Youth Ministry 3.0When I was doing research for the series on the Future of Youth Ministry, I came across Youth Ministry 3.0 by Mark Oestreicher (or Marko as he calls himself). It’s a quick read (Marko calls it a manifesto, it’s about 150 pages or so) and I read it in just two hours, but I’ve been thinking about its message for far longer than that.

Marko states that it’s time for youth ministry 3.0, that the previous ‘versions’ of youth ministry have failed. His main argument for the failure is found in the extended adolescence phenomenon, which he describes briefly in his book. Youth ministry he states has not adapted its method to this cultural change.

Version 1.0 (roughly till the 1970’s) was fixated on identity and its main themes were evangelism and correction (the idea was that youth culture was bad, something that needed to be avoided). Version 2 was fixated on autonomy and its themes were discipleship and creating a positive peer group. This was mainly done through programs.

Marko proposes a Youth Ministry version 3.0 which is fixated on affinity and which has communion and mission as its key themes. Teenagers are looking for a place to belong and we need to help them find out where they belong. And this youth ministry should not be driven by anything, but should just be present. He basically renounces all programs and everything ‘big’ in youth ministry. Everything should be small, organic, contextualized.

I agree mostly with his ‘typing’ of youth ministry in the past, though I have a problem with stating youth ministry 2.0 was focused on discipleship. Discipleship in the sense of Christian living, living out rules, maybe, but not discipleship in the sense of becoming a true follower of Christ. If that had been the case, the number of teens leaving the church would have looked completely different.

Marko is right that what we are doing right now in youth ministry doesn’t work. Something needs to change. But his main argument, the extended adolescence phenomenon, seems like too limited a reason for me. I agree that extended adolescence is a major cultural shift that should have consequences for how we do youth ministry. But it’s not the only factor we should look at. There are more cultural elements we should take into account. Stating we need to change our youth ministry to adapt it to just this reality seems too limited to me.

Youth Ministry 3.0 should be missional and communial says Marko. I think he’s right, though I would rather define communial as discipleship. True discipleship is about being together, learning together, growing together. It’s in discipleship that we find our purpose in life, where we belong. Maybe I’ve missed it, but in the whole being communal approach I missed out on the importance of content, of theology so to speak.

It’s with the complete denouncement of programs and everything ‘big’ that I disagree most. Yes, we have done too many programs, too many big events in the past, I get that. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do any at all anymore. Worship for one is something that is more powerful in a big group than in a smaller setting. I believe youth services still have their place in youth ministry, besides other more small-scale activities.

And it’s the same with programs. Small groups are a program, as are youth services. They both have their merits, as do other programs. Besides, especially with a big youth ministry everything can’t be organic and spontaneous, you need programs to be able to manage the whole thing. I do think that there should be more contextualized activities, I’m with Marko there. But that doesn’t mean everything else has to go.

All in all, I do really recommend Youth Ministry 3.0 because it’s a very challenging read that will force you to think about doing youth ministry another way. The format of the book is also somewhat revolutionary, with many comments and reactions from youth workers within each chapter. Didn’t always work for me, it sometimes interrupted the narrative too much, but it was good to read some reflections from youth workers on the content.

Have you read Youth Ministry 3.0? What did you think of it?