Youth Ministry: A Needed Course Correction (at last!)

YouthWell, I’m excited about youth ministry for the first time in a long time. You see, I’ve been despondent over youth ministry, as I wrote sometime ago. But our two youth ministers (a married couple) met with the elders recently and explained a new approach developed by Reggie Joiner at the North Point Community Church they’d learned at seminar. I think it’s a good one. A very good one.

But before we get to it, I really should explain my despondence a bit better. It’s for two reasons –

* We are losing most of our own children and those we lose generally do not come back. Here’s the evidence.

* My church has a campus ministry — one of the oldest in the country — and kids who show up at our church for 4 (or 5 or 6) years of college seem to be less and less mature in Christ each year. In fact, some have observed that the kids from small churches with no youth ministry are showing up more mature in Christ than the kids who came up through well-funded, big-church youth ministries! (There are, of course, wonderful exceptions! I’m speaking on the whole.)

Now I hope you see why I feel as I do.

Here’s the plan that’s got me excited —

Traditional Youth Ministry Focus

  • Students
  • Content
  • Production
  • Age group focus
  • Growth in numbers

New Youth Ministry Focus

  • Leaders
  • Experience
  • Relationships
  • Family Ministry Focus
  • Service

Leaders. Shifting the focus from a “youth minister driver program” to an “adult leader driven program” creates an environment for students to connect deeply with another adult besides a parent (it is tough for two people to connect on a deep level with 70 kids!), It also allows the adult leaders and students to take the initiative to do things without relying on the youth minister.

Experience. Rather than talking about living as Jesus did, take them out and show them.

Relationships. This is hardly new, but the transition is away from big events and to building close relationships within the group, with ministers, and with other adult volunteers. The church can’t compete with entertainment from our secular culture (not as entertainers). And it’s the wrong place to center our ministries anyway.

Family ministry. American families are pretty messed up. Lots of these kids come from broken homes. The church hasn’t escape the collapse of the family. (Our divorce rate is about the same as the surrounding culture!) The church has to minister to the family, not just the teens. This has to happen at multiple levels — children’s ministry and adult ministry as well as teen ministry. Lots of parents needs lots of help.

Service. Just as is true for adults, Christianity — at its most basic — is not about large crowds at church events. It’s about serving others. This leads to real conversions, which lead to real crowds.

The 3-Dial Dynamic

Dial 1: Wonder (love) — being in awe of God

Dial 2: Discovery (mature) — understanding yourself in light of Christ’s plan

Dial 3: Passion (share) — desiring to reach other people

Each dial represents a goal of the ministry. The concept of a dial is to encourage measuring the results — how far have we gotten on this dial? how can the ministries work together to move us further along this dial? (Not that these are objectively measurable.)

Notice that “passion” is not just about evangelism. It includes what’s traditionally called benevolence, because that’s the only way to be like Jesus.

Conclusion

We’ve been in denial about the problems in youth ministry for a long time. I’m thrilled to see a better, more Godly approach. I hope it catches on.

Elders need to know that this approach may not lead to huge crowds on Wednesday night — at least not at first. Attendance may decrease.

And some parents may complain. All change produces some complaints.

But I think for a long time parents have instinctively known that youth ministry done the traditional way wasn’t working that well (on the whole) — it was just, we thought, better than no youth ministry!

This is so much better.

PS for Marcus

And it’s all true regarding adults, too.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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