Gangs in the City and What We Can Learn From Them
One of the cool parts of my job is that sometimes I get invited to interesting things. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, Transform Pontiac Now hosted an event where the leader of the gang task-force in Pontiac came to talk about the gang issue in the city. He had some interesting facts, good stories and interesting insights.
He spent some time talking about how gangs go about recruiting their members– mostly guys from 11-14 years old which usually goes something like this:
- Designate a house a “recruiting house”
- Set up game consoles, have good food available.
- Invite neighborhood kids over and let them know the door is always open
- Keep it constantly “staffed” with fun older people who will build friendships
- Tell the kids that this never has to end, they can always live like this.
- From there, slowly introduce the kids into the greater enterprise.
Really, this is genius and their missiology (and that’s really what it is) is outpacing the churches. We can either reject what they do off hand without giving much thought or credibility, or we can look at their methods and decide if there is something that we’re missing.
Lesson One: Alternatives for Guys
In a city where a tight budget means fewer and fewer activities for teens, kids are looking for something to do. After a certain age they get bored sitting in front of a televisIon at home. They start making friends, walking the neighborhood, or rolling with older kids. Urban boredom can be a dangerous thing. We need to be creating ways to keep teens engaged during the after-school hours, on weekends and especially during the summer.
Lesson Two: Their Door is Always Open
Unless we are willing to be as hospitable as a gang, we’re going to get beat in the battle for the hearts and minds of kids. It’s just a fact. If we’re not willing to offer kids a safe place where they can let their guard down and relax, but a gang is, we lose.
Lesson Three: Staffed with Folks Kids Enjoy
Sometimes in churches, community groups, or ministries we don’t see “because you’re weird” as a legitimate reason to keep someone from a position of leadership, but I believe it is. It is obviously acceptable in every other profession. There are no ugly models, no blind art curators, no illiterate speech writers. However, we seem reluctant in church and ministry to disqualify someone who is socially uncomfortable from positions that interface with the public. Gangs put recruiters in these houses who are fun, personable, conversational and easy going– not the socially awkward cross-eyed kid. He has a role somewhere else, but it is not as the face of the organization.
Lesson Four: Relationship.
These aren’t blind sign-ups. You don’t join a gang because a stranger came up to you on the street and said, “If you were to die tomorrow, do you know which gang would claim you?” Willingness to give your life to the cause of such an organization comes from days, weeks, months of seeing how they live, hearing them talk up their life-style and watching how important these relationships are to them. You see the community that comes with joining and you crave that.
Authentic joining of a faith community is similar. It is by living among and observing Christians that you see the hope that they have, the community that they have with each other and the world-view that comes with that. But that only happens if we are willing to let someone live life with us, in our homes, where the door is always open. If we aren’t willing to do that. If we won’t give kids the opportunity to experience the community of Christ, then there is a recruiting house nearby that is willing to give them a an opportunity to give them a different experience.
I believe that an aversion to drugs and violence is hard-wired into our souls. But sometimes we ignore those aversions in exchange for community, which is also wired into our souls. That decision, to embrace gang culture for a greater sense of community, can only be blamed on common people not being willing to be as present and caring as the gang community. We cannot expect to compete for a city’s young people if we only see them on Sundays.