I am not sure what the definition of crisis is or what a situation has to be like to be described as ‘in crisis’ but it does seem that, for many within our churches, ‘youth ministry is in crisis’ is a realistic opinion. “We just don’t see young people in our church anymore” and “what we do isn’t working any longer” are not uncommon remarks we pick up from Christians. Why is this?
It is easy to think that it is down to young people. Obviously, they no longer want anything to do with church or spirituality. But my experience, and from talking to schools workers, is that this is definitely not the case. Young people are still very open to spirituality and the concept of faith. Sadly, for most of them they are not given a genuine opportunity to explore faith in a context that they feel comfortable with.
A perhaps overused quote from Jesus is “The harvest is plentiful. The workers are few.” (Luke 10:2) but it seems to me never more true than for youth ministry today. There is an incredible harvest awaiting God’s people if we will just come together and sacrificially get alongside these teenagers.
We have said the excuses so much we genuinely believe in them.
1.”We are too old and have done our time”
Young people don’t need more friends, they need people who will love them, be patient with them and not leave them at the first sign of disappointment. They need people who love Jesus and know the difference this relationship makes on how they conduct their lives. They need spiritual parents, people who will help them discover faith in God for themselves and will keep encouraging them to rely more on God.
2. “Youth work is for those in their 20s and 30s”
Again, young people don’t need more friends. Yes, younger adults may be able to relate more easily to the culture our young people are growing up within, but they don’t necessarily have the theology, the life experience and the wisdom for helping the next generation work their way through the different struggles of growing up. They have only just done it themselves.
3. “We need to pay someone do this”
Employing a youth worker is not always the best answer. This is often a cop out for the church! Underlying it is that no one in the church is willing to sacrifice time to young people so let’s pay someone to do it on our behalf. Now, of course, this is never admitted and it would require a considerable amount of honesty and vulnerability for a church to admit this, but it is too often the case.
We are now entering a time where there are fewer and fewer adults willing to enter youth ministry as a vocation, for many different reasons. What this means is that it is harder for a church to pursue this route, even if they do have the money to hire someone. This leads us to having to face up to some hard truths: we are the body of Christ, it is our responsibility to reach out to the next generation, with those we have, not those we don’t.
4. “Young people are always welcome to come to our church if they want to, they just don’t want to”
Like anyone, being made to feel welcome is more than knowing the door is unlocked. For most young people, church is a strange unknown. Just because a service is taking place does not mean that they think they are invited to attend. Churches need to think through carefully how they might go out of their way to welcome a young person if they should come through the door. How would you make sure they knew what to do? Who would you introduce to them so they don’t feel alone? Would you treat them differently to adults? For many young people, their experience of church is that it is not aimed at them and they are not really welcome. Hard, but true.
5. “We don’t have the time to commit to this”
And the ultimate reason – we’re too busy. We probably still have time for our weekly coffee or our trips to the gym, but the thought of having to give up time each week to invest in ungrateful teenagers, that is not high on our priority list. I wonder whether we have started to teach ‘discipleship lite’, where Christians are asked to each ‘do their bit’ in church life, instead of Jesus’ expectation of each disciple to ‘take up their cross daily and follow me’ (Luke 9:23).
We need to be honest with each other and realise that being part of the coffee rota or the Bible reading rota, are all important roles but not sufficient to be counted as our sacrificial serving within the church.
I firmly believe that God has placed within every church fellowship all the people he requires to reach out and disciple young people. We have just lost the confidence: in ourselves and our ability to connect with them, and in God and his equipping of us for the task in hand.
We are sleepwalking into a crisis if we are not already there. It is time for churches to admit the myths we have taken for truths, face them head-on, confess where we have fallen for them and make a new commitment to God to do whatever it takes to reach the next generation.
Will you be one of the workers prepared to reap the plentiful harvest?