What happens when parents and kids see youth group as simply an elective?

September 9, 2013 — 77 Comments


For the past few years it has been obvious that the culture in which we do ministry has fundamentally changed.

I know that pop culture continues to devolve into twerkfests on MTV, but that is nothing new.  What I am seeing that is new, is that the Christian adults within this culture have a totally different world view and values than those Christians that have gone before them.

There was this time in youth ministry’s hay day where a youth group was made up of the kids of that particular church and their friends.  It was important for the kids to be a part of youth group, and if it wasn’t important to the kids, it was at least important to the parents.  In fact, much of my early years of student ministry was bemoaning the fact that so many church kids would be forced to come to youth group and cause trouble for me and my leaders.  If I only knew how good I had it.

Now, students along with their parents see fellowship, gathered worship, church, and youth group as electives.

Our post-modern, determine your own values and reality has finally trickled its way into the local church.  Carey Nieuwhof wrote an excellent blog about the 15 characteristics of today’s unchurched person.  These 15 characteristics are spot on.  But I would actually go further and say that they are not just characteristics of today’s unchurched person, but of every person both in and out of the church.  And now Church, youth group, and actually any spiritual discipline are firmly on the bottom of the pecking order.  This means that if homework, sports, vacation, being tired, practice, fill in the blank don’t conflict then both students and their parents might consider attending some gathered Christian event like church or youth group.

For adults, this elective version of church involvement doesn’t really have any short term consequences to their faith.  Most Christian adults had some incredible experience in late high school or college and are maintaining that faith as they go through the rest of their life.  They can take months or years off of church and fellowship and still have a mostly intact faith.  While there is a ton to say about this new cultural expression of Christianity, the parents here are not my concern.  My concern is for the faith development of their kids.

These adults have had a significant faith encounter in their youth, but are not helping their own kids participate in the very activities that God used to grab a hold of their hearts when they were younger.  And unlike their parents, any significant break in community makes it next to impossible for the adolescent to ever really enter the group later.

Students are relational animals and will only participate in an environment where they have friends and feel welcomed and cared for.  

Even the least cliquey youth groups on the planet still have relationships and those relationships have history.  If a group of students spend a year doing youth group together, bible studies, go to the movies, go roller skating and skiing, and go on a mission trip together, there develops a history.  A student who chooses youth group simply as an elective and misses out on these memory making events will naturally feel on the outs, and once they feel on the outs there is little incentive for them to commit.

Add to this the fact that they culturally don’t feel a need to participate, feel little guilt spiritually and see little need for a gathered experience, these poor students don’t really have a chance!

For the sake of their children, adults need to model that commitment to Christian worship and fellowship is not an elective.  

This goes against every cultural trend.  But for the sake of our kids, for the sake of the students we are called to love and care for, may we help the adults in our lives go old skool in their Christian understanding.  As much as faith in Jesus is about a “personal relationship” it can only be worked out in community.  And community only happens with students through a safe environment that is authentic, consistent time together, building memories, and spurring one another on toward love and good deeds!

May we, in a loving and gracious way, sound the alarm and make the case that involvement in student ministry is not an elective course in faith development, but vital for the faith formation of our students.

77 responses to What happens when parents and kids see youth group as simply an elective?

  1. I could not agree more with this article. Thank you for saying it.

    What happens when these kids go to college and get “busy?” When they’ve been shown that church involvement only happens when nothing else is on the calendar what do you think is the first thing they’re going to drop when college life gets hectic?

    I know that some feel that forcing a kid to attend youth activities is incorrect because you can’t force beliefs. I certainly don’t see any parents allowing their kids to “figure out on their own” if racism or sexism is ok.

    Unfortunately the often true stereotype of short-tenured youth ministers means that many of them don’t have youth aged children. I wonder what youth ministers who are parents of teenagers are doing with this issue.

    • As a youth minister with teenage children I can tell you what we are doing about this issue. Our kids know and understand without the shadow of a doubt that they are going to be involved in church student activities before everything else and sometimes against their will. This has meant missed ballgames, practices, job opportunities, friends and countless other things. My teenage son who is a very good athlete has been approached on several occasions to participate with All-Star traveling baseball and AAU basketball teams, but because most of these events take place on Sunday we have refused, sometimes to the point of really upsetting our son, to participate.

      This very issue has been a soapbox theme of mine for sometime now and due to a recent unfortunate decision by our County School board to bow under the pressure of the ACLU and ban prayer at all public school sporting events and assemblies I was motivated to publicly address all of those “irate” parents that were up in arms about the decision, by pointing out how many of them had made their kids “Christian walk” almost non-existent because they have permitted and even encouraged their kids to forgo involvement in student ministries in the interest of sports, school activities or simply a lack of interest. My prayer is that the parents of our youth will recognize this and regain a sense of urgency in the spiritual lives of their children before it is too late. Parents if needed, should “force” their children into sound, Christian involvement.

      • “forcing” your son to attend these things instead of attending events that may actually set him up later in life for success is going to make him bitter and hate you. Are you aware of what an accomplishment is to be invited to elite athletic programs?Believe I know, you sound just like my mother and father growing up. Forced to attend church events is only going to alienate him from you and your faith. I wish you the best of luck sir. Just wanted to share my expeirence.

        • that would be called “missing the point.” The problem that you’ve apparently espoused is the same one that some people on here are bemoaning: parents elevate worldly accomplishments over their kids building a solid theology and sharing the Gospel with their friends. If more parents congratulated their kids about having a rock-solid faith, leading their friends to Christ, mentoring their peers in the faith and going on mission from an early age, then they probably wouldn’t have to FORCE their kids to go to church as they got older. As a youth minister, I’ve had the privilege of watching students that i’ve worked with play in the SEC and National championships and the NFL. Those are GREAT earthly accomplishments that will one day FADE away. These are great guys and I’m proud to have known them.
          The ones that stand out to me, and in eternity, are the eleventh grade guy who engages his non-believing friends in conversations about Christ, the ninth grade girl who came to me in tears because her exchange student friend wasn’t saved (came to Christ later that year) and the high school boys that present the Gospel to their teammates at our 5th quarter meetings and through FCA.
          Do you know what an accomplishment it is to make an impact on someone that lasts more than a few years?

        • The bible says to train up a child and to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. If the child turns from Christ as an adult, that’s their own fault. The parents did what they were instructed by the Lord to do. God holds parents accountable for how they raise their children. It would be sinful for parents to take their kid away from God and His church and teach them that God comes second in life. If that’s your philosophy now as an adult, u have some spiritual discernment issues that will effect your family.

        • Being set up for this life — that is short thinking. We can’t take it with us. The question becomes, “what is this life for?” I understand that the truth of the gospel is foolishness to those who do not believe but to those who do, it is the power of God to those who are being saved. So not being set up for success in this life…really is of little consequence compared to being given the opportunity to be set up for eternal life.

