We Are All 1990s Suburban Youth Group Kids Now


There was a fun little post on Buzzfeed a while ago titled “33 Ways You Know You Were A Youth Group Kid” about the cultural trappings of 1990s and early 2000s church youth groups. Most of what was in this article was stuff that I could immediately identify from my own adolescence as a youth group kid and/or my early 20s as an adult leader of church youth groups. Go read the article all about Teen Study Bibles and dc Talk and lock-ins and you can get a sense of this little parallel universe that suburban church kids like me inhabited. While my first impulse was to look at this and think, oh that’s nice, someone else remembers the stuff I remember, I think this goes a little deeper. I do not know if white evangelical Christianity realizes how much of the contemporary church is driven by the cultural forces that developed in and for all those church basements, gyms and multi-purpose rooms fifteen to twenty years ago. I had forgotten about this for a while, but I was reminded of it by a post pondering why there are so many nearly identical church plants popping up in North American cities. Look at the cues described:

  • Approximately 15 minutes of praise music, played by a rock band.
  • A projector, sound system and stage lighting
  • A separate nursery and children’s program concurrent with “big church”
  • A 25 to 40 minute sermon delivered by a young, informally dressed man
  • An offering, plus maybe a sacrament (communion, etc.)
  • A closing song or two, also led by the rock band.
  • Service length: between 70 and 90 minutes.

Now go back to that Buzzfeed article describing the lives of teenage youth group kids with their treasured Jars of Clay CDs, think about the length of a typical youth group weeknight program, probably 70-90 minutes. Guess what happened almost  every week? A bible study centred on the words of a young, informally dressed man, who probably did most of the talking for, oh, say, 25 to 40 minutes. And yes, all our worship lyrics were projected onto a screen. The church-planting (and re-planting) model that has widely been embraced in the 2000s and 2010s is not something that appeared out of nowhere, I imagine it is simply a continuation of everything that those most passionate youth group kids – the ones who went to bible college and seminary afterwards – enjoyed about their Wednesday or Thursday evenings at “Fuel, The Edge, Fire, Reverb, The Blaze, Kindle, or Echo.