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Age-Specific Formation? I need your help

posted by xscot mcknight

I wrote this in a Comment box back on David Fitch’s last chp. But, what I’m wondering is what resources there are for this sort of thing:
David’s last chp has sent my mind reeling a few times in the last two days, and it has wandered into this thought: what is the long-term impact, structurally and formatively, in age-specific classrooms in the church? Has anyone done much research on this?
Here’s an issue: the Barna report, Revolution, indicates a growing number of Christians who are both committed to Jesus and not committed to the local church, and I wonder how much of this is related to teenage ministries and young adult ministries and 20somethings ministries that, when adults move out of them, find the drabness of the regular service completely meaningless — this is a simplification, of course, but this is what I’m wondering.
In other words, the “church” done by 30somethings and older is uninteresting not because it is inherently uninteresting (it could be that, too) but because those who have been guided through the local church haven’t been prepared for it at all.
And, what can we do? Probably to liven the traditional service and guide the age-specific groups?
There are other questions here, but this should get us into a discussion — esp if we’ve got some experts on this topic who can sweep the floor clean and put some good four-post chairs on it on which we can sit and chat.



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PJ

posted January 13, 2006 at 11:59 am


I’m kind of jumping the gun, but…
I know that there are many churches these days who are scrapping the whole “isolated youth ministry” idea and are gearing the worship setting to provide for the needs of youth and adults. I think this is done to provide interest for younger ones and also to increase the expectation on parents to minister to their own children instead of relying on the church to do it.
Thanks!
PJ



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Brian Wallace

posted January 13, 2006 at 12:01 pm


I think you’ve nailed it Scott.
As someone in youth ministry I’ve seen the pattern over and over again. Kids are committed to the youth program of the church: they attend bible study, they attend youth group, they go on retreats, they even take leadership in the group. They do all the “good Christian kid” things. But when it comes time to make the transition into the “normal” worship life of the congregation, well, nothing could convince them to do that.
For many “traditional” churches our worship is simply in a langauge that isn’t understood by youth/20-somethings. We didn’t neccessarily grow up with it and we hear nothing like it anywhere else. You can say “Worship is not about you, its about God” and that’s true. But you can’t tell me you’d feel very involved in a worship service that was done entirely in Latin or Syriac (unless you knew those langugages). Basically its an issue of contextualization: are we using the langauge of the people? And the answer for many traditional churches is no, in no way in fact.
Case in point on music styles: David Crowder Band has taken hymns and changed only the style, not the words of even the basic tune. Yet, because of a change in style, they are appealing and meaningful to a whole new generation (I’m thinking specifically about their rendition of “Heaven Came Down”)
The answer I think is a combination of things.
1) Education: Youth need to learn the “langauge” of the church. They need to learn why we do things the way we do things, etc. They need to learn why these formalities make their older brothers and sisters tick. But, we also need to be willing to alter our worship langauge in such a manner that it makes sense. Even thought of starting a prayer of confession this way: “Yo God, what’s up? We’ve gotta admit God that as your people we’ve screwed up a lot this week, not only in what we did, but also the things we didn’t do. In fact God, we confess that we even screwed up when it came to things we thought and said.”
But education also needs to go the other way: those who favor a more “traditional style” need to be willing to learn (and those who are younger need to be willing to teach – this is sorely lacking in my experience) what it is that makes their younger brothers and sisters in Christ tick, and vice versa.
Part of the problem is that we’ve ghettoized ministry from young people to the point where its seperate from the rest of the congregation. However, this largely happened because it was easier than purusing inter-generational ministry becasue that might require “change”.



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Ted Gossard

posted January 13, 2006 at 1:13 pm


Brian, I like your point. People have left our church because the worship service was done in a more contemporary style. And the whole service and set up of things on Sunday morning, is different and intended to appeal to young and old alike. But definitely a departure from the regular traditional.
If you’re right at all, then the older generation would be better able to understand what’s at stake, and rather than jumping ship, applaud and be part of the shift.



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Rich Wagner

posted January 13, 2006 at 1:26 pm


Ted,
Your last thought there? Amen brother, AMEN.
Rich



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john alan turner

posted January 13, 2006 at 1:55 pm


This is one reason why The reThink Group (one of the organizations I work with) provides materials for a church to create an environment for both kids (specifically K-5) and parents to come together to learn the same thing at the same time.



