I recently was visiting my childhood home and went through an experience I am sure many of you have had at one point in time. All my stuff from my closet was dumped in the floor and I was told, “Anything you do not want anymore is getting thrown away.”
Amongst the pile of old clothes, baseball cards, and other useless items for a now father of three, was a stack of books from every Disciple Now and Bible study I was part of in high school. At first, this was heartwarming to realize I had kept these, but that quickly shifted to heartbreaking. Why?
I never picked these up after the event. I was not heartbroken because somehow I had suffered from this. I was heartbroken to think about how much time and money I had spent on getting similar books for my students. This made me realize three things.
1. The impact was in relationships.
What I remembered about these events and how I grew spiritually had nothing to do with what I wrote down in a book, and I was one of those kids that was worried I would get in trouble if I did not write everything down. What stuck with me was the conversations with my friends and leaders and the relationships that I formed with those same people.
2. My students do not have any books in their closets.
Whether it was books I ordered, or books I copied and made, my kids’ books were left in their seats, put in the trash, or left at the host home. I do not think this means they are bad kids, are not growing, or do not care. Times have just changed. Please know this is not a digital thing vs. paper thing. This is a student’s learn differently now and are conditioned to learn differently. Even at school there is a push towards discussion and collaboration vs. lecture, note taking, and book work. So often our students do not know what to do with a book or see value even though they might find great value in the Bible study itself.
3. Books do not change lives.
Think about how much time and you spend on ordering/making student books, calculating how many extras you need, and then scrambling the night of an event or morning of a Bible study because more kids show up. What else could have been done with that time and those resources? Could you have been praying? Could you have been calling kids? Could you have been buying some kids food for the event to give them a meal they might not typically get at night on a weekend. Those types of things are what will lead to life change. Not a book no matter how great it is.
Hear me. There are times for books. I think if you have a student leadership group or 1 on 1 discipleship ministry, those are times where books are needed because you are in deep study and there is a small enough group to hold them accountable to take advantage of and refer back to the resource. Plus you can get more mileage because in true discipleship they should turn around and be sharing that same resource with someone else. I am talking about the other 90% of the time.
So what can/should you do?
Every youth ministry is so unique I would not want to specifically tell you what to do. Instead I will share with you what we ended up doing which I can tell you saved us money and time which we were able to turn into investing students and leaders.
First, We started with doing away with student books for Disciple now, camps, and Bible studies we invited all students to be a part of. I will tell you that out of this we also were able to take a step where we took all our curriculum digital, and now our leaders can just log in and access the curriculum on their personal device. We also now are exploring utilizing Google Classroom to share some resources with our students in a digital format when we think it might be necessary, both for the special situations I mentioned earlier and for those Bible studies where all students are involved.
I can tell you we have not seen any difference in student engagement, we have actually some increased engagement in certain groups, and we have found the extra time and resources have allowed us to think more clearly and creatively about how to invest in students and leaders.
I know this might be a difficult step to want to make, but I believe it is one worth considering. I would suggest either taking a month of your weekend Bible study or your next event, experimenting with no books, re-evaluating the exact application in your ministry, and then please let us know how things are going and what you are learning.