Today’s Czech Youth Culture
In 2007 the Czech government’s Department of Children and Youth sponsored extensive surveys of young people ages 15 to 30. Findings, prepared and published by Peter Sak, Ph.D., and Karolina Sakova in A Picture of Government Policy for the Department of Children and Youth, provide a comprehensive portrait of Czech youth today, including their priorities, values, beliefs, and use of time. The present article summarizes these findings and relates them to best practices for Christian outreach to youth.
Table 1 reveals that top priorities for Czech youth are health, friendship, family and children, love, freedom, life partner, health of the environment, peace, personal development, and education (scores of 4.0 or higher on a 5.0 scale). Lowest priorities (2.9 or below) are political involvement, God, charitable work, success in business, and popularity. It is important to take this information into consideration when developing a ministry philosophy for reaching young people in the Czech Republic. Youth value people and surroundings highly. These two considerations are keys to providing a proper environment for Christian outreach to Czech youth.
In 2005, according to Table 2, the highest ranking values of Czech youth (4.0 and above on a scale of 1-5) were health, love, friendship, freedom, peace, the environment, democracy, salary, success at work, and self-improvement. In contrast, values with the least priority (under 3.0) were political involvement, charitable work, God, and business. Czech youth particularly value health (physical health, peace, and a healthy environment), relationships, and freedom. At the same time, they give little regard to areas in the public sphere such as politics and community involvement, or God, whom they identify with church.
It is also noteworthy that for the most part youth values retained their relative ranking, varying little over 21 years, with the exception of political involvement (down from 2.7 to 1.5), charitable work (down from 3.0 to 2.5), and the environment (down from 4.7 to 4.2). Though not surveyed over as many years, God as a priority declined from 2.2 (1997) and 2.3 (2000) to 1.9 (2005).
Table 3 reveals a stark disinterest in religious, spiritual, and ideological movements among Czech youth. Even Catholicism, which received the most positive responses (19 percent answering “definitely yes” or “perhaps yes”), also received 75 percent negative evaluations (with answers of “definitely no” or “perhaps no”). While all religions and ideologies fared poorly, the most negatively perceived (91 percent and higher answering “definitely no” or “perhaps no”) were Marxism (97 percent), Islam (97 percent), Protestantism (94 percent), Socialism (93 percent), Hinduism (93 percent), New Age (92 percent), and Judaism (91 percent).
In the late 1980s and early 1990s the Czech population showed an increased interest in religion, but this surge tapered off by 1992-1993. The survey work by Sak and Sakova reveals that Czech youth in more recent years have shown a declining interest in Yoga, Catholicism, New Age, Protestantism, and Buddhism. From 1995 to 2005 none of the above scored higher than 2 on a 1-to-5 ascending scale.
In working with youth, it is important to know how they spend their free time. Combining the responses of “regularly” and “often,” the findings in Table 4 indicate that the most popular pastimes for Czech youth are watching TV (95 percent), working on the computer (77 percent), talking with friends (76 percent), relaxing (59 percent), and studying (52 percent). Pastimes that are least popular among Czech youth (combining “rarely” and “never”) are galleries and museums (82 percent), theater (81 percent), tourism and hiking (62 percent), gardening (58 percent), and viewing sporting events and games (57 percent).
Today’s Czech Youth Culture
In a second set of activities, Czech youth indicated particular disinterest (“rarely” or “never”) in individual spiritual activity (89 percent), classical music (91 percent), participating in religious life (88 percent), and slot machine gambling (84 percent).
Since 1992 a growing number of Czech youth have tried drugs. But the number of youth who report using drugs “regularly” increased only slightly (no more than one percent). According to the surveys conducted by Sak and Sakova, 60.5 percent of youth have experimented with marijuana and 2.6 percent have tried ecstasy, with all other drugs tried by youth averaging 1.8 percent or less. Clearly, the studies by Sak and Sakova suggest that drug use among youth is not at epidemic proportions. Though many youth report having tried drugs, less than eight percent today say they use drugs regularly. However, the willingness of youth to answer questions relating to drugs in a completely forthright manner must be questioned. Certainly, my years of working with youth since 1997 would lead me to assume under-reporting in these surveys.
