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Innovative Youth Ministry: Why Your Program Must Adapt to Survive

Innovative Youth Ministry Often Happens Outside the Church

As Nancy Ammerman in her 2013 book “Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes,” wrote: “In a time of significant change, we cannot assume we will find religion in the predictable places or in the predictable forms. And if we do not find as much of it in those predictable places as we did before, we cannot assume that it is disappearing.”

Two years later, in a presentation at a meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Ammerman went on to say: “We are only just now coming to terms with the fact that more and more religion happens outside of traditional institutions.”

This shifting landscape requires that we approach youth ministry differently if we want to have success in reaching and engaging Gen Z and the generations to follow.

Fortunately, Springtide Research data suggests that there is still a positive association between engagement with a religious youth group and a flourishing spiritual life.

Fifty-nine percent of young people who attend a youth group agree, “I try hard to carry my religious beliefs over into all my other dealings in life,” compared to 43% of those who do not, while 37% of youth groupers agree, “Over the last five years I have become more religious,” compared to 26% of those who do not.

Those attending a youth group are also more likely to agree that they feel connected to a higher power (19% vs. 15%) and know a higher power exists with no doubts about it (27% vs. 22%).

Innovative Youth Ministry: Signs of Hope

There are signs of hope out there that young people are flourishing in their faith lives despite the overwhelming and misguided decline narrative by those who only focus on a few traditional markers such as attendance and affiliation.

One example that came out of the work at Princeton’s Institute for Youth Ministry is “Table Bread,” a ministry of The Table United Methodist Church in Sacramento, California. The Table believed that the baking and breaking of bread could create community for young people that alleviated some of the isolation and loneliness they experience. As they form authentic relationships around baking bread, they have rich and honest conversations centered around Wesleyan concepts and questions.

The project eventually evolved into a youth-led social enterprise toward forming intergenerational community through farming and bread-making.