Resources to Encourage the Next Generation

Category archive

youth ministry

What If “Big Church” Was More Like Youth Group?

in Going On For God/youth ministry by

I just finished reading a new youth ministry book in which the author makes the case that if youth groups were more like “big church” it would mean that emerging generations would stay active in the church after high school graduation because they would be familiar with the church structure and programming.

I don’t buy it!

In fact, I believe it is the other way around.

I have been researching the young adult “drop out of church” phenomenon for a long time. I have written two books about it. (Inter-Generational Youth Ministry and Going On For God). Plus, I have met with hundreds of young adults over the years – some who have stayed active in church, and some who have walked away from God and the church.

I have concluded that the positive aspects of what most youth groups offer are exactly the things that should be implemented into the fabric of churches as a whole. For over 30 years, I visited approximately 30 churches a year in a variety of capacities and ministry opportunities. And, I have often wondered why so many church youth groups operate quite differently than the adult ministries do in the same church.

Maybe, just maybe, if our churches would adopt the things that youth ministry does well – more young people would stay involved in church ministries when they become adults. Maybe one of the reasons so many young adults leave the church after high school graduation is that they have grown to appreciate and value the positive aspects of youth ministry and would love to see those things incorporated into the adult ministries of the church.

Please understand that I am not condoning young adults walking away from church if they do not like the structure. Quite the contrary. My point here is that the church should do everything possible to keep emerging adults involved in youth ministry AND in adult ministry.

I have identified 13 key characteristics of effective youth ministries that could be (and probably should be) instituted in the overall life of the church:

  • A well-articulated Biblical and practical philosophy of ministry
  • A complete educational plan (teaching “scope and sequence”) which includes the life-related teaching of the Word of God
  • The development of spiritual disciplines
  • Collaboration with parents
  • An emphasis on God-honoring worship
  • Times to get-away from the daily routine
  • Fellowship with Christian peers
  • Outreach and evangelism
  • Service and ministry
  • Positive peer pressure
  • Discipleship of select leaders
  • Inter-generational connections

Of course, there are some churches out there that do some of these things very well. I do not want readers to think that I am making wide-ranging accusations or indictments of the adult ministries in every church. It’s just that I believe that most youth ministries that I have seen are doing things well – and are committed to reaching the next generation for eternity. We cannot just let another generation walk away from church. It’s time for churches to do whatever it takes to keep emerging generations involved as they become young adults.

I am currently working on a new book, which should be released in the next few months, with this working title, “Why Youth Ministry? 13 Reasons Why Youth Ministry Is Important, and Why ‘Big Church’ Should Adopt These Positive Characteristics.”

(Listen to my recent podcast on this subject at: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-youth-ministry-questions-podcast/id1562519123.)

Family Ministry (As We Know It) MUST Change!

in Family Ministry/Going On For God/Parents/youth ministry by

The Bible is clear that there are two God-designed institutions that share the same God-ordained purpose. Both the local church and the Christian home are responsible to guide young people toward a lifetime of growth toward spiritual maturity. Once our kids come to Christ, because we are intentional about sharing the life-changing Good News with them (see Romans 10:17), it is the Biblical responsibility of both the church and the family to help the next generation grow in spiritual maturity. (See Ephesians 4:11-16 and Ephesians 6:1-4.)

Certainly, the Bible teaches that parents are the ones ultimately responsible to raise their kids in the “training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4), but likewise the church is responsible to equip or train “the saints for the work of ministry” so that the next generation “are no longer children” and that they may “grow up in all things” in Christ.

Our kids’ spiritual growth is the imperative mission of both institutions.

Christian parents must raise their kids to follow Christ. Likewise, the basic mission of the church is to make disciples for a lifetime of growth toward spiritual maturity.

What is the ideal relationship between these two God-designed institutions?

Of course, the ideal scenario would be if most Christian parents loved the Lord and were committed and deliberate about raising their kids to grow up to go on for God. It would be fantastic if these Godly parents saw the importance of the local church in Scripture and were enthusiastic and loyal supporters of the church’s youth and children’s ministries.

But look around. Is that what we are seeing today?

If your community is anything like what is happening with national trends – that’s not the norm.

Is this happening today?

According to several sources (by the way, I will cite these sources in my upcoming webinar with the same title as this article – see the graphic above), here are 4 current trends that will definitely impact the way many churches handle their ministries to families:

  • Young adults are dropping out of church.

