The second common belief system young people live by is that of consumerism which broadly encompasses a preoccupation with the acquisition of consumer goods and the belief that these possessions constitute the greatest good and highest value in life. Consumerism emphasises three things.
The first is the idea that money and possessions are an indicator of success and thus they provide us with status. In other words, it is characterised by the belief that the more a young person has, the more highly people will think of them.
The second emphasis of consumerism is that money and possessions provide us with contentment. Marketing is geared toward creating a sense of need and the belief that a product will meet that need and offer some degree of happiness albeit fleeting.
Finally consumerism is all about choice and keeping one’s options open. The more options that are available the better, as it allows young people to create experiences that best suit their own individual needs.
This tendency toward consumerism leaves us grappling with a number of issues as we seek to establish an effective ministry to young people. Clearly the underlying philosophy of consumerism is wrong – possessions are not the highest good in life. As Jesus Himself said “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”
However advertising and choice are part of the culture in which young people live. Neither of these things is intrinsically wrong though there are dangers. In advertising within our youth ministry we must show integrity and be honest about our events. Similarly, we should not offer choice for choice’s sake or choice as a lure for attendance when the choices do not contribute to the goal of our youth ministry and the young person’s ultimate welfare. Too many choices can simply create a consumerist desire within our young people to have a programme that meets their wants and not necessarily their needs.
In other words, effective youth ministry may take into account the consumerism of young people but it should never be driven by it. What must drive you is the guidance of the Holy Spirit who directs your decision making as you seek to follow Christ, the Head of the Church and therefore the Leader of your youth ministry.
In my own youth ministry I came to realise that keeping young people happy by responding to their stated needs and endeavouring to run programmes that would be popular with them was tiring and unsatisfying. When I made God my main point of reference, the demands of programming became more straightforward. I still listened to young people and their wishes but I was guided by God.