      • Exactly; which is exactly why we had a parenting-teens class, not long ago, entitled “Raising SPIRITUAL State Champs”…

    • I do not make my own teenager kids come to everything we do (because I am there full time dad not their youth pastor), but they’re at church for Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. I show grace to my kids like I show grace to other peoples kid. Youth Group is there as an assist to parents, not a replacement. I wold rather parents take ownership of the discipleship process and let me offer experiences that grow their kids faith, impact our community with the gospel, and give them big group moments they cannot get with their family.

    • The point about youth group being an elective versus church being one is a good one, imho. I am one who said that youth group could be an elective, but I would never say that church can. We are commanded not to give up meeting together, not told what ages or styles it has to be.

  2. That was spot on! Great article and really great picture!

  3. amazing article. i am a youth pastor and this is definitely my struggle!

  4. This article blames just about everything and everyone EXCEPT for the church. Hmm.

    • Hmmmmm :)

      There isn’t blame. Simply a stab at trying to understand the context in which we do ministry. And parents are part of the solution. (In my humble opinion)

      • With all respect… parents are NOT part of the solution. Parents are THE solution. Churches have bought the secular view that parents cannot raise / train up their own children and need a “specialist” to do it. The churches have trained and enabled parents to abdicate their God-given roles to well-intentioned, often inexperienced, childless youth directors whose jurisdiction does not cover someone else’s children. Even Mike Yaconelli (former youth guru) confessed after 30 years in youth work that “it does not work. It has been a complete failure.” His words. Anything not designed by God, not matter how well-planned, staffed or funded will not succeed biblically. This is what the church / youth workers are not understanding. Look at the historical church and you will see that youth ministry is a new phenomenon, and one that has not borne fruit because it is not God’s plan. Parents are God’s plan for discipling kids into adult life. Secular sociologists invented the whole idea of “adolescence.”

    • I am not thinking that it is the church’s problem what so ever. It’s our problem as parents.

    • Steven, you have a wrong understanding of what the church is. Everyone (who believes in Christ) is the church. ‘Everyone’ and the ‘Church’ are the same thing.

  5. Iconcur

  6. I disagree… but not because of my commitment to the church lacks. I disagree because of my commitment to both the church and family.

    Recently, my church asked me about having my child involved in a new teen girls Bible Stud. I said “If you form one, we might attend sometimes, but we cannot attend regularly.”

    We love our child to have fellowship with kids. In fact, we try to foster that in our home often. Our home is a haven of hospitality we show to a myriad of people.

    We are also committed to our church. There is not an office in the church I have not held (except Deacon), I write much on church issues, and for the most part have dedicated most of my free time to expanding the church.

    Yet, too much is too much. We focus on providing key elements for my children in our own home, to nurture her spiritually, socially, academically, and joyfully.

    My oldest daughter is studying Koine Greek, Church History, Foundations in Theology and the Holiness of God, studies that she and I do together. We are a part of a Sunday School class that requires homework. Along with this, my child has other work for school.

    She is very busy.

    At the same time, we are very hospitable. We constantly have people over to our home where we love showing hospitality.

    Youth Group cannot and does not foster the same level of learning I can at home and the socialization is very limited. Also, it does not foster the deep relationships we are helping our children develop through the showing of hospitality and serving others a way of developing more than surface relationships with others that is both mature and deep.

    What you seem to do in the “Youth Group” scenario is to replace what the family should be doing with another program. Not that a youth group is intrinsically wrong. However, the problem is not that kids fail to go to Youth Group, but that parents fail to train the child at home and provide those opportunities in the home.

    • Derick,
      I think your situation is unique as most children are seeking input from others…not typically the parents. That’s just a developmental reality. You may be the exception to the rule. A couple of observations however.

      First, if a Student Ministry Pastor is on the ball…he’s not going to gather the kids for fun and games every week. What kids need today is purpose. A part in something that is much bigger than themselves. They need discipleship relationships. They need a place to serve people who have nothing. They need to be able to share their faith with their friends while being involved in their lives.

      Sadly, some of that which happens amongst youth groups should be discarded…because many times it’s just filling time. I remember when I started as a new Youth Pastor I received a lot of pressure because I discarded many of the purposeless trips and fun “days” for students. My Pastor said….what about the Fun Factor? My response was if you want fun….hire a recreation director not a shepherd. Don’t get me wrong. Serving is fun. Ministering to the needy and the homeless is fun. Giving food to kids who live in a dump is fun. The most memorable and meaningful times happened in discipleship relationships…doing life together and serving. Most of that cannot happen within the home.

      So I guess if you view Student Ministry as simply gathering knowledge while relating to others…then yes…you can probably do a better job…and should be doing a better job. But I’m not so sure that’s the purpose of Student Ministry.

      • I do not think youth ministry is merely a place to gain knowledge. But I also don’t think the family lacks in potential in showing hospitality, doing missions, serving others, and developing discipleship relationships. The families I have seen whose children are well developed are not always the ones who sent their kids to a good youth group, but kids who had a good family that helped foster the development of the children. I liken it to the 1st Great Awakening when Edwards noted that it began, not in the church, but in the homes.

        Yes, there are families who over protect their kids as they stifle the growth of their children in a number of ways. However, while families need pastors who shepherd them, churches who care for them, and accountability within the church, families should be the ground in which the child can develop socially, in missions, intellectually, and receive the best and most impactful discipleship.

    • You have pointed out a serious flaw in youth ministry methodology and culture, but you have also assumed that every church is failing in this area. You have rightly assumed that the parents are the one responsible for their child’s spiritual formation, but you are also defining a spiritual formation that says the church is worth being a part of if it is up to certain standards; sort of like church is for those who can’t do it better for themselves.

    • As already noted, not only is Youth Group not the best place for discipleship, but another concern is the sub-culture that is developed within the church that I think takes away from the one-ness commanded in Scripture. Again, this is generalizations of most Youth Groups, some are the exception (I think the church we were a part of until our recent move out of the city was the exception).

      It tends to be all youth focused and the interaction and engagement from the youth to all other groups and from all other groups to the youth lack. Youth groups often develop an unhealthy sub-culture that is explicitly commanded against.

      Rather, I would hope that churches would attempt to foster the “one-ness” principle. Yet, when I hear that kids need to be with other kids, I hear (I know, this is often a mischaracterization) of a situation where kids are separated from the rest of the body.

      God designed the entire church to impact each person. We should represent a church being as one.

      Now, I am not against youth groups always. That is not my point. There is a place for groups to form. However, too often youth groups form a sub-culture that is not healthy.