Regarding the latest means of communication and entertainment, survey data indicate that young people (ages 15 to 30) were less frequently using record players and tape players in 2005 in favor of newer technology: mobile phones, CD players, computers, the Internet, and E-mail. (See Table 6).
The Internet is a relatively new option for Czech youth that has exploded into their lives. In 2005 the top uses for the Internet (83 to 53 percent) were E-mail, finding needed information, general surfing, special servers, chat rooms, cell phone texting, and reading printed articles and Internet magazines. The Sak and Sakova research also reveals that Czech youth are using the Internet many hours a week, often several hours a day.
Today’s Czech youth are growing up in a world very different from the Marxist controls that their parents experienced. Now, for the first time in generations, no children reaching their teen years were born under Communism. Today’s teenagers, born under democracy, now must cope with the myriad choices of a free society and constant and The Internet is a relatively new option for Czech youth that has exploded into their lives. In 2005 the top uses for the Internet (83 to 53 percent) were E-mail, finding needed information, general surfing, special servers, chat rooms, cell phone texting, and reading printed articles and Internet magazines. The Sak and Sakova research also reveals that Czech youth are using the Internet many hours a week, often several hours a day.
Today’s Czech youth are growing up in a world very different from the Marxist controls that their parents experienced. Now, for the first time in generations, no children reaching their teen years were born under Communism. Today’s teenagers, born under democracy, now must cope with the myriad choices of a free society and constant and rapid change. Government-sponsored surveys document that Czech youth today focus much of their attention on the use of “impersonal” media such as on-line chat rooms. But at the same time, teens also value “hanging out with friends.” Czech youth report little interest in the church or ideology in any form, expressing strong distaste for organized religion and politics.
Personal Ministry Recommendations
What does all this mean for Christian workers seeking to reach Czech youth? One requirement is to study God’s Word and to study Czech culture. Reaching out to Czech youth thus requires both exegeting the Bible and exegeting the culture. In the process of comprehending the world of Czech youth, I combine observations drawn from the work of Sak and Sakova with my own findings from research, cultural informants, and personal experience. Czech youth value relationships, but they dislike massive, distant, institutionalized hierarchy, be it secular or religious. They appreciate genuine interaction with people who can be trusted, and they are not impressed by show, at least not for long. Many Czechs in their 20s who have traveled to America highly value grassroots home stays, placing less value on visits to tourist sites.
Reaching out to non-believing Czech youth requires winning their trust. This can be a lengthy process, but it is necessary. One wins trust by spending time with Czech youth, participating in activities together, being genuine and selfless, being interested in their lives, being humble, being educated and intelligent, being likeable and funny, and being oneself. Trust is built over years, not weeks.
One way to deepen trust is to allow Czech youth to explain Czech culture and to show newcomers their world. What is required is to appreciate, engage, learn, experience, adapt to, and love things Czech – and above all, love Czech youth.
What Works in Czech Youth Ministry?
• Small discussion groups about God among friends who trust each other work well.
• It is important to have fun together through experiences that are not overly structured.
• Share common interests such as music, language learning, sports, and hobbies.
• Witness and share about Jesus at the proper time during backyard picnics, in cafés or tearooms, while traveling together, hiking, playing sports, and playing music.
• One key is to live where one seeks to minister. Living where one works makes it easier to know the cultural context and to be known by locals.
• Camps continue to be an effective means of outreach. One-week and weekend outings are a recognized part of Czech culture. One example would be a week-long hiking trip to the mountains with structured spiritual programs in the evenings. Then during the day discussion may continue while hiking. Weekend events might include a two-night stay in a cabin near a ski resort. Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday morning might include a 30-to-90-minute presentation on a section of the Bible, a testimony, and discussion over tea. Camping and hiking allow believers to build trust, share experiences, have fun, hang out, play music and sports, enjoy the countryside, and talk about God in natural, heartfelt, and open ways. Camp experiences, however, do need direction. In addition to time together, Christians should share their faith intentionally and clearly.
• Alfa courses (http://uk.alpha.org/) for youth – which include sharing food, fellowship, and non-threatening spiritual discussions in neutral, welcoming settings – are an effective way to share faith. One will likely need to build trust with people before inviting them to Alfa courses.
