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Take Care of Our Adults So We Won't Have To

One of the most inexplicably backwards ideologies that youth leaders have to overcome lately is the reallocation of care for adults. Youth workers remember a time not too long ago when they could concentrate all of their energy on training and organically shepherding a group of committed adults to care for students.

They also remember a time when the community of adults grew naturally together as they endeavored to serve students and families without the need for systematic method or model. Leaders, came to serve out of the overflow of already having community as opposed to needing community through ministry.

The Old Model – Now that you’re growing and connected consider giving back through ministry.

The New Model – If you want to grow and be connected, consider ministry.

Although these two positions are relatively close they are strategically opposite in practice and purpose. The youth leader now must compensate for the expectation that any disconnection or grievance their new leader experiences must be accounted for. They are now the only and primary source of discipleship and community for both students and adults.

Why has this trend and reversal happened?

Churches are finding themselves in unfamiliar territory as traditional values of commitment and preference tolerance levels have faded. Unable to keep people connected and engaged, to the point of body health and growth, church leaders have gone through several models to curtail the shift. “We’re too big for small groups to be considered so let’s decentralize into campuses. We’re still too big for small groups to be considered so lets move to community groups. Ok, we’re close but people still don’t want to commit so let’s also make the ministries small groups. Sweet! Now you can’t go anywhere or do anything without being in a small group. Get your spreadsheet ready so we can feel good about ourselves and justify our job.” Sighs.

-People do what they want to do. 

-1980’s style expectations for the new millennium. 

-Congratulations youth leader, anyone and everyone is being pointed toward your area of mission expecting to be cared for and discipled.

-Change of plans? Understatement.

What fuels this?

Churches are dying at the same time mega-churches are growing. We’re closing doors and moving into bigger buildings. It’s too hard for church leaders to separate the assumption that because attendance is up leadership and community numbers should be up as well. Somewhere along the way church leaders also adopted growth practices prematurely.

A church that grew to 2,000 plus attendees suddenly sees their church leaders delegate and structure leadership in anticipation of 20,000 to the neglect of the staff and key leaders. No longer having access to your leader and involvement in decisions is close to feeling as if you’re tester number seven on a factory assembly line. If you’re not engaging your staff you can’t actually expect them to engage those they care for either.

The largest experience (usually the weekend experience) projects entry level faith conversations that are nowhere near the level of intensity and expectations that ministry leaders are being asked to conduct with new volunteers. It’s almost two different churches. The weekend church says, “Glad you’re here this is place for you, be who you are and come as you are.”

The ministry and small group leader gets to say, “Welcome to the church, be accountable, vulnerable, tithe, confess, change, love your spouse, drop your addiction, cling only to Jesus, and grow.” If both experiences push the same thing then it would be easier but sadly, the larger experience only endeavors to make sure people show up and come back touching on hot topics and mildly suggesting the other in video shorts and apologetic suggestions.

Last thoughts.

Yes, community is Biblical. Yes, it needs to happen. But, offering an alternate fail is not the solution especially at the expense of mission, purpose, focus, and core audience in student ministry.

Although people truly want to be known and cared for, their desire to commit to a moment of vulnerability in proximity to people they are already suspicious of is a real problem for churches. It’s systemic of cultural changes not because of assimilation or practice. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

Where are the “new” groups, “new” communities, and “new” means for which people are intrinsically practicing “coming together” outside of the church? Do they look anything like the way the church has been organizing or categorizing community for the last thirty years in structure and system?

Let’s just call this what it is. Church leaders don’t want to change the large experience by raising the bar out of fear that they will lose the influence. Tasked with giving an account for the reality that you can grow numerically and at the same time diminish in leadership depth has cultivated an environment where passing the buck is the only thing left to do. 

P.S. I love the church. Christ died for it. 

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Chad Swanzy has served in youth ministry for 15 years and currently works as the student ministry director at Gateway Community Church in Austin, Texas. Learn more from Chad and ask him your questions at ChadSwanzy.com.