There real threat to youth ministry isn’t outside the church, it’s inside.
The world doesn’t care if churches have youth who have meetings
The world doesn’t care if kids go to camps or retreats for spiritual renewal.
The world has an entirely different expectation for our youth ministry and it does not include numbers of kids, number of programs or numbers of dollars that are raised.
According to Thomas Rainer, one of the things that non-christians would like us to know is that they do not see much difference between us and other faiths. Rainer also mentions that Non-Believers at least appreciate the Mormons because they are out working hard.
In my book The Disciple Project I talk about the five core practices or identifiers of followers of Jesus. The difference unbelievers are looking for in our young people are aligned to these practices.
So, if the world expects, and God desires, youth to be more loving, more kind and more servant minded, who or what is stopping these youth ministries from becoming that?
The first threat to achieving making disciples is church leadership, committees, pastors, and even youth pastors who are just trying to meet expectations. Youth ministries need to be unleashed from subjective, human performance ratings and be allowed to follow scripture and the Holy Spirit to lead students into a life long relationship with Jesus and not just future members who pay their tithes. If not challenged, the youth ministry will morph into the status quo and no significant growth will be achieved individually or corporately.
This leads us to the second threat, we’re not paying attention. At least not enough to put together a strategic plan that get us beyond asking youth pastors, “How many did you have last week?”
If we ‘re paying attention to Scripture, we’re modeling our youth ministries (and our churches) around what Jesus thought was important, not what get’s more people in the door. People flocked to Jesus not only because of his teaching, but the needs He was meeting, including healing, salvation, isolation, hunger, etc. People were not dawn to Jesus because they needed a better belief system, they were drawn to Jesus because of the unconditional love He offered them. Jesus loved people others would not and asked for nothing in return.
Youth ministries, like churches, fluctuate. People come and people go for various reasons. My experience tells me that ministries that do not have a great cause, beyond having a great service, are not enticing those who want more than a great service. People want to get their hands dirty in the faith because that is where the growth is. Those who do not will leave, those who’s stay will make disciples who like to get their hands dirty as well.
We also have to pay attention to the kinds of questions we’re asking about our youth ministries. It means pastors, committees and youth pastors have to ask better questions, such as,
How are we making disciples of Jesus rather than disciples of First Church?
Who are we radically loving to God?
What community outposts are we serving in so kids can encounter Jesus in the broken and hurting?
What risks are the youth ministry taking to reach the lost in our community?
If we’re not asking these kinds of questions, we’re not really interested in raising up a generation of doers (James 1:22). “How many did you have last week?” is the safest question you ask because the answer doesn’t challenge us to think deeper or harder about how to make disciples, it only alleviates our worries about our youth ministry tanking or gets us thinking about bigger or better events to draw more kids.
The third and final threat to youth ministry is the meeting itself. Most youth ministries have between 60-90 minutes a week with students 49-50 weeks out of the year. Every meeting, statistically, cannot be a winner. Some meetings will be low numbers because of weather, spring break, summer vacations etc. but what if we changed the number metic to an impact metric?
Every meeting, especially for smaller youth groups, are not “blow the doors off” meetings complete with high energy worship, awesome video graphics and hip and cool speakers. Most youth ministries are 15 kids in a fellowship hall with a volunteer or bi-vocational leader doing their best to keep kids coming. Most of these youth ministries will never attain to the big youth group down the street model, more should they, but every meeting could be impactful if there was no meeting
The Disciple Project is premised upon students doing not sitting which creates the impact meeting. The book offers several models of how to do a Disciple Project from a one day even to a three month shift. It teaches the Disciple Project Method from getting people on board to unpacking and reflecting on the experience.
The youth ministries in which I conducted The Disciple Project, whether a weekend or a three month strategy, grew the kids participating and the youth ministry numerically because we connect kids with their callings and gifting from visitation of widows in our church to creating graphics for our outreaches.
These “meetings” challenged our kids to lean in, weekly, to what God was doing and not asking them to go experience God once a year at camp or winter retreat. These kinds of “meetings” taught kids that following Jesus was a lifestyle not a worship service. Did we still have worship services? We sure did, but we took time, every year, to meet needs, help kids focus on others and not themselves, and put them in scenarios where they needed to rely on God to the work of the ministry.