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A Post-Christian World Requires a New Approach to Youth Ministry

post-Christian world

Need advice about doing youth ministry in a post-Christian world? Then read on for one church worker’s thoughts and tips on this vital subject.

Recently I asked some young people who all follow Jesus to have dinner with my family. I asked the kids if they attended the church I was working for. They all responded with a hesitant “no.”

I asked if they attended any church service anywhere on the weekends. Again, the answer was “no.”

This conversation could be repeated in living rooms and coffee shops around the country with similar responses. During the last century, our culture has undergone a paradigm shift from Christendom into Post-Christendom. At one time we might have been a Christian culture. But all research points to the new reality that we are living in a post-Christian world.

This means we cannot expect the church to be the central gathering place for local communities. We cannot expect people to agree with the teachings of Jesus simply because “the Bible clearly states…” Due to the influence of postmodern philosophy, our culture is skeptical of institutional houses of worship. It rejects coercive meta-narratives and seeks knowledge from within a lived community.

Given today’s secular culture in which we’re called to minister, our practices must reflect this new reality. To use tools, resources and methods that were successful during Christendom would be counterproductive in our post-Christian world. As our culture has shifted, so must our practices.

Doing Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World

Here are three practices I find helpful while engaging our post-Christian culture with the Gospel:

1. The Practice of Being Sent

After this the Lord appointed 72 others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” –Luke 10:1-4

In our post-Christian world, we must understand youth ministry as a missionary endeavor. We can no longer expect students to flock to incredible buildings and flashy programs. Teens are “out there,” so we must adopt the practice of heading to where they already live, play and work.

Being sent means we enter into a culture as a guest. We go where people gather and learn the practices. We don’t go to “win” a culture. Instead, we go to reveal Jesus amid the already-existing culture.

I go to RabbitFoot Records and Cafe every Friday and set up my office on a cafe table. RabbitFoot is this quirky hybrid of a coffee shop and a vinyl record store. It serves as a sanctuary for marginalized communities, punk-rock kids and the LGBTQ+ community in my city. In this small store, I’m the guest entering a foreign space.

As I’m sent here, I go ready to discern what God is doing in and among the people who enter. These people have no idea who Jesus is. They’d never set foot in an institutional church, no matter how great the programs. Without the practice of being sent, these people will never have the chance to know Jesus.