The data and anecdotes confirm what so many of us have suspected for a long, long time and now know. . . that our youth ministry efforts are not resulting in the kind of outcomes that we hope for. What’s happening to your students when they graduate from high school and your youth group?
When my friends Mark Matlock and David Kinnaman released their book Faith For Exiles, we learned that only ten percent of 18-to-29 year olds who “grew up as Christian” were now what they called “resilient disciples.” These resilient disciples are those who attend church at least monthly and engage with their churches more than just attending worship services, they trust firmly in the authority of Bible, they are committed to Jesus personally and affirm he was crucified and raised from the dead to conquer sin and death, and they express a desire to transform the broader society as an outcome of their faith. What about the other 90%? They are a combination of prodigals (ex-Christians), nomads (lapsed Christians), and habitual churchgoers. We can and must do better.
I believe that what each of us in youth ministry needs to do is take a lesson from TV home repair guy Bob Vila and something he learned when he visited a long-standing toilet factory. Sounds strange, I know, but I learned something from Vila’s visit and conversation with the toilet factory foreman. Vila was shown the short little assembly line and the very old machine out of which appears a completed toilet. The foreman told Vila that they had been using the same machine and technology o fire toilets for decades. . . almost a hundred years if I remember correctly. A stunned Vila asked, “You mean to tell me that nothing’s changed in the process in all those years?!?” “Why should it?” asked the foreman. . . “After all, we have been getting consistent quality output. If some reason the machine starts churning out messed up toilets, then we would have to go back and change things.”
Now our kids aren’t toilets. They are divine-image bearers made by God and for a relationship with God. Our ministry efforts should be about effectively leading and discipling them into a lifetime of vital Christian faith. But the output we’re seeing tells a story that should force us back to the front of the process in order to evaluate whether or not our input is correct.
As a new season of youth ministry begins this fall, I want to encourage all of my youth worker friends to sit back and think for a bit about where they’re putting their “input energies.” And, I want to speak out of my own self-reflection on what I may have done right in youth ministry, and what I would be sure to be doing differently if I was to start over again. . . if I had a “youth ministry mulligan” of sorts.
Over the last few months, I’ve been scratching out a list of practices and priorities that I believe all of us should at least consider implementing in our youth ministries. . . practices that maybe we’ve forgotten, maybe we’ve put aside thinking they might be unnecessary or irrelevant, or maybe we’re just not aware could even be possibilities. I believe that each of these practices are necessary and warranted in light of our current “success rate” along with a host of youth culture realities our kids have to navigate. . . many of which undermine their faith.
A couple of days ago, I sat down in our CPYU studio with Kyle Hoffsmith and Chris Wagner to talk on the latest episode of our Youth Culture Matters podcast through nine of these practices, describing what they are while offering some very practical ideas and helps on how to implement them into our ministries.
Give it a listen if you would. And, I’d love to hear how your might be implementing these practices in your youth ministry!