We have all heard the statistics. Almost 70% of young adults who were once actively involved in church youth ministry walk away from God and the church following high school graduation. That trend is troubling enough on face value, but that departure has been true now for at least 3 generations (Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z) – and the long-term ramification of this exodus from spiritual things is that both Generation X and Millennials are now parents, and many of them are raising their kids without consistent involvement in the church and the work of God in the world today.

  • No religious loyalty.

Recent church history has coined a new term, the “nones”, to describe the most prevalent religious trend in today’s American culture. Today’s pastors and other church leaders are seeing this firsthand. Long gone are the days when the typical household in this country made church attendance and participation a top priority in their lives and schedules. One leading Christian research organization recently reported that a large number of people who claim to be believers habitually go to church services only one weekend per month – and yet claim that they are “regular” attenders.

  • A post-Christian mindset.

There is definitely a dominant post-Christian philosophy in our world. Christianity is no longer the majority religious position in this country. History has taught us that the United States was founded with a Judeo-Christian ethic with a basic belief in Jesus Christ. However, most of today’s youth workers and other church leaders are not seeing this to be true today. Post-modern secular thought is today’s most prevalent philosophic trend. Most Christian leaders will admit that they are not seeing a pro-Christian and pro-church attitude in today’s households. This mindset tends to govern how people look at the role of the church in contemporary culture. For example, many, many parents would rather their kids strive for a college degree that will lead to a well-paying job than they would have their kids sacrifice their schedules to attend church youth group functions.

  • A changing household structure.

The authors of “Generation Z: A Century in the Making” have observed the following in this country’s households: a rapidly decreasing number of children living with two married parents; an increasing number of single-parent homes; an increasing number of cohabiting, non-married parents; a growing number of households with single mothers; a growing number of same-sex households with children, and an increasing number of roommate households. In fact, some communities in this country are no longer to referring to families and parents, but are instead using the terms “households” and “guardians or care-givers.”

Pastors, youth pastors, and other church leaders are seeing these four significant cultural trends and are realizing that many of the people in their communities are no longer making church, church functions, and church programming a priority. Parents pick sports and other extra-curricular activities over church attendance, and they push their kids to save money for college or other goals instead of encouraging them to commit to church or youth group.  

It would be great if most Christian parents were committed to discipling their own kids toward lasting spiritual maturity, and it would be amazing if the majority of Christian parents demonstrated a loyalty to the local church. But these are not the current trends – and the way churches reach out to today’s households must change as a result.

Please understand that I am not advocating a departure from the Scriptures in how church ministries should operate. Just the opposite. I believe the church must “be the church” to reach people in today’s post-Christian and post-church culture.

Can the church go it alone?

Yes, it is time for the church to be the church. It’s time for churches to recommit to God’s mission of reaching the world for Christ (Acts 1:8), of making disciples who live by God’s instruction (Matthew 28:19-20), and of equipping God’s people to serve Him (Ephesians 4:11-16).

God can and will continue to use His church to make a lasting difference in the world for eternity (Revelation 7:9). The church is God’s idea, and it is His plan (Matthew 16:18).

It’d be great if all Christian parents were absolutely committed to raising their kids in the “training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4), and made the church and church functions a top priority for their kids. But most likely that is not what today’s youth pastors are seeing.

I’ll post some specific ideas soon of what churches can do about these trends. Plus, I will share some key thoughts about these trends and what the church can do about them in my webinar on, “Family Ministry (As We Know It) Must Change.”

May the Lord bless you as you seek to impact the next generation for eternity.

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in School

in Blog/Going On For God/youth ministry by

It has been over 30 years ago now that Robert Fulghum published his fabulous best-seller, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” which contained such sage life wisdom as:

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

I was reminded of Fulghum’s classic work last week when the children in our community’s school system, including our own grandson, when back to in-person school following several months of either hybrid learning or online education during this country’s coronavirus lockdown.

I get it that there are both pros and cons to kids being a part of institutional education. Our grandson, Haddon is currently in second grade in the public school system – and I know there are very real benefits to him being at home with his Godly parents and other siblings. But I also see that there are some tangible advantages for kids being back in school as well.

Just the other day I stopped by Haddon’s school to watch for a minute or two when I noticed that his class was playing outside during what must have been a recess. I didn’t want to look like a creeper, so I jotted down a few observations and then made my way home to type up this post.

So, with my apologies to Fulghum, here is my “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in School” – which contains some of the basic observations I made that day just watching the little kids being back at school following months of being away.

  • It is a good thing to play and hang out with friends.
  • It is good to meet new friends.
  • A regular schedule is good for kids.
  • Go where you are supposed to go when you are supposed to go there.
  • Listen to your teachers and pay attention.
  • Follow the rules.
  • Study when it is time to study.
  • Do your homework.
  • Take the time to eat lunch.
  • Go outside for recess.

