Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Try, Try, Try...

Youth workers who have been around for any amount of time realize that most church-attending teens ditch Jesus shortly after high school. It took 3-4 years for those close to the youth ministry in our church to notice we weren’t producing long term disciples.

Our conclusion?

“We need more spiritual intensity and fervor. The programs we have are good…but they could be more engaging if we really worked at it. I need to spend more time on those youth talks so they’ll hit the mark with more power. It wouldn’t hurt if we emphasized scripture memorization more. And we need to pray more – and harder. And while we’re at it, let’s increase our expectations for those working with teens. We need to develop stronger student leaders. We’re following up, but it’s not good enough. Let's make follow-up assignments for every youth worker every week. We’re hanging out with teens – building relationships – but they’re not developing quite deeply enough. Let’s work on that. And let’s send our youth workers to more trainings. It’s about time for a youth group survey. Oh, and let’s ratchet up our college ministry. They'll stick around if there's somwhere to go...We need increase the quality of…of…of everything we do.”




Didn’t work.

It simply added to the sense of failure when the next class graduated high school.

Have you been there? Running with more intensity doesn’t get you anywhere if you’re on a hamster wheel. We’ve got to get off the wheel and change our assumptions about youth ministry. Maybe a lot of what we do in youth ministry isn’t essential after all. Maybe what we view as essential is just “fluff”.

And if you fluff harder…?!?!


Dave said...

Yep, the hamster wheel is a great analogy. I think this issue of 'the harder we try, we'll see better results' really is a dangerous minefield. It reflects the notion that:

1) The youth pastor/youth ministry are in charge of the teen's salvation/spiritual growth/long term success as a disciple (vs parents in conjunction with non-youth group mentors in the church body being a huge part of the solution) ---some may look at the youth program and say, "if they only had it together, were better organized, letter led (i.e., trying harder) our teens would really thrive and grow in numbers."

2) Activity equals success. The more stuff we do---the more programs we have---etc etc etc means we are 'successful'.

I think the conversation, for me, has always been about our definition of 'success' in youth ministry. For too many years (and even today of course) we equate the number of teens attending as THE sign of 'success'. When we benchmark other 'successful' youth programs, we first ask (guess what): How many kids are do you have coming? If we say 100, we get lots of oohs and ahhs. But...where whill those kids be after high school for example? A growing believer in God or someone who looks back at says, Youth group was lot of fun, but, well, I hae my own life to live now."

How do we get to a place where we can say 'success' is not about numbers, but about kids with a passion to follow Christ--who are thirsting for the word--who are surrounded by parents who are doing their job at home and/or mentors who are there for them'?.

Well, nuff said. Let's keep talking!

beefy said...

Yeah man...now you're talking! And meddlin...keep it up.

MartimusPrime said...

I really think the measuring stick in youth ministry is set to the wrong standard. Parents and well meaning adults in the church think that by having more for teens to do it keeps them out of trouble and gets them closer to God. But what that develops is something you talked about in another blog post on this site: the big event mentality.

There is a particular youth in our ministry who walks the aisle every year at camp, without fail. The last time he did it I told him that I was proud that he wanted to be committed to God, but that he didn't have to wait until camp every year to grow his walk with Christ. That statement blew his mind and disappointed him a little bit, I think, because I wasn't doing backflips over his 5th rededication.

When the church as a whole can look at its youth ministry and measure success not by the number going on the latest trip but on how strong their in their personal relationships with Christ, that is when the church will see healthy youth ministry and be challenge to do the same themselves.

dean said...

i think by default, if you want to develop a ministry to teens that goes deep, you hve to resign yourself to the fact that it's going to be a smaller group. that won't sit well with parents, deacons or senior pastoral staff, but you can't have a huge youth group full of kids that have a serious walk with Christ. honestly, not that many kids are interested. when i made the decision to do serious discipleship with the kids that were truly interested in getting serious about Jesus, it was the beginning of the end for me in church work.

yo really have to sacrifice one for the other... either attract the numbers and keep it at the "milk" level, or start dishing some meat, and realize you're going to be ministering to a whole lot less kids.

Colin Monty said...

I agree with all of this. I recently finished working as a youth pastor after 15 years. I loved every minute but I hated that I often fell for the program instead of the relationships. I was thinking last night over the years and wondered did I ever make a difference. I know that I did with Gods help but there are so many kids who don't attend church anymore and could I have done something different. Thanks for your post.

Stacey said...

I echo a lot of what is being said... I have been in youth ministry for 7 years and am dying to not be paid by the church any more. I want to be able to worship again... I want to invest my time and energy in a small group of girls without the constant nagging feeling of trying to meet the spiritual needs of everyone who walks through the door of my youth ministry.

I am tired of the wheel... But how do we get generations of people in our congregations to change their mentality - especially if the denominations we serve are dying?

Thank you for being willing to engage in this dialogue!

Diana said...

My husband and I are youth interns, and not in a place right now where we can suggest or make changes in the ministry. But seeing how things are done has been an interesting learning experience for us, and a difficult one.

Tonight I'm meeting with a group of HS girls, and have been praying about talking to them about intimacy with God, and about the statistics of High Schoolers graduating from church. I'm going to ask them if they feel our ministry equips them to continue growing in their walk once we're no longer around.

I've gone from a youth ministry that I ran as a volunteer (so could base success on the individual walks of the students) to a ministry in a large church where numbers matter. I'm learning a lot and am struggling for understanding.

Anonymous said...

I am involved in our youth ministry at church, well at least a small piece of it as my wife and I lead a small bible study every other week. We are a small church with a tight budget so the big event thing is pretty rare. But I have seen and heard of families that have left because there is nothing for their youth at our church. Are they talking about programs, things to do, or spiritual growth? I really do not know which one it is. But I think it boils down to connecting in a way that shows these kids God's love. In a large setting, I can definately see where this would be hard to do. You have to have tons of other volunteers to assist with that, but not everyone desires that close connection with youth. Therein lies the problem. Youth are misunderstood and so many adults do not want to connect with them or get close to them. We need more adults that are willing to get on a level playing field with these kids and develop meaning relationships with them. Then they will see God working. Smaller groups definately make this easier. Am I syaing that large events are not a good thing> Not at all. But we as a church need to start changing the way we view success for a youth ministry, focusing less on quantity and more on quality. Just my 2 cents!