Sixty years ago there were no youth pastors in evangelical churches. Today, if a church does not have a youth pastor or at least a youth ministry structure, it is considered strange and behind the times. It would be arrogant to say that churches 50-60 years ago that did not have youth ministries were less faithful and yet most people, including myself, have an inward sense that Youth ministry is important. Most Christians are aware of the oft-quoted statistic that more people come to faith in Christ in their middle/high school years than any other stage of life. Youth ministry is important–we must teach, equip, and make disciples of the youth in our churches lest we fail to live obediently to Christ our Lord.
However, the question remains, are the most common models utilized in youth ministry today working? Are the current practices of youth ministry succeeding in making disciples of the youth in our churches? I am afraid that the answer to that question is no! The most common model of youth ministry present in the average evangelical church today is not succeeding in the goal of making committed followers of Jesus Christ out of the youth that attend. Steve Wright and Chris Graves have recently written a book called reThink: Is Student Ministry Working?, in which Wright and Graves ask the timely question of whether the current student ministry models are working. Wright and Graves’ book is an invaluable resource toward understanding the state of student ministry today as they have compiled and assessed a wealth of current research on the trends in youth ministry and their results. Upon extensive research, Wright describes what he sees as the current lay of the land in most present day youth ministries:
Today our mission as student pastors is at a critical point, but you would never know it by watching some churches. Our methods have stayed the same, while the statistics are becoming ominous. Students are leaving the church at an alarming rate. Student pastors are walking away from ministry. Fewer students are being reached for Christ and baptized. Fewer Christian teens have a basic understanding of the Bible. Our mission is becoming one of survival, but our ministry model isn’t changing accordingly. It seems that most student pastors are tapping their knuckles on the gauges, thinking surely the gauges must be wrong. They are not wrong, and if we do not change course, our mission will fail. (pp. 16).
Wright and Graves go on to gives statistics in four critical areas that help gauge the temperature of current youth ministries. These areas include: student retention rates (students that continue on in the church after high school and into college), student baptism rates, student pastor tenures, and student Bible literacy. Wright and Graves call for a change of course in youth ministry for two essential reasons–first statistics in the four previously mentioned categories are profoundly alarming and secondly because most current youth ministry models fail to adequately incorporate and value the contribution of the primary front-line warriors of youth ministry–parents!
I am very concerned about the current model of youth ministry in the majority of evangelical churches today. Thus I plan to publish a short series of posts in which I will both report on the alarming statistics cited in reThink, as well as set forth a biblical model of youth ministry which restores parents to their rightful role as the primary disciplers of their children.