Sunday, June 19, 2011

Programs! Programs! Programs!

When I felt the call to ministry after my sophomore year of college, I quickly knew the direction that ministry would be focused: teenagers.

I saw them as the group I knew the best, that could benefit the most from my experiences, and the most logical in which to invest.

They're the future of the church after all, right?

And most churches at that time held the same idea. If you want your church to grow and continue, GET THE KIDS!

And how do we get the kids?

GREAT YOUTH MINISTRIES, of course! Full of crazy games, all-nighters, and way too much pizza. (Here's one veteran youth minister's confessions on how some of those elements went awry for him;)

And so churches scrambled to get young ministers to expend lots of energy building these exciting programs to invest in the church of the future....

The problem is, those youth have rarely become part of the church.

That same veteran youth minister who confessed all his crazy & stupid experiences in the above link, has recently said this:

"Contrary to much of our current thinking about the importance of powerful youth ministries to the lifelong spiritual development of future adults, research proves otherwise: a teenager who attends a church's worship service on a regular basis and does not attend youth group is more likely to continue to attend church worship services as an adult than a teen who is active in youth group but doesn't attend worship services with other age groups." (Mark Oestreicher from The Emerging Church)

And after more than a decade of youth ministry at a single church, I can say that is generally true. Not in every case, but more often than not.

And as we face an increasingly diverse and distracted culture, that places us at an interesting crossroads.

For those of you just joining through the Missouri Free Will Baptists Facebook page, I want you to know that I want to create a space where we can discuss and wrestle with these issues of faith, purity and culture. I want this to be a place where we can voice our frustrations and discouragements (because I know there are plenty!) but also exhort and challenge and suggest ways to improve. I don't have many of the answers but I will be sharing some things we are doing as a ministry that are working (as well as share the things we try that definitely don't!)

But mostly I want this to be a forum for community and discussion as we do the good work of sharing Christ with the world (and that world includes more than 30 million teenagers!)

So I pray you will join us. Let's start with this question: Which category did/do you fall in? 1)went to church but not youth group as a kid. 2)went to youth group but not church as a kid. 3)went to church and youth group both as a kid.


Frank said...

hey mark,
though I don't quite fit the category to which this question was asked I must say that even though I was a "Creaster" for most of my life, when I joined youth group in high school it changed my life. I have made mistakes since then that have impacted my life in positive and negative ways (and you know what those are) but even still without youth group and the leadership of people like you I may have ended up in a much worse situation. In essence I think that when it comes to impact youth group is just as effective as a sunday morning service because it is still spreading the word of God. In order for the youth group to be affective I think that it is up to the teenagers in the youth group to make the impact. Without a devout sense of self through God to lead those who don't know the Word there will be no impact. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the kids that go to Wednesday night youth group are the ones that need to be the leaders and lead by example.

Nathan Stitt said...

My brother, sister, and I all fit into category three. As adults I am the only one that goes to church. When my parents were over last night my father brought up how hard it was to be a minister and have adult children who have rejected their faith. I'm not sure why my brother and sister took a different path than I did...

buffalocalvary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TylerB said...

I don't know why my comment showed up as buffalocalvary. This is TylerB.

TylerB said...

I fit category three. I went to church and youth group. I think Frank makes a good point. I truly believe that youth group has and impact on teenagers lives. It did mine, but Mark I know the quote you shared is also true. My thought is simply this. Youth Groups have been designed to think like a teenager. Everything is about changing "my" life. Change in our personal life is needed and important. I believe that attending church outside of the Youth Group helps teenagers begin to realize that being a Christian is not just about "my" life. The classical structure of Youth programs have spent years training students to think about their faith from a teen perspective, but what happens when the individual outgrows being a teenager. We (the church) spends so much energy trying to fit spiritual concepts into the thought process of teenagers, we sometimes overlook spending time helping teenagers realize that things will be completely different in just a few years. One of the biggest challenges I see facing churches is that most churches are supportive of having a Youth Group. They want to have someone thinking about Christ impacting students, but seldom do churches intentionally think about what impact their Youth Group should have on the Church. I believe the true key to reaching lives is the Peter/Timothy relationship. This needs to happen between the generations within the church, and a classical structure including youth groups can really create a bottle neck to developing these relationships.