There might be something to this school thing after all!

How Can Leaders Prepare Now for “Generation Alpha”?

in Generation Alpha/inter-generational ministry/youth ministry by

Ten years ago, Apple unveiled the iPad and Instagram was launched. Members of the Millennial generation were emerging into adulthood and the leading edge of Gen Z  was entering middle school.

And the kids now called “Generation Alpha” were just coming into this world.

Ten years from now, the Millennials will be facing middle age. Gen Z will be having their own children – and members of Gen. Alpha will be the young adult generation that everyone is talking about. This new generation will begin to impact everything – from culture to the church.

The term, Generation Alpha, was coined by an Australian researcher Mark McCrindle in 2008, who observed that by the time all members of this generation have been born, they will number almost 2 billion people around the globe (see https://mccrindle.com.au/insights/blog/generation-alpha-mark-mccrindle-q-new-york-times/), and will be the first generation to be born entirely in the twenty-first century. They will also be the first generation to experience life in the twenty-second century.

Observations About Generation Alpha

Time will tell, but today’s children are also likely to be the generation most influenced by the current pandemic. Depending upon the actual duration of this time of “social distancing” or isolation from other people, there are habits and life patterns that are apt to develop that may persist with the members of Generation Alpha for decades to come.

Here are some possible consequences of an extended time of social distancing and isolation from a broader community.

  • The feelings of fear and anxiety may continue to grow.

Today’s young people are more likely than previous generations to struggle with depression and anxiety disorders (see https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2018/stress-gen-z.pdf). Plus, their negative feelings are only likely to grow because of the current days of virtual quarantine. The constant, pervasive nature of negative news relating to the coronavirus is quite likely to become a breeding ground for even more apprehension and worry for today’s children. Coupled with the reaction to the current crisis by parents and other influential adults, this situation is likely to develop a growing sense of foreboding and uneasiness in the lives of the next generation. Of course, this will not be universally true, but the likelihood that the anxiety that comes from the potential of getting sick, or someone they know getting sick; compounded by the negativity in a socially isolated atmosphere will be even greater than it is other older generations. Church leaders, youth workers, and other caring adults would be wise to put positive and hope-filled resources into the hands of parents, other guardians and caregivers, and the children themselves during these days of crisis and pandemic.

  • Working, studying, and living in seclusion may become more of a norm.

Another long-term effect of social distancing for children is that living without the presence of other children and other influential adults in their lives may become an enduring pattern. There are some children from homes that may be customed to a socially isolated world much like the situation today. For example, some home schoolers may fit into this description. However, it is important to remember that humans are designed by God to live in community with others, and it is especially important for followers of Christ to be actively involved in His work – the church.

One of the potential dangers of a quarantine is that the segregation from others might become “safe”, or even cozy and natural. This generation already has a natural propensity toward technology, which is a key reason why parents and church leaders alike should make it a priority to provide opportunities for some positive and healthy social interaction for kids even if that is via tech – especially if these days of social distancing last for quite some time.

  • The creative use of interactive technology will expand.

The first wave of Generation Alpha began in 2010, which is the same year when the term “app” was selected as the word of the year. (https://nowthisnews.com/news/move-over-gen-z-generation-alpha-is-here.) It is no wonder that this generation is very comfortable with using all kinds of technology. This time of isolation from a larger community will certainly not be a problem to them. They have grown up with various forms of “smart” technology and are most likely used to a “virtual” world. Since today’s school-aged children are now home for longer periods of time they will be compelled to utilize technology even more and more for their educational requirements and pursuits. The current global crisis will likely push this new generation toward even more creative use of technological tools. Parents, church leaders, and educators alike should expect more and more members of Generation Alpha to become creators, publishers, and entrepreneurs instead of being just consumers of virtual media.

  • The stress of financial pressure may become more intense. 

One of the lasting ramifications of living through the Great Depression (about 1929 to 1939) for the “Silent Generation” of that era was the lack of finances and a scarcity mindset, and the members of the World War II generation experienced several years of shortages due to the needs of the war effort. Economic struggles are already one of the leading pressure points for any generation and this occasion is likely to be no different for Generation Alpha. The wide fluctuation of the Stock Market, plus the rapidly growing unemployment rate has caused a wide range of financial pressures. Customers have already experienced the grocery stores lack of commodities such as toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, and medicines. Some are predicting a rapid economic upturn once this crisis is over, but today’s children are likely to remember and experience a lasting impact of monetary stress as a result of COVID-19. Parents and other influential adults, such perhaps as grandparents and other caregivers, will need to be diligent to teach and demonstrate financial discipline during these difficult days.