    • i agree with your last statement COMPLETELY, but you guys are apparently an exception to the rule that most student ministries face. in fact, I would submit to you that your family are is robbing your church’s student ministry of some vital leadership that the community of believers could grown and benefit from.
      You may have a great youth program at your church with students who would love to have those deeper lessons brought TO them as opposed to watching a peer engage in those endeavors apart from them. I’m also concerned by the comment that Youth Group “cannot” foster the same level of learning that you can at home. My church may be unusual, but I teach my students fundamental theology, doctrine and apologetics. I can’t offer Koine Greek because, frankly, i’m not versed in it – seminary is on the way.

      We embrace the family unit and encourage (beg) parents to be the primary source of spiritual development, but also realize that we minister to many teens who are the only believers in their family, live around abusive or addictive behavior, or live around spiritually apathetic parents who value jobs to pay for car insurance and sports over discipleship. The church has to fill the role and walk teens, who are by nature peer-oriented, into the larger body when their parents aren’t around to do it. Youth pastors, i would say effective ones, are a gap-filler so to speak. We take students from where they are and help them get to where they should be. It can be argued, from mine and other’s experiences, that church “unity,” where the body of Christ comes together, results in the students being demanded to attend adult-centered events, required to maintain a respectful silence, and treated like animals in a zoo when they look or act different.

      We have to deal with the sins of the greater body just as much as they have to deal with the “failures” and shortcomings of student ministry.

      The problem is the new culture of adolescence that the west has developed over the last 60 or so years. My students would be considered adults back in the early 20th century even, to say nothing of the thousands of years of human history leading up to where we are now. It’s tough culturally because we have to teach them to be a part of their family unit and honor their father and mother and also help them become spiritually healthy adults. Again, I see too many parental units failing in this category (especially spiritually) and I’m often left with either helping them work with their students, or picking up the pieces.

      Unfortunately, I must agree with many of the posts below regarding “event” based ministries and frustrations with the youth group culture, especially if some of the comments are from student pastors. Youth ministers can be a pretty sorry bunch to be honest, I’ve seen enough of us in action to know that. However, instead of removing healthy student from the “youth group,” Derick, can i ask you, on behalf of your student pastor, to go to him and say “I want to take a group of students, under your leadership, and help them grow deeper in areas of Biblical knowledge and teaching so they can be equipped to minister to those around them.”

      You may make a bigger difference than you can imagine. If you were at my church, I’d have already asked you to mentor a group of teenage boys and possibly teach a sunday school or a specially focused small group. What would your response be?

      • Kevin,

        I do not think I am robbing the church, but I think Youth Ministry often robs the youth, the parents and the rest of the church. If your parents are not equipped to train their children, shouldn’t that be your first priority as a youth ministry? Shouldn’t helping the parents become better parents be a part of a Pastor’s job?

        Instead, when we focus on having our kids in a youth group with other kids, we rob them of the rest of the body. My kids don’t just need kids their age, which seems to be the sole focus of the other side. They need the fellowship of the entire church. They need that 80 year old faithful servant who can tell them of his entire life of walking with God. They need the mother of young babies who is seeking to honor God in her parenting. They need the single mother who is struggling to raise her kids on her own. And those people need my kids too. Why? We are a part of the church body together.

        I am not depriving other kids my kids. I am also not depriving my kids of other people in the church.

        There are exceptions, and I understand that. There are parents who don’t care at all about church because they are not a Christian. There are single parents where the mom works 2-3 jobs just to provide for the family. I understand this and that is why there is a need for ministries in the church to lovingly come beside them to help them. Yet, don’t create a sub-culture, don’t deprive kids of a myriad of others in the church, and don’t make Youth Ministry equal to being dedicated to the church.

        Youth Ministry is a program, and like other programs it can be good or bad. Yet, Youth Ministry is not the church.

        Rather, let a Youth Minister equip parents to be great parents so they can develop great families. Then we can rejoice together in seeing great parents raise great kids.

        • I don’t know that my perspective will change regarding how you’re functioning within your church body; but I don’t know you well enough to counter your statement about whether or not you’re robbing your church. So if you and your family is actively serving, then bless you for your ministry to the body and I appreciate the insight you have as a parent of a teenager.
          You do pose a VERY valid question regarding helping parents become better parents of their kids. It’s one I struggle with in practice, because a lot of times I’m torn between discipling our growing kids, trying to counsel our students who are suffering the most, and trying to keep parents involved. I’m not great at getting that all done, but it’s not something that I ignore and I do agree that it’s something all student pastors should try to do more. Parents are NOT our enemies (though i have friends who often feel the opposite) and need to be involved heavily as the primary disciple-makers in their children’s lives. The broader church body should play a part as well. The other side of our situation is that our students have been blessed that multiple elders in our church have done missions and mentoring with our students and my kids LOVE it! So that’s a huge positive.
          But here’s where maybe my original question comes up. if you were at my church, again, your position would lead me to say “can you come and help me do that?” Can you help be bring parents into our ministry on a deeper level and not be a part of the isolation that results in sub-culture?
          and as long as we’re dealing in anecdotes, I must take exception to a statement that you made. While I agree that youth ministry in general is a program, I contend that my particular ministry is NOT. my wife and i have been helping literally raise some of these students for over 7 years now and continue disciple-ship within the broader church body with them after they graduate. Student ministries should make USE of programs. But we are not identified not held accountable for our styles or even methods on many levels. We are held accountable for preaching the word with clarity and boldness and equipping believers to make disciples in their mission fields. You can’t program that. You have to live life with students and their parents and mentor them in the word.
          I get that Youth ministry is not the ideal, but I feel that too many on this board are turning it into a “necessary evil,” even if the language used to describe it is not so strong.
          The church in the first century often had to fill the role of mentor and leader when families were fractured based on differences in faith. Timothy was raised by Paul, his mother and his grandmother. Paul took the same relational role with Onesimus before reuniting (or attempting to) him with the family of Philemon.
          The facts that i think most of us can agree upon are that both the broader church body and the various sub cultures within need to come together more; but that’s a two-way street and frankly, students aren’t the most equipped to initiate that fellowship. Since their student pastors are (or should be) engaged in walking with them, it’s often help from the “other” side that we need as well.

          • Kevin,

            My family has, on several occasions, mentored and been mentored by other families to lead the family spiritually. In fact, we have several books we often let people borrow to help them through the process. Depending on the age also depends on how we may help them. My leadership with my children have changed dramatically through the years.

            Yet, it really needs to begin before the children are 5 years old. This is the optimal time to help your children and to develop a routine for the rest of your life.

            Yet, for a youth ministry, I would encourage the following.

