As I walked into the Anaheim Convention Center, Starbucks coffee in hand, I mentally prepared myself for the Christian Youth Workers Conference we were about to attend. I was still bleary-eyed from the Southern California traffic slog (note to self: next time, order the venti) when I was introduced to our first interviewee, a man named Mark Oestreicher. Oestreicher heads up an organization called Youth Specialties, a group that trains Christian youth ministers. I had been expecting an older man, dressed in suit and tie, maybe someone who would quote scripture during the interview. Wow, was I wrong! Oestreicher (pronounced O-striker) was hip, smart and funny with more references to "Desperate Housewives" than anything else.
Oestreicher was candid about the challenge youth workers are facing today. They used to think that just packing a concert hall and getting kids jazzed for Jesus would keep them close to the church. Now, recent studies say that approach may have fallen short. 61% of 20-year-olds say while they did attend church activities in their teens they no longer do. Pastors, Oestreicher says, have to do a better job at forging relationships with teenagers. How should they go about it? By plugging into a teen's very wired world.
At the convention, we learned about "Godcasting", which is really podcasting for the faithful. Young people love this because they can download sermons or praise music onto their iPods and take it with them while they skate, surf or ski. James Dobson, the well known head of Focus on the Familyhas had his own radio show for years. But in a telling illustration of this new technology-oriented youth movement, his son, Ryan, says he wouldn't think of doing anything that old school. Instead he podcasts his own Christian Internet show from his home in Colorado Springs.
Apparently, this new generation is just as hungry for God..but wants him "on the go…" ( and I can just see James Dobson scratching his head and asking himself "What's a podcast?" )