  • Long-term social isolation will likely identify a growing number of hurting and non-traditional households.

According to some authors (for example, Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace in Generation Z: A Century in the Making, published by Routledge, 2019, Chapter 8), many members of today’s younger generations are already living in hurting, dysfunctional, and non-traditional households. This means that the current coronavirus crisis is not going to be a good thing for many children. Both community and church leaders must remember that there are several households out there where it will not be a positive experience for children to have more extended time at home. That means that household stress and pressure are likely grow and have more of a lasting impact on members of Generational Alpha. This is exactly why it will be imperative for conscientious outside influencers to stay in regular communication with both children and other household members. One youth ministry writer also put it this way, “Churches would be wise to bolster their resources for counseling – marriage counseling, family counseling, addition recovery, and a response to abuse. We must pray for healing and grace in homes today and be ready to provide pastoral care and help… hopefully before it’s necessary, but we probably won’t hear about most of the heartbreak until the dust has settled.” (From Facebook post on April 6, 2020.)

In ten short years our culture will be asking members of Generation Z to move out of the way as Alphas come of age. Of course, at this stage in the process, it is uncertain that this moniker will stick. Other voices are already referring to them as “Generation C” or “Generation Covid”.

It is time now for leaders to learn all they can about America’s newest generation. Here are some resources which may help:

https://www.businessinsider.com/new-generation-covid-comes-after-gen-z-gen-c-2020-11

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/generation-alpha-after-gen-z_l_5d420ef4e4b0aca341181574

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Alpha

https://www.aecf.org/blog/what-is-generation-alpha/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/christinecarter/2016/12/21/the-complete-guide-to-generation-alpha-the-children-of-millennials/?sh=784c1c453623

https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.GROW?end=2019&locations=AS&start=1961&view=map

“Youth Ministry Heaven”?

in Ministry/Outreach/youth ministry by

In June of 1974, the Righteous Brothers released their hit song, “Rock and Roll Heaven” which lamented the passing of rock stars such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Jim Croce, and Bobby Darin. The song imagined the gathering in “heaven” of these talented, but now deceased artists. With my apologies of the writers of “Rock and Roll Heaven”, Johnny Stevenson and Alan O’Day, I want to use their analogy to share my thoughts about the recent passing of one of the legends of youth ministry, Dr. Dawson McAllister.

Here is the link to a press release from “The Hope Line” which shares much more information about this influential youth ministry trend setter: https://www.thehopeline.com/passing-of-founder-dawson-mcallister/?fbclid=IwAR2YjQLzc-aguMqEK4uZm7zNPBVCQ0-JGkwaK5DkCPhkUSkl0Qk972hvnsA.

We lost another youth ministry “hall of famer” this week with the home-going of Dawson McAllister. Undoubtedly, every youth worker in America for over three decades used the materials or attended a conference written or led by this visionary and incredibly creative entrepreneur. I was one of those youth workers.

His bio claims that he spoke to over one million teenagers in a twenty-year span of his ministry, but he was also a pioneer of Christian radio. At the height of his popularity, his call-in show, “Dawson McAllister Live!” was featured on over 250 radio stations from coast to coast. He was also a prolific writer with 18 books to his credit.

Dawson McAllister was ushered into heaven this week where he heard his Lord and Savior proclaim, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” Dawson believed in kids and youth ministry – and he dedicated his life to pointing the next generation to Jesus.

When I heard of his death just today; my creative, but perhaps warped mind, immediately thought of that Righteous Brothers’ song.

I can imagine Dawson being heartily welcomed to a table where other youth ministry legends who had passed on before were seated reminiscing about the glory days of reaching kids for Christ.

Seated there were:

  • Jack Wyrtzen, who rented Yankee Stadium in 1944 for America’s first “Word of Life Rally”;  
  • Percy Crawford, who began the “Young Peoples’ Church of the Air” just a few years later;
  • Torrey Johnson & Billy Graham who helped launched what became “Youth for Christ” – also in 1944.
  • Art Rorheim and Lance Latham, who helped found the “Awana Youth Association” outside of Chicago in 1950.

Those guys had already been welcomed to the table by people like Francis Edward Clark, who established the “Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor” in 1881; George Williams, who founded the “Young Men’s Christian Association” in 1844, and Robert Raikes, who developed the first Sunday School back in 1780.