            1. Talk about it regularly to both the teens and adults
            2. Get plenty of resources that you can let others borrow and/or buy
            3. Conduct a training session on the basics for interested parents
            4. If you have parents already doing this, have one family mentor another
            5. In the beginning, you may consider going through a curriculum where the parents and you can be teaching through the same lessons every week (like “The Gospel Story Bible” for children). This is especially helpful for Sunday School.
            6. Model it in your home and even in some of your lessons
            7. Regularly meet with parents to discover positives and challenges.
            8. Have your Pastor preach about this to your congregation
            9. If possible, bring in a good speaker to talk to your church about the topic

          • now we’re rolling.

            those are interesting and actually being implemented on some level in areas of our church. the biggest challenge for me is the regular meeting times with parents, but that’s being corrected and targeted by our ministry.

            thanks for the back and forth, it was helpful. God bless with your family and ministry

        • Derick,

          You sound like a great dad, keep it up.

        • Blessing upon you, Derick.

    • Hey Derick,

      You, sir, are the glorious exception to the rule! As a full-time youth minister who also home school’s my four boys for the same reasons you list, I agree with your perspective. This article, however, is written for the people who are religious about their entertainment and extra-curricular activities than about the intentional spiritual formation of their teens. Here’s what I can guarantee about my youth group (www.morrisonhill.com): intentional spiritual formation does happen there, both as an extension of what some of us do at home and as the catalyst for more to happen at home, at school, at work, and elsewhere. Keep up the good work as a strategic Christian dad, and encourage the youth staff at your church to make sure they are building and deepening the kind of relationships and priorities this article describes.

  7. As a Christian parent, I agree with Derick that are kids are too busy. But I also think that when we are constantly with our kids–sitting together in church, studying the Bible together (and nowhere else), providing most if not all fellowship opportunities in our own home, while we are modeling and overseeing our kids’ spiritual lives, we are also not giving them an opportunity to own their faith. We are presenting it as a parent-provided, parent-monitored, and parent-initiated part of life. The minute our kids move out on their own, away from us, they have no impetus to live this faith themselves, to have a sense of what their personal relationship with Christ entails, and frankly, they are very likely not to know how to figure any of it out.

    Youth group, where kids can meet and get to know other people like them, kids with doubts and fears and interests, skills and gifts (and–gasp!–often disagree or conflict with their parents) gives them the opportunity to explore their own beliefs for themselves, and take their faith seriously for themselves. My kids need to learn to live on their own–do their own laundry, pay their own bills, find their own jobs and make their own large and small decisions. And they need a place to start testing those waters with their faith as they prepare for adulthood. Just as kids need to know that school is a priority, that the sport or musical instrument they’ve committed to is a priority, that their household chores are a priority, they need to know their youth group is a priority. If we don’t present this value in their lives, we are missing the mark as Christian parents.

    • Bravo Zanne, Bravo.

    • Zanne,

      Let me correct a few mischaracterizations and then head to the meat of your post.

      I don’t believe we should only study Scripture in my home.
      Yes, I think the family should be the place where most socialization occurs.

      I think you make a logical leap. Because something is done in the home does not mean it is not owned by the children nor does it mean that I merely keep them home all the time.

      What will change my kid’s live is not hanging out with youth groups, but studying the Scripture. That is the power of salvation.

      Now, I want to make sure I note something else. As my kids get older (and even now) we engage in thinkers and people who have different views than our own. For instance, we will engage in the thoughts of Nietzsche, Hume, and other people from their own writings because I want them to know these thought leaders and want them to engage it intellectually. Youth Groups generally have been a failure in seeing kids own their faith past College. Studies show that parents who are engaged are more likely to see their child continue in the faith.

      However, I also want to be the parent who has most captured my child’s heart. My kids all have friends outside the family they respect and care for. However, at the end of the day, their mom and dad love them more than anyone else. At the end of the day, I am held responsible for my child’s training.

    • I disagree, encourage your child to have friendships but don’t throw the sheep to the wolves. They need to be trained by the parent and encouraged to do one on one time with God

  8. I’m speaking as a current lead pastor, a former youth pastor, and a parent of two teenagers. The concept of “youth ministry” and “children’s ministry” are relatively new in terms of church history and really only come into it current position within the last 20 years. Few churches had full-time youth and children’s pastors before the 90’s and most Christian colleges didn’t even offer a degree in youth ministry until a decade ago. So we have to be honest – this has been a relatively new idea (meaning that the church be the primary source of discipleship for teens and kids). Sunday School predates youth group and children’s church, but even then the idea was not to relieve the parents from the responsibility given in Deuteronomy 6:6-9.

    With kids and teens the role of the church has been to equip mom and dad while creating a safe and loving environment for kids and teens to be connected to the church and its mission. However, with the growing emphasis on children and youth (catapulted by the boomer and Gen. X mentality of “kids happiness at any cost” which is growing with successive generation) we have created segregated pockets of ministry within the church with good intentions but without realizing that we were at the same time disconnecting those kids and youth from seeing mom and dad’s worship, fruit, and devotion – and from the church body itself. Is it any wonder that the majority (over 80%) of youth who attended church before graduating high-school no longer do after wards?

    Combine that with the realization that the vast majority of kids who do stay in the church after graduation are kids whose parents discipled them at home and had a strong faith, it begs the question, “How’s the segregated ministry structure working for us?” For anyone who has been in ministry long enough to see kids graduate from the youth group I simply ask you to look at the numbers for yourself. If you haven’t been in ministry long enough, find some people in your church and ask them for names and numbers of kids who have grown up in children’s and youth ministry at your church and then count how many of them are still there or in a church at all since graduating from high school. The results are obvious but we choose to focus on how many are in the youth group or children’s ministry now – not how many continue to be active in a church once they graduate.

    Mike Yaconelli, a pioneer in youth ministry wrote an article in 2003 titled “The Failure of Youth Ministry.” He quickly wrote a follow up apologizing the next month due to negative feedback and pressure from the magazine whose entire audience was youth workers. But I think his first article was more honest in its evaluation and message: The experiment of youth ministry failed to produce the desired outcome. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule – but if the money, model, and methods aren’t affecting change then we must evaluate and rethink the “how.”

    Several months after Yaconelli’s death, Brent Thompson wrote an article that echoes the need for family based ministry based on the lack of results from traditional youth ministry. I would encourage you to read all three articles here: http://www.sundaysoftware.com/yaconelli.htm

    Stay strong in your commitment to reach teens and young kids with the gospel. Pour into their lives and be a positive voice for Christ. Don’t lose that passion! But realize that the methods and focus of youth and children’s ministry needs to change if we are going to affect life-long impact in their lives.

    It is also worth noting: Many teens and parents don’t make youth group a priority because they don’t see it making an impact in their lives beyond what some of their other “clubs” do. And without partnering with mom and dad, there’s little chance that it can. Therefore, the blame is not on one (the church) or the other (the parent) in my opinion; rather, it is held by both. It belongs to the church because we’ve fostered the idea that mom and dad can sit back and relax because we’ll fix their kids and teach them all they need to know about Christ and living for him in this culture. And it belongs to mom and dad because they put that expectation on the church and do not fulfill their most important role as a parent: to raise godly children (Mal. 2:15).

