Binging & Cocooning
Part of the “Things That Were Not a Thing Like 10 Years Ago” Series
By Chris Wilterdink
Some things about adolescence will never change. Pimples, hair showing up in strange places, and self-reflection are a few of them. Some things about ministry will never change; the social aspect of faith, the connectedness in worship, seeking out a relationship with the divine. Yet, youth ministry is always changing. There simply are things like technology and cultural milestones that show up and force leaders to ask new and different questions about how they practically and theologically approach youth ministry. There are things that today’s youth experience as totally normal that would not have been a thing, 10, 5, or in some cases even a year ago.
The concept of binging has been around for plenty of time, probably most familiar to older generations would be binge-eating or binge-drinking. That said, the concept of binging on entertainment has blown up and become part of youth culture in the last five years. It has changed how television shows are written, produced, and released. It has changed how young people expect to be able to engage and consume that which they are passionate about. Basically, a person can binge-consume something they like until it is exhausted, then move on to the next thing.
One thing that the binging movement has shown us; if young people find something they like – they want more of it.
In terms of youth ministry, binging may affect some traditional staples of ministry like weekly youth group meetings, Sunday School, Bible studies, or even mission/service trips. In planning, consider what it would be like to have a “binge service weekend”, instead of a weeklong trip with travel. Maybe an 8-week Bible study could be modified to a 2-week binge where youth challenge each other to complete the whole thing. One thing that the binging movement has shown us; if young people find something they like – they want more of it. Like now!
Social media platforms have now been around for over 10 years, but the way that they display information and posts has changed dramatically since their beginning. It used to be that posts would show in chronological order, if it was posted most recently, we’d see it first. Now most sites use some kind of algorithm to put the posts with the most engagement in our view first. When we like a picture, or leave a comment for a particular person, the platform we’re using will try and show us similar posts or other posts from people that we’re already in conversation with. The same thing happens with links to articles and news. The more we click on something, the more posts we will see that are similar to that first click. That means if I believe something, or look at the world from a particular point of view, the more that view is going to be reinforced without our knowledge. The technology we use reinforces something called the “confirmation bias.” In other words, there is more information than ever before, but it remains difficult to engage with different and varied perspectives. We get surrounded by, and look for, information and people that reinforce our current beliefs.
There is more information than ever before, but it remains difficult to engage with different and varied perspectives.
This can make spiritual growth a challenge. In a world filled with horrible news and stories that challenge what we think we know, a natural reaction for young people is to “cocoon”; that is, to surround one’s self with things that provide comfort and insulation from things that are deemed too “scary” or “dangerous.”
Consider what this means in youth ministry. We are called to follow a Christ who operates on the margins. We are called to be faithful in the midst of fear and anger. We are supposed to see God in the face of each other and seek to understand that our fellow people are brothers and sisters in God’s family. We encourage the opening of a cocoon by creating safe and respectful spaces to encounter different people and different viewpoints. Consider bringing together spiritually mature youth or adults to model respectful and informed conversations that promote the sharing of different viewpoints. Offer lessons where you claim, up front, that your goal is to not necessarily to change someone’s mind, but instead to show them that there are different perspectives out there. And, just because there is a different perspective or opinion, that should not interfere with our ability to love and care for each other. As a youth leader, ask youth and parents about the factors that create cocoons in your ministry context. What is scary about where you live? What does your community wish could be different? Ask, “What could our ministry do to break open our cocoons and transform ourselves and our community into something better and more like the kingdom of God?”