Youth Ministry: YES or NO?

Depending on your source, 40-88% of teens leave the church after they graduate. Most never return. Is modern youth ministry to blame? That’s what one article and recently-produced documentary film suggest.

This is a touchy subject for me because I’m the product of a youth group. I grew up in youth groups, attended summer camps, led small groups, was a counselor at a summer camp, and eventually served as a middle school youth pastor for 5 1/2 years before moving to Tennessee to plant a church.

I always assumed the church I planted would have a youth group, but that’s because that is all I knew.

We’re almost 2 years into the church plant and Awaken Church still doesn’t have a youth group… but that doesn’t mean we ignore students. We view students as valuable pieces to the church. I love seeing young people sitting next to their parents, learning and applying similar things together. A good percentage of those who publicly profess their faith in Christ are young people. 4 of the 10 people we baptized last month were under the age of 17! We will soon be relaunching Awaken Students, which is a small group initiative targeted at young people. It’s not your typical youth group.

Awaken Kids exists to train kids up and teach them God’s Word on their level beginning gat 8 weeks old. They remain with Awaken Kids, in a class meant for their age group, until they hit 6th grade. Once they’re in middle school, they join us in the main service for church.

They worship with us.

They take Communion with us.

They pray with us.

I even encourage them to serve in ministries within the church.

Awaken Students is the other key component for them. Just as we encourage all people at Awaken to be involved in an Awaken Group, we encourage the same with the students. It’s a place where they can go, hang out with others their age, and discuss (in a small group setting) some of the key application points from last Sunday’s message…which is the same thing their parents do in their own small group.

I haven’t watched all of the film that I mentioned above, so I can’t vouch for everything that is said. I also know that the article seems to hint at the fact that modern youth ministry is to blame for kids leaving the church. I wouldn’t take it that far. I’ve seen some life-changing things happen through youth groups…in fact, it was my training ground!

Although I disagree with the film’s slant and have seen evidence of God using youth ministry in my life and in my own youth ministry, I thought this was a good conversation starter. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what your stance and/or your church’s stance on youth ministry is…


9 thoughts on “Youth Ministry: YES or NO?

  1. (About the Divided documentary)

    I am open-minded when someone is attempting to show that an aspect of ministry is “un-biblical”.
    Especially, being the HS Pastor at a large church, when it pertains to Youth Ministry.

    I watched the entire film, read the entire website, watched just about every bonus video. I won’t say that everything that they had to say I necessarily agree or disagree with.

    But, I will say: I have never seen such a one-sided documentary in my life. The arguments are intentionally vague (dangerous tact when talking about the Word of God), the interpretations are presented as truths, and the opposite view point is deemed “ungodly”.

    Well produced, bold, zealous, and unfortunately pertinacious.

    (Blog to come!)

    • Good stuff, Ray. I would agree with you. It seems to be slanted to prove his agenda, not as a documentary, which simply documents the facts and allows the viewer to decide.

    • In addition, I think much of it depends on culture and the church as a whole. In some cities and some churches, a youth group is a vital part of the church, and in others, it’s not. I don’t think there can be a rule that encompasses every church’s need to create or destroy a youth group.

  2. 1) Students probably leave churches because they aren’t saying or doing anything worth going back to, there are a lot of alarming statistics about worthless churches that I am sure have some cross over.

    2) It is an issue of liberty not doctrine so do what you got to do. Just know a youth ministry that preached the true gospel “kept me in the church”, your youth ministry…

    3) The parable of the sower is probably the main reason why they leave. I bet there will be similar statistics in your undivided church. The soil of the heart is the problem, not the venue the seed goes out in. Narrow is the gate, few are those who go, regardless of what sect of church they are born in.

  3. P.S. You are young and cool and for now if I were 14 and at your church I would rather just hear you. But when you turn 38 or so maybe it will be worth considering. When that happens just get a youth pastor who won’t have x-box 360 lining the walls and who will actually teach the bible.

    • Agreed. No student (or adult) needs 10-minute pep talks about Christianity. They need the Word. I loving seeing you, Ray, AJ, and many more dive deep into the Word with kids who most people think just want entertainment.

      The reality is that it’s not the youth group that is the problem, it’s the lack of the Word within the youth group that’s the problem. We need to take students and their need for Biblical doctrine more seriously.

  4. this is such a great discussion and reflection on an important topic. it has been the topic of several books and documentaries like you mentioned. all of them seem to make someone else the scapegoat for why students to continue on in their faith.

    instead of making straw men arguments and assuming that the vast majorities of churches and youth ministry are simply bribing kids to come to a games filled spiritually light event, maybe we can lay off the finger pointing. there are a ton of churches who all do things differently than me. but that is because they are lead by people other than me. most of these youth workers are faithful and want nothing more than for their students to live into all god has for them.

    what if the actual issue is that faith is a true choice. it is not something you are born into, it is something that you choose. of course kids when they are young will stick around a ministry for a while. but the more they are around the more they figure out what it means to follow Christ and the more they figure out if they are in or not. by the time they are seniors or graduates, many of them have decided to walk away.

    what if that is an important part of the journey?

    what if our role was simple go make the christian faith a viable option for when they do wrestle with their faith?

    thanks for the great post!

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