  9. I am sorry, but this is all conjecture based on anecdotes—not the most reliable source for evidence. Not to mention that you ignore the structural elements inside and outside the church that have contributed to the “decline” of “youth” ministry. Personal responsibility (i.e., parental responsibility) is a key factor, but it functions as a part of a much larger systemic set of relationships.

  10. As a youth pastor, I think I need to start teaching Koine Greek, Church History, Foundations in Theology and the Holiness of God

  11. Love your heart for students. I think students are way too busy, but I also think that for SOME (not all) there’s a legitimate busyness. There’s a lot of value in student activities, sports, etc. that will help studs get to college. That’s really my only rebuttal.

    I’d say that our job as youth ministers is to meet them where they are at and find a way to minister to them. So, that may not be in youth group per se, but one-on-one, or in a life group, or with a mentor, etc. But there’s some level of discipleship going on.

    But I also think it’s the PARENTS’ job to make sure they are getting fed, and not make church stuff an “option.” Maybe for some parents that’s teaching church history on their own time… not really something I would do with my kids (and I love studying that jank) but hey, to each his own. But parents need to show their kids that student ministry is a worthy investment. Ben, you rock. Don’t listen to the haters. Keep letting the Holy Spirit convict you and use you.

  12. I think what many of you are missing about this article, is the fact that it is really addressing the parent’s lack of importance where faith is concerned. If you have a child studying Koine Greek, Church History, Foundations in Theology and the Holiness of God, then it is obvious that you have modeled, very clearly to your children, that their relationship with God is the most important thing in their life. Therefore this article is not addressed to you. But parent’s who have the ‘elective’ attitude when it comes to youth group, or church in general are doing their students a huge disservice! That is the family unit he is addressing in this article. The parents that continually and consistently put everything in front of their student’s faith! And I’m not saying that missing youth group when we’re going bowling will be detrimental to their walk with God!! But the lack of importance and if we get around to it attitude that these parents are modeling for their students when it comes to youth group, bible study and church, will be!!! It results in a faith of convenience. And it will never, never, never be convenient in college.

    • I think you make a great observation when you said, “I think what many of you are missing about this article, is the fact that it is really addressing the parent’s lack of importance when faith is concerned.”

      I applaud that base premise and call-out about many modern parents, but I do not applaud the solution. The solution is not the cure, it is an extra. It is not the solution, it is, at times a nice addition.

  13. Just another observation. I think what you have written is true and I can see this trend as well. My question is what part has the church played and does the church continue to play in promoting this trend? We run “event based” ministries expecting people to come to our events. We compete with every other “elective” and try to make ours more enticing, more entertaining and more exciting than the competition. I think part of what needs to happen is we need to stop competing. We offer life and relationship and intimacy that can only be found in a common Spirit and all we do us keep playing this game of bigger and better events.
    I also feel like part of what is happening may be God breaking down our “building and event centered” ministries. We are to equip and send out. The gathering is for the body to be equipped and encouraged and then sent out. I think a major factor is our fear that if we invest in lives the way we need to in more intimate ways we will lose numbers. Jesus had twelve. His example is for every believer not just the pastors we pay and depend on as though they are Jesus and all powerful themselves. It’s time for everyone who calls on the name of The Lord to listen to their master and work together in making disciples.

    Not sure I made any sense but there is my thought.

  14. Upon reading the plethora of worldviews in this thread (and I did not meticulously read each response, just the shorter or more inflammatory responses), the one thing I wonder if is being missed from the conversation is what if PARENTS worked CLOSELY with the youth pastor and youth minister to aid in the development of their youth? That way the parent is not eliminate from their role in the front lines, but they are also getting another source of help and encouragement, while their youth is getting another adult figure in their life!

    As a parent myself, my kids need the church and the other adults who can impact their lives.

    So yes, parents maintain the role of primary discipler to your children, but shouldn’t do so without the help of the church. Youth group can be a very good source of additional discipleship if done well, despite the claims of one person posting on this thread. But for families who do not think so, I have seen these families who remove the church from having a role of influence in their teenagers developmental years, only to come back and ask the church for help when that teenager is now a young adult and is not interested in church.

  15. I think that the church of the American 20th century made the family into an idol. How many Biblical examples of healthy, spiritually mature families do we see in the Bible? And if the Deuteronomy model of passing on the faith to the next generations worked so well, why did it not get a renewal contract in the New Testament? As Jesus came to expand our idea of the Kingdom of God, to give us something better than the law (himself), he also came to expand our idea of family. “Who is my mother and brother and sisters? – those who do hear God’s word and put it into practice” Luke 8:19-21 In fact Jesus seems to be indicating that family business as usual is changing. Matthew 10:34-39. In this era we must find a way to embrace single people and single parents in our discipleship models. We must find a way to embrace all kinds of new family arrangements with step-parents, and same-sex parents, and no parents, and absentee parents and parents of different religions. The new Testament puts emphasis on the family of God and not our cultural ideas of the “nuclear family”.
    What I’m saying is that Derrick’s model works really well for him and for others who are blessed to be married, have kids, have the resources and time i.e. good jobs and cultural advantages to be the primary spiritual influencers of their children. But other models can and need to work too. Youth ministry is still vital and still needed. We are a place where we can train, encourage, equip, motivate, provide experiences that a single family just cannot provide. Youth ministry is not the church, but it’s the church for teenagers for awhile. We do need to connect better to the body of Christ, the larger family of God. But I for one as a parent of three teenagers and soon to be fourth need other adults, other grandparents, other aunts, other uncles, and other teen age brothers and sisters in Christ to help my children grow. Those other teens outside of your family are your brothers and sisters in Christ. See how easily we neglect them in the service of the “All-mighty Family”?! And many of those young brothers and sisters don’t have two parents with enough time and energy or even the ability to disciple them into fully mature followers of Christ. Jesus created a new family among his followers. Sometimes we love our earthly family more than God’s family and Jesus warned us about that too.
    Instead of focusing on the family, we need to focus on Jesus!

  16. Whoa! Sorry to post a reply before seeing that everyone and their brother has already posted Derick has been writing a long series of replies about his unique perspective. Let’s all move on, pray blessings over his exceptional household, and keep working to raise up a generation that does put God first.

