Friday, July 17, 2015

Remembering the Youth Ministry Hotline

Greetings and Salutations (or as they say in NC, "Howdy Ya'll!) out there in Blog World and welcome to another Flashback Friday edition of Carl's blog! Today, kiddies, we are going to take a trip in the Wayback Machine, all the way back to 1988. Think back to this time, before many people had home computers, before churches had websites, before cell phones and before online social networking sites. Even in those dark days, we still had to communicate with one another- and we often did it with this thing called a telephone.

After the epiphany about more active summers and better communication I received at the 1987 NYWC, I had spent much of my time in the following months working on ways to let my youth and their families know what was going on in our ministry at Springfield Friends Meeting. I had improved the monthly newsletters, sent out more postcards, and put up more bulletin boards in the facility. This all culminated in the summer of '88 with the publication of my first Summer Ministries Booklet and the introduction of the Youth Group Hotline. The concept of the Hotline was not new. The idea was to have a separate phone line with an answering machine (get Grandpa to explain that contraption to ya!) attached where people could call and receive information on youth events. But I wanted to take the idea to another level. I found an answering machine with a 1 minute message tape, and advertised that the message would change every day! And from June of 1988 (887-8366 at Springfield) until March of 2000 (847-XLAX in Kissimmee-"get a new message every day that will really MOVE you...") I did just that- at least most every day. It was much more than just information- it was entertainment, it was interactive, and it was a great means of connecting with students. Here are just a few of the things that happened on the Hotline over the years:
  • Al Sleet, Hippy-Dippy Youth Leader-  Stolen from a George Carlin character, Al sounded a little stoned, and delivered the youth news along with great lines like "The forecast for tonight is dark...continued mostly dark tonight, ending in widely scattered light tomorrow." Al was a favorite for years.
  • Chicken Man-  With his famous cry of "He's everywhere, he's everywhere," Chicken Man's heroic tales (as told by me, the narrator) would always include some of the youth and the upcoming events in our program. He was a weekly character for years.
  • The Student Spotlight-  Once a week I would highlight one of our youth, giving true facts and some humorous stories- or facts I would just make up! "Bob's favorite subject is basket weaving; he loves football and chinese checkers; and his hobbies include eating cheesecake and knitting sweaters for senior citizens."
  • Contests-  There were all kinds of contests designed to get kids to call in and leave messages, and they did. I would publish the contests in our newsletter and get them hooked on calling.  They were having fun and hearing what we were up to as a ministry- hmmm this idea just might work...
  • The DJ-  I would play a corny AM-radio style disk jockey, giving the youth news and singing songs like Carlin's One Last Pimple (I've got one last pimple from going steady with you, don't know whether to break it or leave it alone, it's the only one I call my own...") and Put Your Hand In the Fan ("Put your hand in the fan and you could lose a finger.  Put your foot in the fan and you could lose a toe.  Put your face in the fan and you will look at others differently, put your body in the fan and alter your anatomy!"). Always a favorite.
  • Top 10 Lists-  I would do lists about our ministry, about events, and about individual youth. I would also borrow directly from the master, David Letterman!
  • Mocking Culture- From time to time I would latch on to something that was huge in the youth culture and make fun of it in various ways. For instance, during the Titanic craze of 1997 I introduced a recurring character named Leonardo Decappuchinobreath to torture all of the young women who were madly in love with Leo. I had so much fun with this one...
The Hotline accomplished everything I ever hoped it would until it was replaced by the website. It fostered communication and contact with the youth I served, and helped eliminate moments like a youth walking in and asking when the Atlanta trip was going to be, only to be told we had just returned the day before! And websites, as great as they are, cannot replace the intimacy of hearing the excited voice of a youth responding to your work and the upcoming events. It was just one of the many ways we used to try to help connect students to our ministry, and hopefully, to Jesus. And by the way- even with this "new" computer technology, comments are still appreciated!  :) 

Because of Jesus,

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