The Problem With Youth Ministry

simpsons_church_sign_www_txt2pic_comI’ve read a couple of articles about youth in the church, lately. One cited a survey by the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches that claimed that young people are driven away from church because youth groups are shallow and entertainment driven. The other was from Tony Jones, who is frustrated at “how quickly people abdicate their hermeneutical authority to clergypersons, and how quickly and easily clergypersons take up that authority”, specifically in regard to their children. On the surface, these two articles don’t seem to have anything in common beyond the fact that they’re both about young people. But, in reality, they are closely tied.

Before we get into the meat of this question, let’s address the obvious: NCFIC survey is very likely skewed to bolster their contention that families shouldn’t be segregated during church. That means, no children’s ministry, no Sunday school and, yes, no youth group. Funny how surveys conducted by a certain groups can confirm what they’ve said all along. I seriously doubt it’s a happy coincidence. But, it doesn’t mean nothing good can come of it. In this case, the survey points out how frivolous youth groups can be. And, that’s where Tony’s post comes in, because he talks the other end of the spectrum; how, all too often, young people are frustrated by the set-in-stone version of Christianity they get in church. Both articles expose the real problem with youth groups and it’s not that they’re too shallow and it’s not that they’re too rigid. It is that they’re not really about youth.

In too many churches, youth ministry isn’t about giving young people a foundation for a mature faith; it’s about getting more families into church. Or, it’s a theological baby sitter, a dumping ground so adults can have a few teen-free moments. And, I get that to a degree. I have raised two teenagers, you know. But, that type of thinking comes at a price.

In churches where this is the case, what is offered is either what parents want their children to learn (like fundamental evangelicalism) or what adults think young people want (fun and games). That’s not to say there aren’t youth ministries that get it right. Those that do understand that kids get enough fun and games on their own and that a faith that is too rigid and doesn’t allow them room to grow turns them off. They know that when teens come to church, they want to learn, that they have questions they need answered.They know their youth want to be challenged, that they want depth. Just like adults, when kids don’t get what they need, they tend not come back.

So, if your youth group spends all their time doing sword drills or playing and having fun, not only are doing them a disservice, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. If that’s what you want, fine. But, don’t start bitching when your kids have screwed up ideas about faith and/or leave the church at the earliest possible opportunity.