  17. I apologize in advance if I am repeating what others have said, but I didn’t read all the responses.

    I don’t think Derick ever truly disagreed with the article, but merely added to it. The flip-side of the argument is youth groups and church being seen as babysitting and parents charging the church leaders with teaching their kids about faith and the spiritual life. If I were to take that attitude as a parent, as many do, I will have failed to embrace my primary role in the spiritual formation of my growing and maturing children. So ideally, parents would make these gatherings a priority over other activities while also having the same open, loving, trusting, and caring environment at home. That’s the goal in my mind as a parent and youth leader.

    That being said, there have been times where we have compromised and missed church or youth events for less worthy activities. This has always been a struggle in my own mind, but I truly think that a balance is not always unhealthy. Making kids understand that they will participate, even against their will at times, is fine and we do that too. But to allow them to miss or skip once in a great while isn’t the end of the world or going to bring them down. And I see that they miss it and want to be there next time. I understand it’s a slippery slope, as it could hurt morale and start a trend within the group, but I have not seen that thus far. Attendance nearing the Summer is usually more difficult, so Summers have been a time to take a break in regular meetings and do more of the community activities and ‘fun stuff’.

    I remember having to leave a birthday party early one Sunday morning when all the other kids were gearing up for a fun filled day and thinking, “Why can’t I miss just this one Sunday?” It’s a personal decision for each family and I would hesitate in looking down on anyone who chooses differently than I would. I see that a lot at times where people are made to feel guilty for missing any event or service and I think that is not in the spirit of love.

  18. I didn’t want to bemoan the point but I wanted to clarify some of the thoughts people have about my statements.

    1. I am not saying Youth Groups are always bad. Yet, I believe it is a program and a non-essential program of the church. I participate in other non-essential programs (Sunday School, small groups, etc). But they are non-essential.

    2. I am not bashing the church. My view of ecclesiology is very high believing the church is not an optional part of the Christian faith.

    3. I am not idolizing the family. I am merely pointing out the role God has played for the family to train our children in spiritual things and develop them likewise. I, for one, am against some of the radical family-integrated church methods. My position is traditional in the sense I see three governments of God: the church, state, and family. My goal is to not attack any of them but to keep each within their own definition and doing what God defined them to do.

    4. I am not attacking social interaction with other students. I, though, want to advance this to social interaction with the entire church rather than predominantly with just kids their own age.

    5. I do see that culture has changed. In some ways I believe there are neutral elements of this culture change, but there is much that is harmful to the family and our Christian Worldview. One such harm comes when we fail to interact with the entirety of the church. In some ways, I am calling the church to be counter-cultural.

    6. Parents are the best key to raising successful kids. If you impact one child you may change a life, if you impact a family you will change a community.

    7. There are exceptions. Single mothers and non-Christian parents do impact ministry. I understand the church should reach out to them lovingly.

    8. Every family needs to make their decisions based upon the spiritual well-being of their family. What encouraged me in this conversation is that I believe we all agree on this issue. We all bemoaned the fact that some parents are too concerned with “extra” stuff and not enough with God.

    Thus, we may disagree… but let’s also unite and begin changing the world around us by showing others that God is most important. Football, softball, soccer, and other issues will come and go, but our kids’ relationship with God is of most importance. Nothing is a higher priority.

  19. I grew up in a Christian home, attending church regularly and youth group religiously. In high school I was at church, doing youth activities, at least 3-4 nights a week. I was involved in every Bible Study, every ministry opportunity, every “Fun Night” that was available to me.

    But I was never discipled.

    No one (no youth pastor, youth Sunday School teacher, youth leader) ever mentored me; or told me about what God was doing in their life; or shared some personal (and difficult) experience with me that might have shown me how God used that time in their lives to grow them closer to Him.

    In fact, most of those leaders never even knew I was there.

    I wasn’t popular. I wasn’t friends with most of the kids in youth group because most of the girls just wanted to talk about boys and most of the boys just wanted to act stupid and do stupid things like drink entire bottles of hot sauce with our youth pastor cheering them on.

    I didn’t want to do either of those things at youth group. I wanted to study God’s Word. I wanted to serve people. And I wanted the youth group leaders to be real with me and tell me that Christians can struggle and do struggle and that I wasn’t the only one.

    But alas, the church didn’t want Bible studies where God’s Word was actually preached. I had asked my youth pastor if we could have a Bible Study or Sunday School for kids like me who had grown up in church (because I knew they wanted to reach those who had never heard about God as well). But, I was tired of my Sunday School teachers asking me if I had ever even heard of Jonah. So, my parents offered to teach an inductive study and the church said it wasn’t “SBC approved and published.” Therefore, I was left in the same old class answering, “Jesus,” every few minutes.

    Now, my church did do a pretty good job about getting its youth to serve. But they only did mission projects that were out of state or out of the country. They never showed me how to serve my church or my community where I live.

    And, as for my youth group leaders being real with me? You can forget it. If I asked a tough question, they were out the door as fast as they could go, giving me some superficial pacifying answer.

    I wasn’t stupid.

    I knew what they were doing. I knew they were avoiding my question. I knew they didn’t care about being open and honest with me.

    So, all in all, what did I learn from youth group?

    I learned that if you aren’t popular, you won’t get attention from any youth leaders. I learned that the youth group doesn’t really care about spiritual growth. I learned that you can’t learn anything from your peers or youth leaders.

    And I learned that you just have to get out of youth group to 1) make friends, 2) find godly counsel, 3) study God’s Word, and 4) be discipled.

    It’s sad but true.

    • Kakie, I’m sorry to hear of your experience. Unfortunately, I’m sure you aren’t the only person who experienced this type of youth group. I can vouch that my youth ministry that I grew up in and later led would have given you a completely different experience. With differing philosophies of ministry in different churches with different pastors and cultures, I don’t think we can make blanket statements about “youth groups” like you have in your last few sentences. Obviously, your statements hold true for your youth group. However, in my youth group, I accomplished all 4 things inside of my youth group that you had to “get out of youth group” to do.

      I think you got a rotten apple, but I’m glad you managed to still find your way.

  20. Just one observation…. “the church” keeps getting referred to as if it’s some separate entity…. the definition of church = God’s children..Christian’s.. saved ones…brethren…saints..
    guess what? We are the “church”… parents, kids, grandparents, singles… older, younger… whoever… just sayin’

  21. This column skips right over the problem of youth ministry operating as a wholly separate subculture within a church, the all too often cult of personality around a Peter Pan syndrome possessing youth minister and the very valid concerns about spiritual and sexual abuse that can and does occur in these isolated groups. Not to mention the mile wide-inch deep spirituality encompassed in an emotion based faith encounter leads to shallow superficial Christians. The church’s obsession with youth groups is one of the things that needs to be discouraged, not made stronger in the modern church.

    • Kakie, sorry to heart that. It’s not true everywhere; but i wouldn’t argue with anyone that said those problems were far too widespread.

