Jun 30

A major shift is needed in our youth ministry

If you have read some of the research appearing in the Christian press over the last year, you will realise that church youth ministry is in a difficult place. There is a reality of how the Church has lost its confidence in youth ministry, with one report suggesting that 53% of churches that ‘do’ youth ministry, think they are doing a terrible job. Something has got to change.

My concern is that the Church is starting to give up on youth ministry, as more and more churches have fewer and fewer young people. We are starting to explain it away, to make up excuses disguised as reasons for why young people are not in our churches. ‘It’s not normal for teenagers to want to be in church”, ‘teenagers don’t want to be around adults”, “it’s good for them to leave church so they can return more purposefully”.

We have a reality in our area of England where we have seen the number of youth workers employed by churches significantly reduce, as churches struggle more and more financially, as well as to properly support the workers. Nationally, we are also seeing fewer people entering formal youth ministry training, even to the extent of seeing my former college, Oasis Trust, closing its doors on youth ministry training.

Something has to change. We need to see a major shift in our youth ministry.

I believe it is true that the Church has lost confidence in its youth ministry but we can, we must, do something to bring about transformation. One way Thrive is trying to do this is by helping more adults seek, hear and respond to God’s call to go into youth ministry full time.

We need to move away, however, from the youth worker idea, where a church employs someone to do all our work with young people. We have relied for too long on youth workers being the person who meets one to one with young people, who open and close our buildings, who organise all the youth activities, who are the primary discipler of young people. We have outsourced our mission and discipleship to an employee. We need to realise what we have done, and change.

Rather, we need to employ people with youth ministry expertise, who understand the mission field of the teenager and will enable the rest of the church to connect with this culture. Not youth worker, rather ‘youth mission enabler’.

A youth mission enabler will not do everything, or indeed, be at everything. Their primary role is to educate the church for the youth mission field, helping explain about contemporary culture, modelling how to connect with them and to get alongside young people.

It is the responsibility of the whole church, not a few, to reach out, welcome and make disciples of young people. Having a youth mission enabler will require more people in the church to be involved with youth ministry, not fewer, but it will be more purposeful and much more fruitful, fruit that will last.

We need to help more people realise that youth ministry is a life-calling, not just for a couple of years, and we need to train and educate these leaders to be missionaries into our contemporary youth cultures. I suspect the time of unqualified youth workers has its days numbered, at least I hope so. We need to learn from the past, understand mission and theology and to learn to listen to God for what he is asking us to do.

We need to change our church expectations. We must stop thinking that we can pay someone to do what we don’t have time, or inclination, for. We need to stop thinking that we don’t have an active part to play in discipling young people. How we are, our behaviour and values, will affect the teenagers in our church, and will influence whether they will stay and belong, or leave and desert.

Let’s honour those who feel called to serve God with young people full time, and encourage them to be in this for the long haul. The implications are we need to increase our funding, stop paying a salary only suitable for a first job, and start thinking about how we can help them to root into our churches, and become church leaders with responsibility for youth.

Time is pressing. We have the opportunity. We must enable this major shift to happen.

At Thrive, we are actively working to see more adults training for youth ministry locally, as well as starting to develop a placement scheme where people can join us for 6-8 months to explore God’s call on their lives, while they experience a variety of youth ministry contexts.

If you are interested in joining us or finding out more, get in touch.