We’re doing a series on the Future of Youth Ministry this week and after answering the question why we should care about the future of youth ministry and having a good look at the past and the present of youth ministry, it’s time to talk about the future.
What do we see happening in the future of youth ministry? There are two ways to answer this question. The first is to answer it from the perspective of what would happen if we would continue doing what we’re doing in youth ministry right now. This however isn’t very helpful as we can only speculate. The best that could come from this is a sort of shock effect as we ponder for instance the numbers of young people leaving the church, of youth workers quitting or having a burn out.
The second and far more interesting way is to put it in terms of what we think should be the future of youth ministry. If we look at the past and the present state of youth ministry, what do we see that needs to change? Where are we going in the right direction? What methods should we abandon and what new approaches should we try?
Here’s my view on what the future of youth ministry should look like, on what needs to change:
Paid youth workers need to find the balance between seeing youth ministry as a calling and doing it professionally. On the one extreme are people who dislike any professionalism or ‘techniques’ to improve their youth ministry or their own style. On the other extreme are the people who have become professional youth workers and have ceased to see it’s about a God given calling first. There has to be a balance between these two, a compromise where God’s calling is carried out in a professional manner.
Every youth worker needs to find more balance between work (youth work) and personal life if we even want youth ministry to have a future. Sustainable youth ministry becomes key. That means the truth that we are first and foremost responsible for our own family should take root, not only in our own hearts, but also in those that lead us.
As youth workers, we need to take on full responsibility for our spiritual, our personal and our professional growth. That means we should constantly seek nourishments for our souls and minds, in the form of reading books, going to conferences or listening to lectures. We can never transfer this responsibility to someone else and we should never make it the very least of our priorities. I once heard a quote on a leadership conference that I never forgot:
Everything that’s planted is supposed to grow
No matter where God has planted you, you are supposed to grow. An essential part of that growth process is accountability. Every youth worker should have a coach or a mentor and every youth worker should have someone he or she is accountable to. I think churches should make this obligatory for everyone working for them. They should facilitate this in whatever way possible, including offering paid time off for retreats and such.
Evidence-based youth ministry
What I love about the Sticky Faith concept, is the fact that it is evidence based. It’s based on actual research, which sadly is somewhat of a novelty in youth ministry. Too many of our concepts and methods are based on experience, most often someone else’s. Someone discovers something that works in his or her youth ministry, writes a book about it and everyone else follows. About the only thing that’s ever being supported by numbers is the statistics on youth leaving the church and we can’t even find agreement on those.
I think we should have far more evidence-based methods and practices. If something works, that’s great, but we should ask the question why it works. Let’s say someone has a new small group study method that works. Does it work because the method is right, or does it work because the small group leader happens to be specially gifted in connecting with youth? Evidence-based youth ministry may be costly and a bit more academic than most of us would like, but it could very well be the one thing we need to turn the tide.
Youth ministry as part of the church
Youth ministry should be smack dab in the middle of the church, not on the fringes. We are part of the church and we need to act like it. There should be something for teens and students in each service. They need to feel at home in the church, not just in youth services. They should serve in the whole church, not just in youth ministry.
Young people need examples form all ages and generations, and vice versa. So facilitate connections between your students and older and younger generations. Have them babysit, do Kids Club, have them do chores for the elderly. Seek grandparents as mentors, youth leaders. Make sure your students don’t just connect with twenty- and thirty-somethings.
Family ministry has become a bit of a buzz word, but too often it’s being interpreted as doing extra events for families. As youth ministry and as the church, we should focus on the bigger picture of supporting families in the broadest sense.
Parents are the biggest influence on teens. That’s how it should be. We need to make sure that parents are equipped to be a good influence on their kids, by giving them practical, theological and psychological support. We need to teach them what they need to know, give them the information they need, we need to help them out of they can’t manage, offer whatever support they need. Our job is to facilitate the parents to do their job with their kids.
Tomorrow, I’ll discuss two more major changes that need to be made in youth ministry. What do you think so far, so you agree with me? I’d love to hear your thoughts!