      Griff….and really to the wider base of criticisms posted on this board. Are you A.)Part of the problem, B.) a silent critic, or C.) Part of the solution? Because so many of the arguments here have created a false picture of student ministry in general based on a few (or maybe many) examples of bad student ministry, and believe me, i’ve seen some awful ones. But that kind of broad-brush mentality coming from “the church” is why many of my kids don’t want to be around adults when they’re given the chance (or commanded to, which is often the case).
      This column isn’t meant to deconstruct student ministry. It’s meant to show the need for parents to be involved in the spiritual community that their teens are involved in, something Derick brought up fairly eloquently and as a youth pastor, I wholeheartedly agree with.
      The church’s interaction with student ministry isn’t what I would call an obsession. In fact, there is too-often a hands-off approach to student ministry. Keep them entertained and out of the adults’ hair so that the older people in church can interact with THEIR peer group without having to deal with kids. Mile wide ankle deep spirituality should NEVER be accepted in any branch of the church. The solution is not to eliminate student ministry, but to strengthen it and resource these student pastors who I would venture to say are doing the best they can in many cases. Consider this – you’d never consider eliminating healthy children’s ministry from a church. I’ll let everyone ponder the reasons why and reassure you that many of those reasons are transferred onto student ministry.
      If the only approach with problems in student ministry is to withdraw yourself or your kids from their peer group, then you’re lazy. You may be correct, but you’re lazy and part of the problem.
      My other thought is this. As a student pastor, if I have a group of parents/adults come to me and say they want to disciple their children separate from our youth ministry, then my response to them is to A.) Show me that they have an ability to exposit scripture, B.) Show me that they are in a place on continued education in their adult lives (whether through seminary or private study of teachers with a solid biblical foundation) C.) Show me a competent vision for not only establishing a strong doctrinal foundation, but also a healthy apologetic in these students D.) demonstrate a reliable understanding of the Gospel, encompassing law and grace, and showing its establishment in the Old testament as well as the new, E.) Demonstrate a willingness to forgo your private life and downtime so you can minister to some of these kids over facebook or the phone for hours on end after you have “clocked out” of work and finally F.) pass a background check with local and state authorities. It’s what i have to answer to on a weekly basis.
      My EXPERIENCE is that too many parents are woefully ill-equipped to lead anyone spiritually, much less do it with their kids who see them mess up on a daily basis.

      I’ve noticed a trend on this board, and frankly, I’m leaving Derick out of this observation because he’s at least demonstrated a willingness to dialogue – but many of the negative statements regarding youth ministry are either A.) made out of a bad personal experience or B.) stated in ignorance. My position as a youth minister is that adults need to not consider themselves worthy parents simply because they’ve passed on some DNA. Too many, and I mean WAY too many, of my kids have come up to me and told me that I’ve been their “dad” because their real dad (or mom) have checked out of their lives. Some of these men and women are in LEADERSHIP at their (or our) church.
      Perhaps youth ministers wouldn’t be needed if more parents realized that their role as a mom or dad is a full time job spritually and not simply a by-product of their passing on of chromosomes. Not ALL parents by any means, but i may as well play by the rules on this thread.

  22. I wonder if we separate the youth from the family so much that they fail to be able to connect to that family when they are older. My youngest child’s most profound connection to the church came on a mission where she was the only teen, but her parents were not there. She connected with other adults while doing the Lord’s work. Our four children are grown. The transition for my two girls was easiest. I believe it is because they spent more time with the whole church family.

  23. Spot on. As the wife of a youth pastor, we’ve talked about every one of these issues more than once. It’s always comforting to hear the same sentiment from someone else!

  24. Sadly, one of the largest hurdles is educating the elder people (including ordained pastors) of the church that this is so; most continue to bemoan the decline of youth, but are unwilling to learn or accept new ways of ministry to them. In my church, the senior pastor insists on directing the youth ministry with 1970’s attitudes and expectations, tying the hands of those who know how.

  25. Everyone is way too analytical. Open your eyes…for the greatest part…this article is spot on. If church is an elective for your child…it will be an elective as an adult. To allow sports or school, or anything else for that matter…to regularly come before faithfulness to gather with the body of Christ…reveals what’s most important. But hey…let’s not expect much of people…after all…hate to offend them.

  26. I sympathize with what you are saying here, but I think there are some factors you have left out, as well, especially when you compare today with 30 years ago. I grew up in church, and loved my youth group. We were in church every time the doors opened (at least, when we were in the US; life was different on the mission field). I grew a lot from my youth group and much more from my parents’ active teaching.

    However, there were some kids for whom these things did not work, and my kids have turned out to be these kids. We have done either Awana (a high school program) or youth group most of the time, but both of these have had major difficulties for my kids, along the same lines. All of these programs are good and led by godly leaders, and I did tell my kids they need to do one or the other during the school year. However, here are some of the reasons I do not force them when they are “tired” or whatever, and some of the reasons they have struggled to go.

    1. Several of my kids have sensory issues. They are highly overstimulated by the activity and noise levels of youth groups. There is little to no understanding of this by leaders. At our current Awana, the youth pastor has allowed my daughters to sit out of game time in another room with her friends, but at our church youth group, this has not been the case. If you go to youth group, you must participate in the games, even if they leave you with a headache, if you are the clumsy kid who always gets hurt, or whatever. This has led to one of my kids being unwilling to go at all. She goes to church every week (despite the fact that the perfumes there give her a migraine every time), and seeks to know and follow Christ. I do not feel comfortable forcing her, under this condition. Perhaps youth groups are not a great answer in this day of so many kids with ADHD, autism, or sensory struggles. Or at least, perhaps they are not the only or the key answer, for a sizable proportion of the kids.

    2. Two of my kids are introverts. They think more deeply than most of the kids their age, and have more serious interests. Though kids are encouraged to share in Sunday school, conversations move much more quickly than they can put their thoughts into words, and the conversations are much more superficial. This leads to them being unable to contribute and not getting any real fellowship or new things to think about, either. They are not slow, they just think differently than most of the kids. It makes youth group a trying place for them, though they enjoy adult fellowship in our mixed-age small groups. Again, I don’t see a huge need to force them into a situation that seems to just make them enjoy God and fellow believers less instead of more. It they are too tired to deal with the stress, I don’t force them to go.