180 Youth Ministry said...

Great thoughts everyone! Thanks for sharing. I actually mostly fit into category 4: Didn't really go to church much as a kid! Although later in my teen years I started to become a category 1 (church but no youth group). But for me the thing that really changed my life was when I went to college and the campus minister took an interest in my life, discipled me and started giving me responsibilities. And the cool thing was he plugged me in both to the campus ministry (essentially youth group for college kids) and the church. I served as a small group leader and on the leadership team with the campus ministry and on the tech/sound team with the larger church. Thinking about your comment, Tyler, that allowed me to have older mentors in the main church leadership as well as younger students that I was building into, which seems to fit that Paul/Timothy model. But here is the question that I'm wrestling with today: How do we help students get passionate about pursuing those types of relationships?

Brett G said...

To give you further feedback on your question, I attended both but church more regularly and youth group more occasionally.

In our family we've all stayed in the church as adult children, but Sunday attendance was taught by my parents as mandatory and Youth Group was more of friendly hang out fun time. Good clean fun but not as essential to our growth as believers as the Sunday service was.

In fact, this distinction went so far as when I got into a little legal trouble when I was 16, I was grounded from youth group (along with all of my other "hang out" activities) but not Sunday services. The logic of this absolutely confounded me as a teenager, but looking at it now it makes more sense.

On the "why" aspect of this discussion, I can't offer a real answer, but here's my experience. As a twenty something who was involved in 3 different high school youth programs (the previous two towns moreso than Calvary), I know a lot of people on both sides of the fence in regards to belief and I've been both surprised and not surprised by which way I've seen people go.

What I do know is that kids and teenagers who grow into doubting adults often were not challenged or even told the foundational truths of the Christian faith. I don't mean the easy parts of the doctrine like what is handed out on pseudo-stylish pamphlets at large youth conferences, I mean the more uncomfortable core philosophical arguments that explain our relationship to God in the Christian faith.

Why do bad things happen to good people? How do we know that the Bible is the absolute Word of God? How do we know that God is good? What makes Christianity different than any of the other religions out there?

I won't pretend to know how to get teenagers interested in these questions because for the most part they haven't found a need to wrestle with them yet, but every single one of them has these questions inside of them and if we do not provide a Biblically sound answer to these, they will be answered by popular culture and college curricula and in a rather one-sided fashion.

For many youths that I know who fell away, faith was never more than a feel-good coat of atmospherics that you put on from time to make you feel better about yourself and to be part of a group. Wednesday night was God's time, but Friday and Saturday night was "my" time to do what I wanted.

And God does love us and fill us in a way that nothing else can. But that concept has to be understood side by side with the fact that we are woefully unworthy of grace, that God is so much greater than we are in terms of intellect that He will certainly do things we don't and can't understand, and that this document we quote in all of our worship songs and sermons is so incredibly precious, consistent, unique and without precedent among works of antiquity that it is certainly not a work of man.

I have no idea how one works the above into a thriving youth program, I just know those were the questions myself and many other had to find answers for after discovering reality post-high school. Because of my upbringing, I knew there was an "our" side to that narrative and so hearing the "other" side of it didn't completely undermine my faith. But a lot of people I know didn't have that foundation.

Maybe the Sunday correlation to be made is that those who come back for Sunday morning are more hungry for something, and what they discover grounds them a bit more.

But of course not every story is the same and that's just my experience. I don't mean anything said here in a critical light, because I really don't know how the Youth program fits into all of this or what it should do or shouldn't do. I think the more traditional pizza and game activities have a place, and I'm sure I probably haven't added anything to this topic that isn't already pondered to some extent. That's just what comes to mind.