etc. are only sung in segregated situations, sort of like a hierarchy, church is better than camp which is better than Sunday School. Why do we want to segregate music or people? I’ve noticed that when our pastor uses an old Sunday School song for the kids in our church, the oldsters join in singing gladly.
    BTW, some of the old hymns aren’t all that singable and some have been translated into English in a convoluted fashion, which makes the message get lost in odd placements of subject and verbs, so I’d leave those hymns out of most services.

  4. OH yeah, facebook: I think it is an awkward way to communicate, but a good way to get in touch with people whom you’d other wise lose touch with.

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