As someone in youth ministry, I often battle the generational conflict that occurs between young people and “old people.” You know the comments that teenagers like to say:
- “How come the old people are so stuck in their ways?”
- “I wish the old people wouldn’t be so against change.”
- “Why are they so stuck in the past?”
I usually counter that the teenagers are just as averse to change as anyone else, they just want other people to change to agree with them. Believe me, when you mess with teenagers’ traditions, they are just as bad as any demographic when it comes to whining about it.
As a case study to prove my point, I offer the social networking site Facebook. As someone who remembers when people started putting links in their AiM profiles that said “FACEBOOK ME,” I’ve seen the phenomenon from the very beginning. The evolution of Facebook has been fairly gradual, but at every major innovation, the old guard of Facebook cried out against the new change. This is peculiar, since, especially at the beginning, users of Facebook were limited only to the free-spirited, open-minded, liberal college students of America. Surely our colleges are bastions of progressive thinking, aren’t they?
Well, look at the major phenomena in the evolution of Facebook (these may not be in exactly the correct order, but I think they are):
- Facebook, originally a college-only social networking site, opens up to anyone.
- Facebook creates the “mini-feed,” whereby users learn recent actions and updates made by their friends.
- Facebook opens up their software to allow developers to create their own applications that users can use like Pieces of Flair, Top Friends, and iLike.
Each and every one of these stages in evolution was met with a Facebook group called something along the lines of “[Pick a number] against [Facebook’s latest change].” Every change met harsh resistance:
- The elites didn’t like high school students invading Facebook. It was started as a college-only site and should stay that way. High schoolers’ immaturity would ruin it. And no one dared to think of their parents being on Facebook.
- The mini-feed soon became known as the stalker feed. Thousands were against it; they said it creeped them out. However, users soon realized they enjoyed the convenience of not having to check hundreds of their friends profiles for the latest update. It was all in one easy-to-use location.
- Some of us, me included, didn’t like have to scroll down for miles to find someone’s Wall when people put 47 different applications on their page and cluttered it up like crazy. Facebook was turning into MySpace.
As a result of Facebook opening up to thousands of different applications, it became obvious that people’s Facebook profiles were way too cluttered, and a solution was devised. It is called the “New Facebook.” Instead of having one huge Facebook page on your profile there are now usually four different tabs users can choose from in order to get to the information they are looking for. This allows users to click to appropriate tabs rather than scrolling. Simple, right?
Right now, there is a group called, “I Hate The New Facebook.” It currently has over 1,526,000 members. Yup, over a million people.
With every innovation in the life of Facebook, I wonder what the newest users thought about the “old” Facebook. Chances are, they didn’t think anything of it, because they didn’t know how Facebook existed before they joined up. Ask someone who joined Facebook immediately after the “stalker feed” was added if they think it is a useful tool, and I’d bet they’d say yes.
It’s interesting how good and bad are such subjective opinions. Usually good means “they way it’s been and I’m used to” and bad means “I have to adjust” (which has profound implications for what it means to be a Christian, but that’s a post for another day). This goes across generations.
If this is the case, when making changes to a church or ministry, the most “objective” and innovative opinions are those of the people who have been there the least amount of time. Instead of getting together the charter members of a church when evaluating ministries and thinking about the future, maybe we should be talking to the people who are newest to the community without a dog in the traditionalist fight. Their imagination has not yet been conformed to the status quo.
Whatever the case, next time your youth are complaining about the old people not liking change, just ask them “How many of you like the new Facebook?”