Many of us, including me, can trace much of our spiritual heritage to a youth group that pointed our hearts toward Jesus. I am so deeply grateful for the youth leaders who poured into me throughout my middle school and high school years.
As a former youth leader, I have seen the workings of youth ministry from the sidelines of the dodgeball game too. Some of my fondest memories as a youth leader were the life-changing camps, powerful retreats and fun-filled Wednesday night youth meetings that I had the privilege of leading.
Watching teenagers come to Christ, grow in Christ and share the hope of Christ has been the ministry fuel that has kept me going for three and a half decades in the youth ministry space.
I’m also fully aware that minds, much brighter than my own, are working tirelessly to develop paradigms, programs and curriculum that will capture the hearts, minds and souls of this era of teenagers, (nicknamed Gen Z.)
Here’s a shout out and thank you to all the thought leaders, theologians, parachurch leaders and practitioners, passionately working to figure out the solutions to the youth ministry challenge before us. These heroic leaders have much to contribute to this important conversation. I have much to learn from them.
But, despite of all the hard efforts and brilliant minds working in and on youth ministry, the current form of youth ministry being executed in the typical youth group is not working.
Down deep inside we all know it.
We read it in the statistics. In the pages that follow you are going to read some stats and facts that point to the inarguable conclusion that youth ministry has miserably and utterly failed to capture the current generation of teenagers. It grieves me to say this. It hurts my heart. But facts are facts.
We see it in our churches. In the typical church the number of teenagers attending youth group has steadily shrunk over the last few decades. The current pandemic has accelerated this trend even more. Even those youth groups with decent attendance often fail to experience enough new disciples made and multiplied to make a significant statistical dent when compared to the full number of unreached teenagers who reside in their communities.
We feel it in our bones. As “the Dare 2 Share guy” I’ve talked to countless youth leaders, from almost every demographic you can imagine, about this very subject. Over the years so many have admitted to me that they sense something broken or missing down deep inside the core of youth ministry. They long to figure it out and take steps to fix it.
If you’re one of the youth leaders, pastors or parents reading these words who resonate with this same sense of holy discontent, then courageously read on. If you long for something deeper for your teenagers, something more magnificent, transformative and impacting, then please proceed with an open mind and heart.
My prayer is for this conversation to lead to the utter and absolute transformation of youth ministry. Why? So that every teen everywhere has every last chance to be reached, discipled and mobilized for the cause of Christ.
So many times, we, like the prophet Elijah, long to experience revival in the form of a windstorm of activity, a firestorm of events or an earthquake of worship. But true revival is found in God’s whisper of change. This whisper isn’t found in some big event, magic bullet curriculum or downloadable app that will make everything better. It’s found in the gentle whisper of God’s Word and the quiet, yet relentless, application of his truths to our youth ministry contexts.
2 Peter 1:3 reminds us., “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” I can’t help but think that he has given us everything we need to lead truly effective youth ministries as well.
Yes, youth ministry is broken and needs fixed. By God’s grace, we can and through his “divine power”, we will.
Now is the time.
To read the free e-book, The Failure of Youth Ministry (and How To Fix It!) click here.