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How to Bridge the Gap Between Youth Group and Big Church

Using analogies can be a dangerous proposition. A few years ago my Pastor used the analogy of a mulligan (a term used in golf for a “do-over”) to describe the gift of forgiveness and grace.  Because he is in the spotlight, numerous bloggers jumped all over his use of such a “simplistic definition of such a wonderfully deep concept” etc.

Since I’m not talking about a theological issue….and also since I’m really not in danger of too many bloggers (at least the highly critical type) even reading this post, I am going to use an analogy today.  That of a bridge.

I believe that in virtually every church in America there exists a bridge….a bridge between the youth group and the rest of the body of christ (call it big church, the adult congregation etc.).  It is a bridge our students will need to cross at some point very soon. For some churches, the bridge is long…really, really long. In others the church is fairly short. And in a few churches, the bridge barely exists.  But make no mistake…there is a bridge.

The reason for the bridge is obvious:  There is a gap between where most youth ministries exist and where the larger church body exists. For some, the gap is physical and obvious: The youth ministry meets in a seperate building or seperate area specifically set apart for students. For others, the gap is less pronounced due to shared space, tighter quarters etc.  But make no mistake…there is a gap; and this gap requires a bridge.

I want a shorter bridge!  I want the transition from youth ministry to involvement and commitment to church life in adulthood to be a shorter, more natural journey for the students who leave our ministry.  But to shorten the bridge, I MUST begin to address the gap that currently exists.  The junior high and high school and college ministries I have the joy of leading aren’t going away. I don’t buy into the idea that youth ministry is broken, that it is the primary reason kids leave the church etc.  But I do believe that modern youth ministry has played a role.

Here are a few super practical ways I am going to attempt to shorten the gap…and the bridge.

– We are going to look for ways to help students get “more skin in the game”.  In other words, we are going to make concerted efforts for our students to serve in ministry and use their gifts outside of the walls of our youth group.  We are going to talk with the leaders of church-wide ministries and figure out a way to get more of our teenagers serving the church body.

– We are going to eliminate much of the “competing activities”.  We currently do a whole lot of “youth versions” of things such as a youth version of our membership class, a youth version of missions trips, a youth version of deeper learning bible studies etc.  We are going to take a close look at these and determine which ones we can eliminate and jump on board with the ones offered for adults.

– We are going to creatively look for ways to get our students to actually attend an adult service on a somewhat regular basis!  The older the students, the more effort we will make.  So we will work extremely hard to get our college kids in the adult services, work sorta hard to get high schoolers there, and work a little bit to get our junior highers there.

– We are going to create a few easy events that intentionally get our students to rub shoulders with the adults (the above strategies also do this…). For instance, a friend of mine just shared that his group invited the senior citizens in their church to a movie and popcorn night to watch the movie “UP”.  He said it was one of the easiest, most effective things they have done in a long time.

A gap exists. And that gap requires a bridge.  I don’t think the gap will ever disappear completely because the transition from adolescence to adulthood is an interesting one in all segments of society, not only the church.  But I am committed to closing the gap, and shortening the bridge.

I know it isn’t a perfect analogy…in which case I will use a mulligan!  

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Kurt Johnston has been involved in junior high ministry since 1988 and is currently the junior high pastor at Saddleback Church in Southern California. He's the author of Controlled Chaos: Making Sense of Junior High Ministry and Go Team! He loves providing resources for junior high ministry almost as much as he loves junior highers themselves.