Youth Ministry Revisited

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I have been in youth ministry now for over 20 years. It has been a great 2o years and I have seen many lives changed and have seen God do great things! As great as it has been, I see a need for change.

Over the last year God has been showing me that we need to re-think how we do ministry. I believe we have in many ways alienated students from what God desires of the church. We have in essence created a church within a church. A church in which we temporarily attract students, and then ask them to leave upon graduation. This is not right.

For many years we have used an entertainment model of ministry designed to keep students engaged and happy. This model of ministry inspired by parachurch youth ministries from the 1950's is the chief model in which most youth ministries are built on. Through this attractional model we have atttracted many students, but are they really following after Jesus and engaging with the church as God desires? Sadly many, dare I say most, are not. There is someting wrong when we see statistics like this:
  • According to Dr. Gary Railsback up to 50% of evangelical college freshman will forsake their Christian beliefs by their senior year of college.
  • According to George Barna (in Third Millenium Teens) 2 out of 3 Christian teens will evacuate the church after they graduate from high school. In addition 63% of our teens don’t believe Jesus is the Son of the one true God, 58% believe all faiths teach equally valid truths, 51% don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead and 70% don’t believe an absolute moral truth exists. (Taken from
I am also bothered when I read the honest thoughts of this high school student who worte a post on her blog entitled, Why I've Given Up On Youth Group. I agree with her. Students want to go deeper with their faith; students deserve to go deeper. We must get away from the "entertain me" mentality that has defined youth ministry for so long and get back to what Jesus desires...sacrifice. He desires that we fully and completely seek after Him and serve Him with our lives (Romans 12:-2).

Mark Yaconelli puts it well in his book Contemplative Youth Ministry when he says, "While such ministries may keep youth entertained, they often keep youth distracted from the deeper rhythms and practices of the Christian faith. Programs and activities are chosen based on the level of excitement that's generated. No one wants to act like an adult for fear of scaring the kids. Leaders become hesitant to engage youth in any activity that is in contrast to the consumer culture. Prayer, spiritual exercises, theological conversation, and spiritual disciplines that challenge the status quo are dumped out of fear that youth may cry 'This is like school!' or 'You're just like our parents!' or (worst of all) 'This is boring.' So the ministry never addresses the deeper needs of youth, never challenges them to explore the alternative way of Jesus. Like children's television programming that seeks to keep kids attentive so they'll watch the commercials, our ministries of diversion respond to young people's most carnal appetites so we can slip in a five-minute Bible study or parade them through the church building." (p. 45)

Should youth ministry be fun? Absolutley! Should it attract others? Absolutely! The question is what are we attracting students to...entertainment or ministry? It is my prayer that the church begins to closely evaluate how we are ministering to students and thus begin to develop models that draw students into a lifelong love relationship with Jesus that is producing fruit for the Kingdom of God.


6 Responses to “Youth Ministry Revisited”

  1. Anonymous Tim 

    This is the direction I've been trying to take my youth group, but it doesn't seem like too many kids want it. Most have little desire to change and grow spiritually. It's frustrating.

  2. Anonymous Chris Lockhart 

    Hey Brian,

    I recently left youth ministry after going the direction that Mark Yaconelli discusses. I didn't leave because I changed the direction but because it was time to move on. Actually, I am not sure what the point of that is, anyway. The real point is, it took a really long time for me to get our group used to the new format, but once we got everyone on board - parents and all - it was the best decision we made. I believe today that I have great relationships with many of those kids still because we really focused living lives of service, community and ultimately discipleship. Blessings on this exciting journey!

  3. Anonymous Joe 

    That is my hope as well, that churches

    "begin to closely evaluate how we are ministering to students and thus begin to develop models that draw students into a lifelong love relationship with Jesus that is producing fruit for the Kingdom of God."

    It is just hard to chart that, measure that, and give performance assesments on that. And unfortunately that is why we are always trying to drive the numbers up. Because numbers are what are churches measure.

  4. Anonymous Josh Rives 

    I agree that the entertainment model of youth ministry is not the most effective. I wrote an article about how I think a youth ministry is best organized. Check it out and let me know your thoughts.
    I think that a relational ministry is the best way to go as opposed to an entertainment focus. If we focus on building relationships then the kids will come back for the relationships. Of course the growth won't be quick like entertaining them.

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