• Exit 316 is a faith-based television program for youth that airs on CT2, the Czech NBC channel. Each segment focuses on one theme and Christian views of it. Inviting youth to a comfortable, neutral location to watch this show can be followed with small group discussion. Christian youth can lead other youth who trust them after having gone through basic small-group training. Peers reaching peers through shared activities makes much more headway than in-your-face encounters. Exit 316 includes winsome personal testimonies, fast-moving media clips, and music that speaks to the genuine spiritual yearnings of teens. Observing spiritually alive believers can in this way overcome the dislike of religion so common among Czech youth. One study reported “the least favorite activities of Czech youth are political events, spiritual activities, meditation, community assistance, and volunteer activities.” (Frantisek Pelka, “Dissertation on Continual Research on Youth, 2003-2005,” Ph.D. dissertation, Czech Republic National Institute for Children and Youth, 2005.) A healthy Exit 316 study group may be the best way to reach Czech youth with the Gospel of Christ throughout the school year.
• Since formal religion is a turn-off for Czech youth, the focus should be on the person of Jesus and how to experience Him.
• At the same time, it is best for youth workers not to inflict young people with the struggles and internal politics of their ministry or church. Youth workers should dwell, instead, on personal connections between Czech youth and Jesus’ words, example, and character.
• Having Czech youth over to one’s home is a valuable way to develop deeper relationships, especially if one has a family. They too can be a strong witness, revealing true Christianity in natural, non-threatening ways.
• On-line chat and interactive blogs are valuable tools because initially Czech youth will often be more open to asking questions on-line than face-to-face. Christian workers can witness to Czech youth through on-line forums, chat rooms, blogs, or whatever will be the next, new, on-line invention. (See, for example, www.smysluplnyzivot.cz.)
• Some youth may be open to reading the Bible together. Ask them to meet together just to read
Report Scripture. (One can go to www.nbk.cz to download the Czech New Testament onto a computer/MP3 player.)
• Encourage Czech youth to study abroad. A 2005 study by the Czech Republic’s National Institute for Children and Youth stated that “50-60 percent of youth have a long-term interest in studying abroad” because “speaking a foreign language is important for my career, for getting a good job in the European Union, and also for study and travel.” Fifty-three percent of youth surveyed knew English and 28 percent knew German (Frantisek Pelka). If a Czech youth worker is able to arrange for a young Czech to have a quality schooling experience abroad in a Christian home, this opportunity will address several important issues that Czech youth value: relationships, genuine experience, adventure, language, and travel.
• Czech youth who work part-time jobs only in the summertime are often bored. Music clubs, English clubs, and basketball clubs are good ways to spend time and to influence youth, helping them steer clear of drugs and crime.
• Hang out where Czech youth hang out. All the above examples of what works in Czech youth ministry require some initial trust between a Christian youth worker and an individual youth. The best way to earn that trust is simply to hang out where youth gather - the skate ramp, the Internet gaming room, by the water, at the sports center, at the playground, and in pubs and cafes. Hours in formal school settings do not open as many doors with Czech youth as just hanging out with them on their turf.
The language of relationship is written in terms of shared experiences, spending recreational time together in stress-free situations, communicating by cell phone, text messaging, on-line chatting, discovering and visiting Czech youth websites, tuning in to their favorite television shows, and generally being interested in and involved in their world. Balancing time spent with Czech youth with time spent studying Czech youth through research will help Christian youth workers to share the message of the Gospel in meaningful ways.
Those in ministry have many possibilities to “fish for men” in the Czech Republic, but each day only holds 24 hours. One key is to stay current with the always-changing interests of Czech youth in order to interact with them in meaningful ways. But most important of all, youth workers need to be obedient to the voice and leadership of the Holy Spirit to guide their ministry to Czech youth. Research and professionalism are important, but only a healthy tie to the Vine will produce Kingdom fruit (John 15).F
Edited excerpts published with the author’s permission from a paper submitted in 2008 for a course in community analysis, Moody Bible Institute Graduate School, Chicago, Illinois.
Mark Krupa, a missionary with Josiah Venture, Wheaton, Illinois, has ministered to youth in the Czech Republic since 1997.