I can also imagine Mike Yaconelli being there – he helped found “Youth Specialties” in 1969. But he may have too busy being “Getting Fired for the Glory of God” or dancing on the “Jones Memorial Carpet.”

Others were there to be sure – men and women God used to create and develop what we refer to as youth ministry. These were visionary leaders all, people with a God-given burden and vision to impact lives of kids for eternity.

Dawson is welcomed to that table for sure because so many of us do what we do today in part due to his influence on our lives and upon our careers.

My imagination sees this make-believe “youth ministry heaven” and believes that the conversation around that table today has been enhanced and invigorated by Dawson McAllister joining in on that discussion.

Welcome to the band, Dawson. Welcome home!

(Disclaimer to Readers: This is may be my most sacrilegious post ever. I am not a fan of the language and message of the Righteous Brother’s song “Rock and Roll Heaven. I’m just using that song here as an illustration. Please don’t be offended.)

Youth Ministry Tenure: How to Survive in Youth Ministry Over the Long Haul?

in Ministry/youth ministry by

I remember my first year as a youth pastor. I was fresh out of Bible college, my wife and I just got married and we had moved over 500 miles away from any of our other family members. We moved into our first apartment, bought some furniture, and stood in line at the DMV to get our drivers’ licenses in this new state.

Yes, I had heard the statistics. The average youth pastor only lasts a year-and-a-half in a typical church ministry.

Looking back, I don’t believe that statistic was ever proven to be true[i]. But, that 18-month tenure number had taken on “urban legend” status even back then.

My “rookie year” as a youth pastor went great. I was almost the antithesis of my predecessor in the church where I was serving. His perceived weaknesses were my strengths. The kids seemed to relate well to us, and we worked hard to build positive relationships with the students. They loved youth group and responded with interest and even enthusiasm to my lessons and messages. Their parents seemed to appreciate us, and the senior pastor and other church leaders seemed to see me as the new “Pied Piper” of youth ministry success.

But, then year two rolled around.

It seemed then as if everything that was successful the first year was a total disaster the second year. It appeared as if the teenagers didn’t like any of the events that I planned and were quite disinterested during my talks. The parents began to complain about what I was trying to do – and then the senior pastor called me in for a meeting with the church board to confront me about the struggles in the youth ministry.

I was worried that I was about to become the poster child for that year-and-a-half statistic. Things were not going well in that second year; and it was time for a “gut check” of my commitment, resolve, and calling. I wondered if I had made a mistake when my wife and I moved so far away, and I began to doubt if a young youth pastor with only 18 months of experience would ever be able to find another ministry position.

Let me move to end of the story. That was over 40 years ago. I actually served in that church for about eight years before the Lord gave me the opportunity to begin teaching youth ministry in a Christian college. In one way or another my wife and I have been actively involved in youth ministry ever since. In fact, even though I hate to admit it, I am currently 66 years old and still serve as a vocational youth pastor.

I certainly don’t have all the answers but let me share with you some of the things God has been teaching me over the years about longevity in youth ministry.

How to Survive in Youth Ministry Over the Long Haul?

Here are a few questions every youth worker should ask themselves if they are interested in serving as a career youth pastor or as a volunteer youth worker for a long time.

  • What has God called you to do?

Friends, if the Lord has called you to serve Him as a youth worker, keep doing that as long as God provides you with the opportunity to do it. To relay more of my personal story, I sensed that the Lord called me to youth ministry the summer following my sophomore year in Bible college.

In one way or another, I have been actively working with young people in various aspects ever sense. God used His Word (I was studying 1 & 2 Timothy at the time), the life-changing experience of leading a young man to Christ, and the encouragement of influential, Godly adults as the catalysts for me to recognize His direct leading in my life. I began to recognize that He had wired and enabled me to work with teenagers – and I still believe that even now as a full-fledged senior citizen. I know that this is an adaptation of an old cliché, but if the Lord calls you to be a youth worker, don’t stoop to working with adults.

  • Do you have a clear vision of what you are trying to accomplish?

Humanly speaking, the most important contributing factor for long-term youth ministry effectiveness may be an uncompromising and unobstructed vision of your sense of mission and purpose. It is not nearly enough to just love kids – although I believe that is critically important! Youth workers, and especially youth pastors perhaps, must see their role as shepherding kids toward a lifetime of growing in Christ toward lasting spiritual maturity. And make sure to communicate what you are trying to do in every way possible. You will want to stick it out, and churches will want to keep you around, if your long-term objective is to see kids come to Christ and grow up to go on for God.

  • What significant relationships are you building?

