Saturday, February 2, 2008

Indicators of Spiritual Longevity

I've hinted around this in past posts. This will give some context to some of the conclusions I've come to.

Those of you who have had the privilege of ministering in the same church for several years can do this. You'll probably see the same patterns develop.

A year ago I wrote down the name of every student who had been an ACTIVE part of our youth ministry from the past seven graduating classes. It didn't take too much research to divide them into two piles: those who were still active in thier faith, and those who weren't.

2/3 of the students active in our youth ministry walk away from their faith within a year of graduating high school.

OUCH! Those of you familiar with youth ministry know this to be a problem across the country. In fact, our numbers would be viewed in many circles as pretty exceptional.

So I looked for commonalities in the piles. Initially, I thought the kids who were most involved in youth group, church activities, leadership development efforts, or discipleship programs would be more likely to end up in the "Still Active" pile. I found this not to be the case. Those kids were just as likely to be in the "Walked Away" pile. Those things seemed not to be indicators of a teen's long-term spiritual commitment.

What became evident really quickly was the effect of parents on the faith-development process. I realize that this entire process is a bit subjective and nonscientific, but what I discovered was enough to indicate a real pattern.

We lose 25% of kids who have 2 Christian parents and Dad takes the spiritual lead.
We lose 50% of kids who have 2 Christian parents and Mom takes the spiritual lead.
We lose 66% of kids who have a Christian Dad only
We lose 75% of kids who have a Christian Mom only
We lose 90% of kids who have no Christian parents

So 10% of the kids who have no Christian parents - the "outreach" kids - stick with it. I contacted those kids and asked them all the same question, looking for patterns. Without exception theire was one common factor with the 10% who stuck around. They all had a spiritual mentor - a surrogate spiritual Mom or Dad. A spiritual mentor.

And here's another discovery. Youth workers don't seem to count. (That didn't sound right. Of course youth workers count - let me explain further). The 10% of outreach kids who stuck around all had mentors OUTSIDE the youth group.

Here's what's sad (and what caused me to begin questioning many of the ways we do youth ministry). I realized that parents and mentors were not only underserved in our local youth ministry, they were being completely ignored.

The biggest spiritual assets for youth ministry are largely untapped.


Scott Williams said...

I wanted to be the very first person to comment on this new blog.

I found it interesting at my previous yp position that the youth ministry had been active for many years as a volunteer ministry being led by parents and other adults in the church, but almost immediately upon my arrival they said, (one paritularly said this verbatem) "Their all yours, we've put our time in." Then it was like pulling teeth to get volunteers after that.

Dave said...

Interesting. Being part of an all- volunteer team that leads our yute ministry, I still get the feeling that folks (even some of our own crew--even me at times) are saying, "Those volunteers are doing great but, man, if we only had a youth pastor, we could get so much more done".

If we ever did go that route again, I'd advocate for someone to not be the new piano teacher, but rather one who focuses on equipping parents and mentors to play the important roles you describe---and to stretch me as a volunteer, to work on building relationships not only with teens who have Christian parents, but especially to teens who don't.

Whether it's paid staff or all volunteers, the church must learn that leadership starts in the home and through mentors who truly care. Manic programming needs to be replaced with the encouragement of cross generational events and hang out time with kids.