When Youth Ministry Is Counter-Productive. . .

generational divide 1I’m convinced that one of the reasons so many teenagers and young adults are walking away from the heritage of their faith is that we haven’t given them a complete heritage. Many of our kids have a church experience that’s filled with nothing but worship, classes, youth group, and activities with peers of the same age. They haven’t worshipped intergenerationally with people of all ages. Nor have they been in social situations with the older members of the church. What happens is that we not only socialize them into thinking that anything related to their faith is only relevant when experienced with people of like age, but we’ve robbed them of those opportunities to experience life in the larger body of Christ which allow them to benefit from the full breadth of gifts, ages, wisdom, experience, and abilities of the people that make up the church. In addition, generational segmentation robs the large body of Christ of their experience of the gifts our kids possess. Our teens’ spiritual maturity is best-fed, grown, and cemented into maturity when fellowship is broad-based, rather than with just their peers. It works because it’s biblical.

So. . . do you need to make any adjustments?

7 thoughts on “When Youth Ministry Is Counter-Productive. . .

  1. I would wholeheartedly concur with you, Walt. Sustaining youthful faith became a question for me when I began teaching in a classical Christian school six years ago. I had no idea before that time what Christian Smith and others were finding in their research on teen’s religious beliefs and practices. I did my MTS thesis on this question in 2013, surveying every grad of our school since 1999. What I found was that well over 90% retained the faith of their youth and most were maturing as well in practice and belief. Their primary, self-described influences were their Christian peers and teachers in high school along with their parents. There is almost no study done to date that examines the role of the influence of adults on Christian youth in high school, instead most put the onus on churches and youth groups (with parents as well) to solve this problem. The one or two hours a week at church and youth group cannot compare with the adult interaction gained during the 35-40 hours a week in school and school activities. As Chap Clark aptly pointed out in Hurt 2.0 to underscore your point, “adult abandonment” lies at the heart of young people walking away from the indifferent moralistic therapeutic deism they seem to conclude is “church” and being a Christian. The links in the chain of “one generation to the next” are strained to the breaking point, and the importance of adult Christian mentors has never been more imperative. Parental choice of secondary schooling may be the single most critical decision to help launch their children into their calling as disciples in a post-Christian, relativistic world. Keep up the good prodding of us all.

  2. Great thoughts Walt! I agree with you wholeheartedly and thankfully had great mentors and teachers that taught me to avoid the “silo” that youth ministry can be. It takes hard work and intentional planning but the rewards speak for themselves.

  3. This is the dumbest thing I have read on the internet in months. This is not why we have left our faiths, and yes, we would understand WHY we left better than you would.

    1. Our kids loved going to church until it changed to combined worship. They were bored. They missed being in a group of kids their own age. Maybe once a month would be good, maybe instead of worship an effort to bring together intergenerational groups in a less formal setting, like a pot luck, or even an ice cream social. Have tables with questions set up for each person to ask the person next to them, with follow up questions? Not limited to church related themes, either.

  4. Walt, as always thanks for your insight. I think you would be interested in the Pray for Me Campaign. It is a powerful way of naturally connecting the generations through the catalyst of prayer. I encourage you to take 3 minutes and watch the video link below to get the gist of it and then check out the website. As of right now the Pray for Me Campaign has been launched in 110 churches in 26 states with over 8800 adults having been invited into teenagers lives to serve as their Prayer Champions for a school year.

    Again thanks for the great work you do.

  5. Walt, you are completely on point with this post. This is something that I have been praying through and been trying to process for quite some time. I am in my mid thirties, so I am kind of in the middle so to speak. Over the past 30 to 40 years (at least) we have sub cultured the church to death. Don’t get me wrong, children’s , youth, young adult ministries have their place. However , I feel, by in large, the way the American church has organized and programmed age graded ministries has hurt the overall health and life of the church. When I look back at my life and the lives of others that are still engaged and involved in the life of the church in their 20s and 30s, there are a few common denominators. We all genuinely love Jesus and His church. We were also engaged in the overall life of the church in our teens and early 20’s and had meaningful and intentional multi-generational interaction. Youth group was never the only church context. We were discipled and learned that church wasn’t about us and our wants and preferences. Church was not a place to come and be entertained, but it was a place to come and serve. We were encouraged to serve and hang out together along side of people of all ages. The investments that were made in my life by those that have been walking in the faith longer than I had were so powerful and life impacting. I still reflect on many of those today. As a result I view the church through a unique generational context. In my mind “we” (all generations) make up the church. It is not an “us generation” verses “that generation”. I feel like the language we use such as “that generation” or “this generation” or “the old folks” or “young people” in some ways is harmful. I know there are differences in preference and ways of doing things, but at the end of the day we are all in this together. God has put us here on earth for such a time as this “together” for a reason. We need to champion this reality and celebrate life as a cohesive societal unit. Not “us” verses “them”! The generational bias and prejudice is not only killing the church but I believe the society as a whole. There is so much to learn from folks in all stages of life and if we are all honest with each other, we desire deeply to belong to one another and have a place together at church, at home, and more over in life together. I don’t know of any younger folks that have been invested in and spent more time folks that have been on earth longer that they have and said, “man I really hate the fact that I have spent so much time with folks of an older generation!” They have cherished those moments and benefited greatly from those relationships. We, unfortunately buy into the enemy’s lies of “Those older people don’t understand me and don’t want me around.” or “Those younger people don’t have any use for us, we are old hat.” Failing to recognize that God has placed us here, together for such a time as this, to love and be loved by one another. To nurture one another and spur one another on all for the glory of God. This is a very duplicitous attack by the enemy. Many folks don’t even recognize what he is up to in this. Unless we begin to look at this differently and begin to make some radical departures from the way that we are doing things, not just in the church but the overall culture, then we will continue to have a fragmented society and culture that will never reach it’s full relational potential. Keep doing what you are doing Walt! Thank you for you ministry and service.

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