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Bob

posted January 13, 2006 at 3:07 pm


Hmmm… Maybe, just maybe, the programs and services don’t “connect” with younger people because they simply aren’t apply-able. I don’t mean the messages aren’t relevant; more the format. How realistic is it to study and actually consume a new topic every week? I think people (not just the young, everyone identfied by Barna) are finding that going to church for the message-of-the-week are finding little life transformation. After a while, you become numb and lessons just wash over you (What did your pastor preach on 3 weeks ago? Have you done anything about his/her “action steps”? If you preach, have you done anything with them?)
Adults accept this as the way things are. Youth, who have heavy relational interraction (many go to school together and are involved in each others social lives), get into adult services and find people who interact once per week. They are used to truly sharing their lives. In the adult services there’s none of that.
I think some adults notice this as well.
I think it’s more than an acceptance of worship styles or learning each others’ “language”. I think it goes down to re-introducing informal (family-type) interactions. Time outside of worship, classes, and Bible studies. We need “table fellowship”.



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Fajita

posted January 13, 2006 at 3:19 pm


One problem is that too many people think that “Developmentally appropriate” and “intergenerational” are mutually exclusive. Intergenerational is developmentally appropriate – for any age, not just the kids. They overlap. What I mean is that it is not about who gets their way, but how we do this thing called church together.
Spirituality must permeate the home, as well, or it has little grow on. When spirituality is disjointed at church and absent at home, we got us some orphans on our hands. What are they supposed to do?
This kind of fractured faith community serves to perpetuate the rise of new kinds of churches, which frankly is a good thing. However, that is at its best. At its worst it creates a spiritually abandoned generation who has been told community life is one thing when they are in the youth group, but are told to “grow up” when they get into adult community life. Well, “grow up” is code for “quit doing it the way you’ve been taught.” This is a serious and tragic double bind that 20 somethings are not about to settle for.
We’ve made a mess. The church that is emerging here at the very infancy of the postmodern era is helping, but it is not the sure.



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Marcguyver

posted January 13, 2006 at 4:19 pm


I’ve read many stories of the more “Third World” churches holding services with all ages at once. Mommmas are changing diapers right in the service.
Course, they don’t usually have all the frills that most American Christians need: A.C., chairs, walls, sound system, entertaining band, $4,000 suits, etc.
We’ve kept our kids in the main service with us for the last 5-6 years now, in several different formats; we wanted them to see us model “Worship” by our example, plus I think that they can actually contemplate and understand most, if not all, of what is being said, and have proven this to me on many occassions.



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marko

posted January 13, 2006 at 8:10 pm


this is an issue that has received growing attention in the last handful of years by thinking youth workers. we (youth workers) can only do youth ministry the way we have for the past four decades for so long before we notice that VERY few of the teenagers who are active in our youth groups make the transition well to “big church”. of course, many of our churches have responded by ramping up significant young adult ministries that are styled like a youth group. and many of the larger churches, especially, have added new church services to provide a worship context that is — stylistically — attractive to newer generations.
all that said: it’s a WAY-complex issue. yes, it’s a serious problem that warrants more research, and a good deal of theological reflection. but simple answers like “we need to teach kids to appreciate the main church service”, or “we should do away with our age-specific ministries and just be the church” aren’t really the answer (i’m not suggesting any of the commenters on this post are saying that — but these are things i regularly hear). in fact, many churches that have tried the “do away with the age-specific ministry” approach have gone back because they found it didn’t solve anything.
a few thoughts, though:
1. children and teenagers need good age-specific ministries. that’s probably an overstatement. let me modify it to: children and teenagers CAN BE well-served in their faith formation by good age-specific ministries. there are things i can accomplish with my 6th grade guys small group, in the context of our middle school ministry, that these guys wouldn’t get anywhere else.
2. that said, if all kids experience is age-specific ministry (a fault at my own church, i might add), everyone in the church is deprived. it’s not just that the kids themselves are set up for a tough transition (though that is true). the adults in the church are getting ripped off also (though they likely don’t realize it).
3. there are a handful of ways to be proactive and intentional about this that i’ve seen work:
a) intentional intergenerational stuff as part of the age-specific ministries. for instance: the youth group shouldn’t just be staffed by 20-year olds. we need a great diversity of adults (especially in age) involved in youth ministry. that might not mean on-going weekly involvement; it can be occasional intergenerational ministries. one of the things i’ve seen done to encourage adults in the church to be aware of the students is to have the adults adopt students to pray for (almost like sponsoring a Compassion child, or something like that).
b) intergenerational ministries that occur outside the context of the age-specific ministries. for instance, there’s been a significant rise in intergenerational short-term missions trips. i see this as a fantastic trend, and a very hopeful and do-able approach.
c) get kids and adults serving alongside each other. my last church had teenage ushers alongside adult ushers for the church services. and, of course, many churches have teenagers and adults serving side-by-side in children’s ministry. things like this go a long way to break down the barriers built by age-specific exclusive church programming.
d) and, finally, the church service does have to be addressed. i’m not a fan of the growing trend of having age-specific church services, and love to see kids and adults worshipping side-by-side. that said: doing this effectively is messy and requires flexing from all sides. actually involving children and teenagers in the church service (which means more than a children’s sermon and the once-a-year service hosted by the youth group) is not an easy road to walk. but i think it’s essential.
at the end of the day, the problem comes down to consumerism. our churches cater to consumeristic adults and teenagers, because we know that if we don’t, they’ll go elsewhere (the other big church down the street is offering kick-butt age-specific stuff that everyone in the family really loves!).