    3. All of my teens have had bad experiences with youth events, and are therefore not interested unless it’s an event that they really care about. They do enjoy Awana most of the time, and go almost all the time.
    At youth group events, they have run into problem #2.
    They have gone and literally had NO ONE speak to them. (More than once, for 2 out of the 3–my kids are not weird. They do not stink. They are a little different–there dad is a software engineer, if that tells you anything–but they are also funny, willing to be deep, laugh a lot with their good friends, have great imaginations, and a host of other good qualities which the other kids don’t care to know about. I don’t think the other kids try to be mean, they just don’t realize what it is to not have been there on Thursday at our church’s private school had X happen, and the conversation keeps being about that for the entire event.) This peer stuff is a big problem, even in the good youth groups.
    Our church is small, and there have been years for each of my kids when they were the only child in their grade, or at least, the only one of their gender. My oldest was the only 12th grader that year. There were 2 10th graders, a couple of 7th or 8th graders, and about a dozen 6th graders! Thankfully, no one complained when I quietly let her go to adult Sunday school, which she loved. She is currently a college sophomore, and she goes to the ladies’ quilting group because she “needs adult fellowship.” She also walks 1/2 mile to church. I think her commitment is OK.
    One of my daughters had a youth leader who couldn’t get the kids to participate, so he, every week, told my 7th and 8th grader, “I know you have done your homework, you tell us the answer.” This was not a way to help a junior higher feel part of the group!
    This same child, at 12yo, went to a retreat. It was supposed to be a mixed junior/senior high retreat, but only junior highers came. At 10pm, they started a movie–which was a PG 13 movie! (I do think our youth pastor was not good at picking movies! Other than that, I think he was a godly guy who did try to teach the kids real, Biblical truth.) My daughter watched the first 5 minutes or so, decided it was not a movie that she was comfortable with, and went to bed. By herself. The YP never did understand why she just gave up on youth group.

    I suppose our youth pastor feels my kids are part of the group you described in your post above. I am not committed to making my kids go to youth group, and they aren’t committed to going. My third, who is 13, goes sometimes, if it looks fun. But even with a “good” youth group with good kids and a youth pastor who is committed to teaching the Word, it has not been a good thing for them.

  27. I was a youth pastor for eleven years and unfortunately espoused some of the thoughts you have shared here. Looking backwards, here are some of my thoughts on your article:

    Lack of respect for the home. High regard for programs in the church.

    Lack of respect for God Who “grabs” hearts. High regard for programs in the church.

    Lack of respect for grace. High regard for law.

    Lack of respect for the culture we live in. High regard for the culture 40 years ago.

    Lack of respect for

    A few thoughts on the article:

    1. Your first sentence is spot on and will continue to be so until Jesus comes. “For the past few years it has been obvious that the culture in which we do ministry has fundamentally changed.”

    2. Your sweeping general statement, “that the Christian adults within this culture have a totally different world view and values than those Christians that have gone before them.” in my opinion, discredits you. Maybe some parents have recognized that what was done in their teen years regarding youth group did more to hurt them in their walk with God and in their relationship with those who need Him, than it did to benefit them. I would argue that some old skool parents insisted their teens participate in youth group, simply out of fear. Fear of what people think. Fear of their teen not “turning out” for God. I would also argue that my teen years were so full of Christians, that to this day I struggle to relate in any way with people who don’t know God. I struggle incarnating. :)

    3. Your sentence, “But I would actually go further and say that they are not just characteristics of today’s unchurched person, but of every person both in and out of the church.” also discredits you. These are broad, sweeping generalities that you are making about all people. Same with the phrase, “and actually any spiritual discipline are firmly on the bottom of the pecking order.”

    4. Your phrase, “the very activities that God used to grab a hold of their hearts when they were younger.” is short sighted. You are limiting God’s ability to “grab” hearts to certain extra curricular church events. God grabs hearts, period. This is similar to someone saying, don’t change Sunday school, or don’t change Sunday night church to small groups, or even door to door visitation because God used these activities to change lives and grab hearts. Granted, God grabbed hearts during those events, but let’s remember that it is God Who grabs hearts. And doesn’t He seems to do it in the most unlikely of circumstances and places?

    5.Your phrase “Students are relational animals” is offensive to say the least.

    6. This phrase – “feel little guilt spiritually”. Christians are not guilty. We are forgiven. Our sins are gone. No longer do we have to live in bondage under the law. I would bet my house that you use spiritual manipulation to control your students and keep the numbers up in your youth group. Perhaps you should try loving your students where they are and leave the spiritual working in hearts to God? Children will run from law and they will run from grace. They rarely come back to law. They almost always come back to grace. Love is what draws, not programs. When a teenager feels pressured by false guilt administered to him by some spiritual authority in his life I will be the first to tell him to run because that is not God. I believe that false guilt is an epidemic in old school fundamental Christianity and has robbed so many of the joy that they own in Christ.

    7. Another sweeping generality – “And community only happens with students through a safe environment that is authentic, consistent time together, building memories, and spurring one another on toward love and good deeds!” This is simply not true.

  28. Mike, I think you are the one not showing respect. The article simply states that it’s difficult to achieve goals when kids don’t show up, and yes, there are a lot of us parents who fall down on the job, me included. The kids don’t show up for many reasons, some listed by the poster before you, some listed in the article. I’m a parent who helps with youth group every week, and I see it work, and I see it not work… it all rests upon the backs of so many variables and personalities. It’s a very complex model, and frustrating, but I go and try to be part of the solution. Yes, I’ll continue to let my kids skip sometimes when I think they aren’t fitting in or need a sanity break, or feel the discussions are too superficial. We talk through it, and we haven’t left the church.

    As for those who posit that youth groups don’t work, ALL groups in church are people, and all the human failings that go with that. We all keep trying anyway, right?

  29. I wonder how different the reactions would be to this article if the title was changed to “What happens when parents and kids see CHURCH as simply an elective?” I have to admit that I cringed when I read the title the first time knowing what some of the criticisms would be. However, speaking from experience and observation, this “revised” title is a huge problem in Christianity today and maybe (I can’t speak for the author) better establishes the intent of the article?

What do you think?

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  6. The Problem with the Church… | Explore the Word - December 16, 2013

    […] morning, similar scenario, only this article about youth ministry and the effects of the transitioning perspective that attendance is an […]

  7. An Open Letter to Parents from Youth Ministers or Investment Update | Organic Student Ministry - February 19, 2014

    […] know when I talk about a balanced life, I am not excluding their spirituality.  There was an article written a few months back that compared youth ministry and church to an elective or […]

  8. Why God Is Losing To Youth Sports - Forbes - February 24, 2014

    […] Of course, even Ingram has to know, deep down, that’s not going to happen. There are too many trends working against organized religion. The big trend is that, as some religious scholars say, only 20 percent of Americans regularly attend church (and I doubt the numbers for other houses of worship would bump up that total much), so a lot of those parents Ingram wants to pull their kids from the football team are already long gone. In fact, many church leaders are already, if unwillingly, waving the white flag in the worship vs. sports battle.  If the family isn’t going to church, they’re probably not too worried about youth group. […]

  9. Factors in Your Attendance Numbers that You Can’t Control | God-Centered Youth Ministry - May 8, 2014

    […] Poorly discipled/discipling parents who think of youth group as just another extracurricular activity […]