Earlier this week I was reading the blog of a prominent youth ministry guru who leads large teen conferences across the country. His focus in a recent post was to encourage churches to keep youth ministry a top priority and I couldn’t agree more with him that our teens need to be an important part of the ministry of our churches if we are going to have a church in the future. However, we divide over the nature of what actual teen ministry will look like in the future. After years of watching teens in traditional church ministry I’m struck by the following…
Percentage wise, the majority of kids in these hyped up weekly youth meetings leave church by the time they are 21. Statistics say between 60-80% of them are gone by adulthood.
The cost to run such a ministry is staggering. When you take into account the amount of volunteers, equipment, and buildings needed for this type of weekly gathering, it’s easy to see that only larger churches can afford such extravagances.
The average teen congregates where ever there is social activity. Many of these kids have no desire to grow in their faith but they put Mom and Dad in a tough spot when they tell them they want to go to “this” church because their youth program is so much better then somebody else’s. The truth is they will leave that program as soon as a majority of their friends do. I’ve seen this occur more than once when one church invests in a jazzed up program and then a few years later abandons it. The kids move somewhere else. It’s what is popular and NOT what is being taught.
Recently, the very large Mars Hill church in Seattle did away with their weekly youth gathering in favor of more informal in-home micro groups. Why did they do this? They were tired of investing large sums of money into the program and not getting the disciples they anticipated. the relatively small number of kids who actually grew under this type of program seemed to do just as well in the new system without nearly the cost or need of facilities. I know some youth pastors who will get mad with me over this but in the world of business, if you had the return on investment most churches today have with youth ministry you’d abandon the entire program and find something else that works.
We can’t be spiritualistic about the issue and say the few are worth it, especially in today’s economic climate when more and more pastors are losing their jobs due to low giving, low attendance, and a general apathy. No, it’s time to get excited about including others in helping to grow leaders amongst our youth. There are teens who want real life change and every church from the smallest to the largest has the capacity to grow disciples for Christ among their teens. Disciples who will happily share their faith and bring others to Christ. The question is, with the pressure many parents put on churches for the “traditional” youth ministry, will we have the guts to change?