Strong, genuine relationships may indeed be the key to long-term survival in youth ministry. Of course, this begins with building loving and caring relationships with young people. Almost everyone who has ever written anything about vocational youth ministry has mentioned the importance of relational youth ministry. But I’m talking here about developing strong relationships with the senior pastor and other church leaders, parents and family members of your students – and carving out time to network with your peers in youth ministry as well. My fellow youth workers don’t take this point lightly. Put some energy into building strong inter-personal relationships with others. Then if things start to “go south” you will have established and durable relationships to rely on for stability or comfort

  • How do you handle personal conflicts with others?

Let’s face it, conflicts with people are going to happen. Some of the teenagers might not like you. Some of their parents may not appreciate what you are trying to do – and the leadership team in your church may even want you to leave. No matter what, it is important to handle conflicts in a Biblical, loving, and respectful manner. It is probably true that if we handle conflicts in an adult-like manner with maturity, kindness, and wisdom, we are much more likely to win over the objections of others in the church. I admit that is not always the case, but people conflicts tend to be much more vocal and heated if we allow our personality traits and human insecurities to get involved in the disputes. Without a doubt, it is always best to not allow human conflicts to get heated and confrontational in nature. My years of experience in ministry have taught me that those who last over the long haul are usually the people who can avoid or manage conflicts with others in the church.

  • Are you committed to faithfulness?

In what must have been a moment of insanity, as a high schooler I decided to try out for my school’s cross country team. My one-year fiasco as a long-distance runner revealed that successful runners are those who are committed to finishing the race – no matter what. That observation undoubtedly applies to the tenure of youth pastors as well.  I have found that youth pastors who last are usually those who are committed to long term ministry. They are not continually searching for a position in a different church, nor are they looking to do something else. The ones who stick it out are they ones who are committed to sticking it out over the long haul. They realize that it takes time to build an effective youth ministry.

As someone who has spent a long time in ministry, I have also observed that most veteran youth workers who are leading profitable ministries with students, and who are reaching out into the households where their students are from, are usually also faithful in their own walk with God and in their personal relationships with their own spouse and family.

On a personal note, I’m not buying that 18-month tenure statistic. I do not believe it was true when I started in youth ministry and I’m positive that it is not the norm today. I know many youth pastors who have spent 10, 20, 30, and even 40 years in very profitable ministries.

By the way, I lived through that meeting with the senior pastor and the church board. In fact, they encouraged me in some very specific areas of my ministry, and they helped me focus on a long-term vision of what church youth ministry should accomplish. By God’s grace, our ministry turned the corner and we began to see Him do some amazing things in and through the lives of many of our students.

After all these years I still have that God-given focus on the lasting mission of youth ministry, to see young people grow up and go on for God.


[i] For example see: http://youthministryforum.blogspot.com/2005/10/18-month-myth.html.

Conversations with Young Adults Who Stayed in The Church: Why They Didn’t Walk Away

in College Age/Going On For God/Parents/youth ministry by

Over the last several years I’ve had the opportunity to interview dozens of young adults who have not abandoned their faith and who have not walked away from church.

I have been one of those authors and speakers that has talked at length about the phenomenon of high school graduates who have left the church following their active years in youth ministry. To be clear, I am certainly not one to blame youth pastors for this departure. In fact, I champion church leaders who are trying to emulate the many positive aspects of youth ministry and who are trying to build those characteristics into the fabric of their churches as a whole. (For more on this topic, see my book Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for The Church, Chapter 7 beginning on page 71.)

The statistics seem overwhelming. The majority of young adults who were once active participants in youth groups are leaving the church in droves once they become adults. Plus, the majority of today’s Millennial generation feel no loyalty for any particular church polity or denominational structure. Let’s face it – our kids are leaving the church and are expressing no real allegiance or commitment to church once they reach adulthood. These trends are real; but they don’t include everyone. Not every young adult has walked away from church. So, I intentionally spent some time over the past several months identifying and interviewing Christian young adults who remain active in church to try to pinpoint the common denominators of why they stayed.

I talked with scores of young adults, including my own 3 children, who are now actively involved in church ministries – and I asked them why they didn’t walk away. Here’s what I found:

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if their parents demonstrated a genuine love for the Lord.

The majority of young adults I talked to described the consistent Christian testimony of their parents as the most important role model in their lives. If their parents’ faith is real, the kids know it, and they are much more likely to want a genuine faith of their own.

I did talk with some young adults that are now very active in church, but grew up in non-Christian or incredibly dysfunctional families. These individuals each spoke of a clear message of God’s grace that overcame human sinfulness and weaknesses.