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted January 13, 2006 at 8:51 pm


Scot,
A friend of mine started working with inner city youth years ago in a “parachurch” context (as there was no church he knew of that could have adequately reached these kids). As they grew older and having built deep relationship, he began to worry that there would be nothing for them in their teens years. From that, he helped develop the teens program (which, strictly speaking, was essentially a church with him the pastor) which he continued to lead. Again, as they grew up, he saw that their discipleship had been so rooted in their socio-economic, cultural, racial and “generational” identities, there was still few churches where they could connect (not for lack of intentionally trying).
In the end, he left the ministry to take a position in a new neighbourhood church that was growing up around them, where he continued pastoring them. Many of the families in this church, began as kids in the program.
It has made me wonder if we approach the issue backwards, by requiring people to adapt to the system and the leaders (requiring leaders to be far too much for too many), rather than approaching it by pastoring and leading throughout their whole journey.
I know this presents many problems, so I am not suggesting this as a solution, but in this instance, it was a very successful approach, thus worth taking note of.
Any thoughts?
Peace,
Jamie



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted January 13, 2006 at 8:52 pm


P.S. Since you are now using Hashcash on the comment section, those of us who comment via PDA or cellphone are cut off. Any way around this? Just curious.



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Ross

posted January 13, 2006 at 9:19 pm


As a youth ministry vet, I’ve come to the depressing conclusion that age-segregated programs exist more for the parents than for the students. Parents who want their children to relive the same church experience that remember so fondly. Over my 10 years at the church, I’d imagine that 95% of my students were children of second or third generation Christians and probably attended because they didn’t have a choice. With only a few exeptions, once they left for college, they left the church as well.
Five years after leaving that program, and that church, I’ve found a real jewel of a church that’s small and friendly and program-less. My kids (8 & 12) have many intergenerational friendships and they love going to church. The secret? I think it’s the relationships that they have made at the Chipotles we go to as a group after services. They sit and talk and share with different people every week. A true communion meal.
Not sure if that’s what you’re looking for Scot, but that’s been my experience.
Best Wishes..



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Tim Sweatman

posted January 14, 2006 at 1:40 am


When he spoke at the Kentucky Baptist Convention annual meeting in November, Reggie McNeal said that he believes that the trend in the near future will be for worship gatherings to be age-specific while gatherings focused on discipleship and fellowship will be intergenerational. His reasoning was that different generations have different “heart languages,” and that the style of worship that draws teens or 20-somethings into a real encounter with God would be meaningless to a 75 year old or a Boomer, and vice versa. But when it comes to discipleship and spiritual formation, teens or 20-somethings can develop a deeper faith walk by fellowshipping with and being mentored by older Christians who have been on the journey a long time. Conversely, older believers can learn more about how to live out their faith in and connect with today’s world by having close relationships with young believers. His approach would seem to remove the tension and conflict within many churches over worship styles while encouraging real fellowship and community across generational lines within the body.



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Dan

posted January 14, 2006 at 2:05 am


this is great… my generation was using the same arguments for dodging the call to discipleship in our day! and now our kids and for some of us grandkids are using our excuses for dropping out of the community of Jesus. I’ll look forward to seeing how this developes…



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john alan turner

posted January 14, 2006 at 12:02 pm


I do think it is important to have age-appropriate forums to address specific issues. While the entire Bible is equally inspired, everything it contains is not equally applicable to every stage of life. So, it is wise to create environments where different age groups can explore what the Bible says that is particularly relevant to their stage of life.
But parents are not being properly equipped to assist their children in faith development if there is not a place where they can all come together and get on the same page.
Churches have stepped in as substitutes for parents when it comes to spiritual formation in children. Instead, churches should do more to help parents do what God has called them to do.



