Youthanize: The Death of Traditional Youth Ministry

Posted: June 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

Could we really be this insane? That’s the question that punched me in the face at 11:37pm as I lay in bed, fighting insomnia. What had me questioning the sanity of every youth pastor I know, including myself? What made sleep seem so illusive night after night?

We need only look at the definition of insanity, to see how I come to my conclusions.

The definition of insanity, at least the street version, is doing the same thing over and over and, say it with me, expecting a different result. What does this have to do with youth ministry? Only…everything.

Check this out. Statistics state between 68-98% of all churched young people leave the church when they graduate, never to return. We’ve known these dire numbers for 20 years, yet we have not changed how we do youth ministry in 30 years. What is wrong with this picture?

Why are we okay with this? Why are we okay collecting a paycheck even though we have such a low retention rate? I can’t think of anywhere else that this performance or lack thereof would be acceptable. Not is business. Surely not in our beloved sports franchises. What if Shaq only made 2 baskets out of every 100 attempts? Shaq who. What MLB team would give a multimillion dollar contract to a guy who could only hit the ball 2 times out of every 100 times at bat. I can round it off for the numerically challenged…0

It’s not acceptable for the world but for some reason it is for the church. Shouldn’t we have higher standards? I thought I read that somewhere in the Bible. Should we not be incredulous over these paltry retention numbers? Can we truly be satisfied with our “results”?

How do we reverse these numbers? Can we reverse these numbers? But more importantly, do we even want to? Do we really care? I believe we do but our actions or lack thereof, scream the opposite.

Our high failure rate shows we are really good, great in fact, at training kids to leave the church, forever. We create an adult that at best, is indifferent to God, at worst, hates God. We are doing Satan’s job for him. How did we get so good at turning kids off from God? Is there an Alienating Youth 101 class or Quitting Church for Teens class taught at seminary? It’s time to put the old ways of doing youth ministry to sleep. The future of the church depends on it.

So what needs to change? Everything. A few years ago Christian pollster George Barna documented that 61% of 20-somethings who had been churched in their teen years are now spiritually disengaged. They do not attend church, read their Bible or pray.

According to a new five-week national survey sponsored by the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC), the youth group itself is the problem. They believe modern youth ministry is too shallow and too entertainment-focused., resulting in an inability to train mature believers. Most are convinced church youth groups are not even biblical.

Here’s Why:

Adam McManus, a spokesman for NCFIC, says this; “Today’s church has created peer dependency. The inherent result of youth groups is that teenagers in the church are focused on their peers, not their parents or pastors. It’s a foreign sociology that leads to immaturity, a greater likelihood of sexual activity, drug experimentation and a rejection of the authority of the Word of God. Proverbs 13:20 says. ‘He who walks with wise men, will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.’ The result is that the youth stumble, they can’t see beyond their noses, and spiritual adolescence is prolonged well into adulthood. It’s crippling to the body of Christ. That’s why it’s time to return to the Biblical paradigm and throw out the youth group structure entirely.

Wow. When I read Adam’s statements today in a really great article, I was encouraged because I have been wrestling with the feeling I was wasting my time reaching young people for Christ. Through my para-church youth outreach I would spend countless hours building bridges between Jesus and teens and turning them on to the church, only to have the church turn them off to all of it. But Adam’s words gave me hope. I am not alone in my feelings. Maybe we will get it and change, Maybe we will focus on what’s really important; Jesus and helping young people to fall in love with him. After all we are told to Love the Lord God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.

We seem to focus on everything but that. We teach bible knowledge to the teens in our care but not life changing passion. The teens partake in many activities like youth camp and weekly games but these can be found at the local boys and girls club as well. We have diminished the youth group to nothing more than a glorified four year babysitting service so parents can attend adult church and feel their kids are “involved”.

Let’s not forget the parents role in this whole fiasco. We expect the church to teach our kids about God and “make” them good upstanding Christians.

Wake Up Call:

Hey parents, we get your kids, what, maybe 2 to 4 hours per week on average and there is a total of 168 hours in a week. You get them a whole lot more than we do. Our role is to back up what you are teaching them daily. We are your support group. You are the Hero we are just your side kick. Get it? You are Batman. We are just Robin, the little guy in tights. We don’t even get our own movie. Go be a hero to your kids. Teach them what will last for eternity. Teach them to be immortal.

  1. My kids are 16, 18, and 20 now. I never felt youth group was important, exactly because of the reasons you describe. I think a parent’s input has a much greater, deeper impact. My kids are still attending church when they don’t have to work. It is up to them what they do with what they’ve been given at this point. I wasn’t a perfect mom, but I believe reading Scripture and praying with them consistently made an impact. Time will tell!

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