It’s probably already a cliché to point out that so-called “reality TV” isn’t all that real. But it’s still popular, and a 2006 DVD resource, created by the Evangelical Covenant Church, is out to take advantage of it while it can. Aimed squarely at teenagers, The 24/7 Experience offers seven short, reality-TV style episodes that introduce youth to what it might look like to follow Jesus with the whole of their lives. Seven teens from across the United States join together for a cross-country road trip, visiting various Christian outreaches and communities to see approaches to full-time, “24/7” discipleship.
From New York City to Los Angeles, the teens explore themes including love, justice, unity, and spiritual gifts. Upping the relevance factor are visits with Ralph Winter, producer of the X-Men movies, and with Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission, who confronts the group with some of the harshest realities teens around the world face, such as sexual slavery.
Youth leaders can have a hard time finding ways to make Bible study “non-boring.” And attempts to be cool, whether from adults or from pre-packaged studies, are often and rightly met with rolling eyes or accusations of cheesiness. The 24/7 Experience isn’t perfect (the opening credits regularly induced a chorus of groans), but it did keep my youth group’s attention, and led to great discussions.
“It’s good, it’s short, it sort of gives you a taste of real issues. And it backs up what it says by showing you people who are living it out,” says Rachel, 16. And Corrine, 15, said the series showed her that the Church can be an exciting place. “It’s like when the Church first started, it was all these rebels, breaking the rules. But these days, people worry about breaking the Church’s rules. I think we should go back to the way it was at first.”
Since each episode is just 16-20 minutes long, watching this DVD doesn’t have to take over a whole evening’s program. And for those who want the help, one of the DVD’s special features is a discussion guide.
Canadian youth groups may have trouble relating to certain aspects of this American resource, such as the instructions on how to write to Congress. But these are overshadowed by the bigger points of connection, namely the peer-to-peer sharing of experiences. The “cast” of teens are believable and likeable, and my group felt quite bonded to them by the end of the series. When the study was over, they felt like they had to say goodbye to some new friends.
If you’re thinking this sounds good but want to know more about where it came from, here’s what the Evangelical Covenant Church has to say about itself:
The Evangelical Covenant Church is a rapidly growing multiethnic denomination of more than 750 congregations in the United States and Canada, with ministries on five continents. Founded in 1885 by Swedish Immigrants, the ECC values the Bible as the Word of God, the gift of God’s grace and ever-deepening spiritual life that comes through faith in Jesus Christ, the importance of extending God’s love and compassion to a hurting world, and strength that comes from unity within diversity.
Available from Zondervan (www.zondervan.com) and Youth Specialties (www.youthspecialties.com), The 24/7 Experience costs about $20 and is easy to order. Some local Christian bookstores may have it too; I found mine by accident while browsing in Muskoka!
If you can’t take your youth on a road trip of their own, The 24/7 Experience may just be the next best thing.
~ Rev. Kelly Baetz
St. Thomas’ Anglican Church, Bracebridge ON