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Wolf Paul

posted January 14, 2006 at 3:25 pm


Brian Wallace said that the problem is younger folk don’t understand the language spoken in church and suggested, “Even thought of starting a prayer of confession this way: “Yo God, what’s up? We’ve gotta admit God that as your people we’ve screwed up a lot this week, not only in what we did, but also the things we didn’t do. In fact God, we confess that we even screwed up when it came to things we thought and said.””
With all due respect, I think that today’s young people need to learn that there is language appropriate and inappropriate for different circumstances. I seriously doubt that most of the bosses and supervisors which will end up giving jobs to our youth and 20-somethings would appreciate a greeting like “Yo boss, what’s up” — and I suspect they are fully aware of that and will address their superiors in work and college in an appropriate fashion. Why should we not expect them to address God appropriately as well?
But I agree with Scot and others that we need to teach them what is appropriate, and how to appreciate our church services for their content rather than their form.



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Georges Boujakly

posted January 15, 2006 at 1:45 am


Scot,
I wonder if using same age as an affinity for learning is a good way to do spiritual formation in the church.
How about younger men being taught by older…older women teaching the younger… a twinning mentoring approach?
Has anyone experimented with this?



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Robin Mathews

posted January 15, 2006 at 12:40 pm


I’ve been involved in Youth Ministry for several years and went to a fabulous 8 hour seminar given by Mark DeVries on Family Based Youth Ministry. In many ways, it wasn’t so much family based as it was intergenerational. Our church is already one where there would NEVER be a separate youth service, you worship with your family (and no, the teens don’t all sit together either, they sit with their families), so I was already doing what is considered family based and intergenerational ministry, but I got tons of ideas from DeVries.
We started a prayer partner ministry where each young person was paired with an adult from the congregation and the adult committed to pray for the student regularly. We had a prayer partner luncheon where they ate together once a year, and that was it. Not a huge commitment from either person, but the student knew that another adult besides their parents, youth leaders, and pastor cared enough about them to pray for them.
We had a quarterly youth sunday (each 5th sunday) where the kids helped organize and run the service. they did everything from greeting, offering, music, sound, and coffee after the service. From that we’ve had several students who are now regularly involved in sound, projection, instruments, and praise team. My oldest son does projection once a month for service, has a key to the church and a/v booth, and helps out for projection at practices if someone can’t make it. Quite frankly, many churches wouldn’t trust a 16 year old (15 when he started) with keys, especially to the sound/a/v equipment. The other day we were short deacons to collect the offering and they asked one of the high school boys to help, I cried. I love seeing youth and adults working together.
Oh and with our youth sunday’s, I would have an adult partner with students, i.e. a video person teach a student how to run the video at church, a sound person teach a student about the sound board, we had a couple of adults play instruments and work with the kids.
There is a time and place for youth only events, and I’m on board with youth group, age centered small groups, etc. But it shouldn’t be to the exclusion of interaction with the church body. The youth group isn’t it’s own mini church, it’s a part of a local church body.



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Bob

posted January 15, 2006 at 2:09 pm


Robin,
Are we raising church-goers or Christ-followers?
My wife and I were talking about this and I left a comment to this effect on Scot’s other post. If we’re talking about formation, I think we have to understand how formation happens. We are not “transformed” by a lesson or sermon. We are “informed”. Whe are transformed when that information interacts with our lives. With children, I find that you can tell them something one day (inform) but then it bubbles back out in the form of a question days or weeks later. At this point, the child is ready for transformation.
Because of this, my wife and I have tried to surround our children with adults (that they know and trust and that we know and trust) who will be able to answer these questions in a way that will direct them to God. This is why we have Christian communities.
Unfortunately, children’s questions don’t always come during the worship time or Sunday school class or mentor meeting or youth group program. They come up when their lives encounter them–usually when you have something else to do ;-)
All that to say that I think if we look to Sunday mornings (or any other scheduled event) to “form” our children, we’re looking in the wrong place.



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Robin Mathews

posted January 16, 2006 at 12:17 pm


Hi Bob,
I think we are raising both Christ followers and church goers. :-) As a committed Christ-follower, part of that includes being involved in a local body (whatever that may look like). Scot’s initial posting on this involved committed Christ followers not being committed to going to church and kids growing up in youth group and then not continuing with “big church”. So, my response assumes that of course we want our own children and those children and youth in our church to be committed Christ=followers. That’s a given, IMO. The issue is how do we help them transition into being more mature members of the body.
Also, have you read Chap Clark’s book Hurt? It was a great look at the change in adolescence, including how long adolescence lasts now. I was able to attend a CORE conferrence where Chap spoke on this and his book was used in one of my college classes last semester. As we look at this issue of teens dropping out of church at graduation, we need to also look at the adolescent changes to see what we as a church body can do to help prevent this. IMO, one of the problems is many church members/attenders think they pay the youth pastor (if they pay him/her!) to deal with this issue and that they don’t need to be involved. In reality, each student/child needs several adults to be involved in their lives and to know those adults care about them. This can’t just be their youth pastor and youth leaders.
Oh, and I agree that we shouldn’t expect Sunday mornings or an event to do all the forming of our children….it’s so much more than that.
God Bless.



