Questioning Current Models of Youth Ministry

Read a Leadership article this morning that corroborates a lot of my thinking over the past few years regarding youth ministry in the church. In short, a new study reveals that age segregation, to the degree that it is currently practiced in most local churches, is counterproductive to forming adolescents into disciples of Jesus. The study cites stats on the high rates of youth dropping out of church involvement in their young adult years (70% after high school, 80% by age 30).

A few noteworthy observations:

1. Relationships with adults are key.
  • "There is a strong link between kids staying in church and their involvement in intergenerational relationships and worship."
  • "the future of youth ministry is intergenerational youth ministry. . . one thing churches can do that really makes a difference is getting kids actively involved in the life of the church before they graduate."
  • "being intentionally intergenerational means that churches need to be aware of and flexible about things that can be alienating to kids."
  • Relationships are more important than worship styles.
  • "Kids are far more interested in talking to caring, trustworthy adults than we think they are."
2. Church size affects adult-adolescent relationships.
  • "one of the real advantages of being a smaller church is that there is a lot more potential for intergenerational relationships and longer lasting faith. It's a general rule that the bigger the church the more segmented the age groups and generations are from each other."
  • Serving together is a key to significant intergenerational interaction in larger churches.
3. We should be setting high expectations for youth.
  • "Teenagers are up to the challenge. In our college transition project, we asked high school seniors what they want more of in youth group. Time for deep conversation ranked highest. Games ranked last. That's one example of how we're currently undershooting. Tenth graders study Shakespeare. What are we offering them at church? Nothing comparable to Shakespeare."
4. Change should be incremental, pastor initiated, and lay driven.
  • "The pastor is crucial. . . . the reality is that the behavior and attitudes of the pastor ultimately set the course for the church."
  • "the change process often starts small. Look for a subgroup of parents and kids who will embrace this and can help you bring changes into your youth ministry. . . . people support what they create. So get people involved from the very beginning."

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