The take-away here was 2-fold: Christian young adults are much more likely to remain plugged in to church themselves if their parents were genuine, Godly role models. Yes, there were exceptions to that general rule; but in those cases God’s matchless and amazing grace did something miraculous that overruled the missteps of the parents. 

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if their parents were consistent about their own personal and family commitment to the local church.

Again, the majority of emerging adults I spoke to mentioned the commitment their parents had made to the church during their own formative years. Several shared anecdotes of parents that “never missed a service” or who “made us go to Sunday School and youth group”. Some spoke about not being allowed to take part-time jobs or get involved in sports if that interfered with church activities. It was clear, if the parents made church a priority – the kids most often grew up making church a priority too.

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they have experienced the church working in collaboration with their parents for the spiritual growth of the young person.

Every one of the young adults I interviewed spoke highly about a significant adult, often several adults, who took a personal interest in them during their days growing up in church. My own personal interest in youth ministry was stirred when I heard so many speak about the youth pastors or lay youth workers who played an active role in their lives. They each identified various Godly adults who cared enough to build a personal relationship with them during their maturing years. My conclusion following these conversations was obvious – the positive relationships they had with Godly adults was a key factor in their long term spiritual growth.

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they have been actively involved in specific ministry and service initiatives throughout their lives as children and teenagers.

Another conclusion was also clear – if the church entertained kids, once they became adults they would most likely walk away. The converse is also true, if the church (and youth ministry) was intentional and missional about involving young people in specific ministry and service projects, the participants were more likely to stay involved in those things into adulthood.

Again, the take-away here was clear: youth programs don’t work – youth ministry does work, and it lasts!

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they see the relevance and importance of Biblical truth and if they can vividly see how God’s Word applies to their current lives.

My final observation seemed to jump out of every single conversation. Young adults who see God’s Word as relevant and life related are the ones who also see The Church as vitally important. They realize that The Church has been designed by God to help people come to Christ and grow in Him into spiritual maturity. These young adults participate in church to worship Him and to hear God’s Word taught.

I absolutely loved talking to these young adults. They each craved the opportunity to be a part of an inter-generational community of Christ-followers who gathered together often to open the Scriptures together because they knew they needed to grow closer to Him.

HOW SMALL CAN BE HUGE: The Great Potential of Small Youth Groups

in youth ministry by

A recent report stated that the average church in America has about 80 people, 4 of whom are teenagers. I don’t know if that description fits your church, but the report shows that the typical church is nowhere near the size of a megachurch. Sure, mega churches get all the attention, but let’s face it; most churches do not have the facilities, budget, or number of people to garner a great deal of interest from anyone other than the regular members or attendees. Therefore, it’s quite easy for pastors and other leaders in smaller churches to get discouraged when some of their people seem to be attracted to the larger megachurches in their communities.

In my opinion, there seems to be a growing church insecurity about having a small congregation. A friend of mine has repeatedly stated, “Every small church is trying to get bigger, and every large church is trying to get smaller.” He is obviously talking about the trend today toward small-group ministries. I admit that I have some cautions about small groups, and I advise churches to implement some guidelines into the organization of their small groups; but for the most part, I am a fan of small groups in the local church. There’s a great deal of good that can come from a small-group ministry.

I grew up in a small town. My family attended a small church, and I was active in a small youth group. Over the years of my ministry, I have visited or preached in a variety of churches of all sizes. I have also talked to several volunteer youth workers in churches with very small youth groups or youth Sunday School classes. Those experiences have given me the following perspective of the advantages of small church youth ministry.

Make much of people, not programs.

The biggest advantage of being in a small church is that we can emphasize people over programs. Somehow, we must learn that it doesn’t take an organized structure to do real ministry. Effective ministry can happen in our kitchens around a cup of coffee or in our living rooms with our feet propped up on the coffee table. I am becoming increasingly convinced that today’s students are much more impressed by adults who genuinely care about them than they are with overly organized and structured programs. Don’t get me wrong; I see value in organization and structure. However, smaller churches have a real advantage over bigger churches in the development of close relationships.

If you are a youth worker in a small church, you can have everyone over to your house for dinner or take the whole class out for McDonald’s milkshakes without taking out a second mortgage or robbing a bank. If you only have a handful of students in your group, you can probably get out to their high school football games or concerts. You can remember everybody’s birthdays, and you can pray for each one specifically each day. You can show them how to do their own personal devotions and you can answer specific life-related questions. You can become their friend and not just another acquaintance from church. See, there are huge advantages to being in a small church where you can make much of people instead of programs.