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Eric Evers

posted January 16, 2006 at 1:13 pm


The folks over at Faith Inkubators have developed “Generations in Faith Together,” or GIFT (http://www.faithink.com/Inkubators/gift.asp), an intentionally intergenerational approach to Christian formation. I haven’t used it, but I do use their age-specific “Head to the Heart” confirmation materials, and they do a great job of bonding small groups of middle schoolers to each other and to adult mentors. One of the things I love about how they promote GIFT is that they tell you “this will totally tick off most people in your church because you’ll be taking away their free babysitting service.” But if what they’re zealous for is free babysitting, then who cares if they’re ticked?
Peace!
—Evers



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Bob

posted January 16, 2006 at 1:13 pm


Thanks for the clarification, Robin. I guess I’m just focusing on what isn’t said more than what is. Church-going is a tangible thing that we can easily define and measure so we seem to place our focus on it. Christ-following; not so much so we leave that as “a given”.
But we’re in the same place: unless kids have adults to walk with (outside of those appointed by the body), they will lack.



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Zane Anderson

posted January 16, 2006 at 5:47 pm


In my past there were a number of youth leaders who sought popularity by granting liberties to the young ones which the parents wouldn’t have, thus undermining the parents authority. Hopefully, such an experience was not yours. Praise God for faithful youth workers.



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Rosaleen

posted January 17, 2006 at 3:45 am


Look – I am in my 50s and feeling that we have had the church ‘Service’ all wrong for years. It is meant to be SERVICE primarily, and singing and teaching comes way down the line. Years ago – when there were limited forms of communication – people had to gather to hear the Word, share news of the church family, encourage each other. But today? We can all share a teaching – over the web, or on a DVD, during the week – in small groups or as individuals.
Finally – the Body (mature christians) can stop merely feeding on Sundays – and start exercising – being Jesus in the community. Doing the things he needs us to do as His Body. Helping the marginalised, visiting the sick and lonely, playing with the ‘orphans’ – who are often kids with one parent who is struggling! Goodbye self-indulgence – hello service!
If we are trying to work out what music styles will retain attendance in church on Sunday – haven’t we lost the plot?
We should encourage our people to be out, together in supportive groups, doing what Jesus did – serving the community.



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Maria

posted January 23, 2006 at 2:31 pm


Dear Scott,
The comments here have been very good. Its been instructive to see each one’s perspective. The topic seems to revolve around four main questions: How can the church minister to children so that when they become adults, they choose to stay within the church body? How can the church have a service that allows all members to connect with God? How do we develop intergenerational connection? And can we have a church where everyone matures?
To answer the first question it is important to understand the causes for lack of participation. I would be curious to know of any formal studies, but over the years I have observed three themes: control issues, lack of connection or rejection, and a questioning of truths. As a child matures they want to have control over their lives, they want to make their truths their own, and they looking for belonging especially with their own peers. The transition to adulthood is never easy.
Being humble and honest about ways we have been stumbling blocks or have tried to give the younger generation loads we have not been able to bear ourselves is an excellent place to start. As the older generation how have we maintained our control in church? What areas do we need to maintain control? What truths are universal, or timeless? Are we able to dialog with new ideas? Can we accept, love a person whose ideas we don’t agree with? Are we being consistent? Do we have an agenda, spoken or not? Are we willing to think of others needs before our own? Do we know what our needs are? Can we communicate our needs in caring respectful ways? Can we forgive and endure the younger generation’s immaturity? As a parent I am finding that I need to mature in order to help my children mature. And I’m finding there’s always room for improvement.
Much of culture is defined by religion and its traditions. Culture also varies with ethnicity, geography, and social-economic status. Our children grow up under different circumstances than ourselves so it should not be surprising that their religious expression is also different. Age-specific churches or activities are one way young people express their cultural differences. While as Christians believe in a God that transcends culture, we have not done a very good job at bridging the gap. We are still like teenagers, preferring to find belonging in homogeneity rather than enjoying the security of a common faith to celebrate our differences. In grieving the loss of young persons to the faith, we need to open our hearts to repent of the ways we have remained immature. We need to remind ourselves that God is in control and relinquish the hearts of our children and the future of his church to his plan. And as we submit to God will, become servants of all.
-Maria Kirby



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