Stress relationships, not rooms.

It seems that the modern church is more interested in building buildings than building lives. That statement may be a bit sarcastic, but this view of most churches is wrong. A pastor friend of mine recently experienced a fire in his church building that practically destroyed the facility. Even though insurance paid for the reconstruction of their building, he said this to me during the process: “I’d almost like to do without our building permanently. [Without the building] our people were closer, the fellowship seemed to be more genuine, and church seemed to be real.” Perhaps he was right. Perhaps our fancy buildings and facilities sometimes get in the way of real ministry.

I’ve had many youth workers over the years ask me about their youth rooms or Sunday School classrooms. Ideal facilities would be nice, but most churches I know of do not have the money or budget to build “perfect” youth meeting rooms. In fact, I have had occasions where I taught teenagers in church busses, in gymnasiums, in basements where I couldn’t even stand up straight, and in broom closets under the stairs. I really don’t think that Christ would have been overly concerned with PowerPoint, smart boards, or sound systems. He may have utilized those things, but I’m sure that His focus would have been to develop strong interpersonal relationships with His students. Sure, He made use of visual aids. He wrote in the dirt on the ground and referenced objects in nature to visualize the truth He was teaching. But mostly He concentrated on people. That seems like a good idea for ministry with teenagers today.

Build trust instead of technology.

I certainly enjoy modern technology. I love my laptop and carry my iPhone and iPad religiously. My son wrote me a note recently that stated, “You are the only Dad who has cooler toys than his kids.” Yep, I admit that I am a collector of technological toys. But let’s all be careful not to let our electronic gadgets isolate us from people.

I am old enough remember the days when “Walkmans” were the great evil in youth ministry. Youth workers feared that kids on the bus who listened to walkmans would drown out conversations with other people. These workers made rules that wouldn’t let kids bring those old cassette tape players on youth trips. Remember those days? Now we are all hearing that modern technology actually helps kids connect with each other. One recent research organization reported that today’s teenagers would be willing to do without almost anything they owned – except for their cell phones. I’m sure that technology can help us stay connected to our students, but let’s be careful not to send text messages, e-mails, to kids when we should be spending time with them in person. I think we should utilize every means possible to stay in touch with teenagers, but let’s be sure to include spending time with them individually in person as well. You can do that very well in a smaller church.

Emphasize mentoring over methods.

Somehow it seems that contemporary youth ministry has become “method” crazy. “How to” has become the latest and greatest craze. It is imperative for all of us to work on our creativity and imagination. All of us should get better at implementing creative Bible learning and imaginative methods in our teaching. But we should never sacrifice Biblical truth at the altar of student involvement or interaction. It also seems like today’s youth workers are constantly looking for the next “what works” method for ministry. Countless conferences and seminars tout the latest and greatest technique for youth ministry. These methods are fine, but we must never forget that real, Biblical ministry should focus on the spiritual practices of basic discipleship and mentoring.

Mentoring is a concept that must be intentionally implemented into the fabric of our ministries. It can be an effective way to connect the various generations with each other in our churches. The fundamental idea of mentoring is that caring, godly adults should take the initiative to develop intentional growing relationships with young people. In other words, we must teach adults to do what they normally do, just to do it with students. For instance, my mom is a very talented quilt maker. She has had a very effective ministry showing young ladies in her church how to quilt. My mother-in-law loves music. She has taken some of the young girls in her church to piano recitals and concerts. One national youth ministry organization recently reported that 90 percent of today’s teenagers stated that they would love to have an adult mentor. That’s the concept so aptly described in Titus 2. Older men and older women can have an incredible mentoring ministry by spending time with teenagers.

Train, don’t just “teach.”

My last suggestion may seem strange, but I believe in teaching and have spent the majority of life involved in various teaching endeavors. We must emphasize training or equipping, not just the verbal presentation of fact. Our ministries must feature training , not just lectures. I also believe in the importance of preaching. However, my focus is on the significance of true education: making sure that our students learn. Christianity must impact the lifestyles of our students. That’s why the truth of James 1:22 is so critical for today’s culture. Our students need to see how Biblical principles relate to life today. I love the account in Luke 24 of Christ’s post-resurrection appearance to some of His disciples. Verse 32 presents this interesting question, “Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?” Christ taught them the Bible while He walked with them through their journey. Perhaps that is an apt description of what real ministry is all about: showing students that God’s Word relates to life!

May God bless you as you minister to today’s students, even in small churches.

1 2 3
Go to Top