Last week we talked about the reality that youth ministry isn’t winning. You can read that here. I introduced the term “Discipleship Movement”. I’ll come back to that.
Most students graduate.
Most students graduate high school. The most recent percentage on dropouts I could find had it hovering right above 7%. Today the rate is lower, but it’s still between 50% and 75% of those who graduate high school will also stop being involved in a local expression of church and following Jesus. We like to call this “Graduating from their faith.”
The ROI isn’t great.
The reality is that Youth Ministry costs more today than it ever has been, and is less effective in reaching people and introducing them real faith to than it ever has been.
As someone whose a bit of an entrepreneur, knowing this gives me place to pull the plug. If I had to go back, I’d do things differently. I’d push for less big group, more movement. I’ll give you a few things to think through that I use today and that helped me to build a youth ministry where 90% of our students stuck with following Jesus after they graduated. Now hear me, that was over a decade ago and most of the students are still following Jesus. The win isn’t now for your current students. It’s where they are in 10 years.
WARNING: I need to add a caveat here. The method's I used...and still use, while being effective for reaching un-churched families and making long term disciples, made many church members unhappy and almost got me fired. You need to consider your church context and count the cost of what this might mean for you. I'll also say if you aren't content with not reaching people, and your church is, then quit and find one that isn't content there. My pastor from that church and I agree on these points and we're still friends. They did fire him about a year after I resigned. We're both at different churches that want to reach people and we're happier now. :)
There are some very specific things that you can do differently to help with this.
1) Purposely build in relationships with all other age groups of the church.
Most youth ministries are almost setup like a church within a church. Giving your kids context for relating to the entire body of Christ is important. Having young men be invested in by older men is a big deal. If you have kids who don’t have families, then have a family from the church “adopt” them. This can also be a way to share Jesus with entire households as the families begin to interact together.
2) Don’t overemphasize behaviors.
In a context that is, at my guess, primarily Therapeutic Moralistic Deism I’ve found that this simply reinforces the belief that “if I’m good, God owes me” and it’s detrimental to faith.
3) Push for and work with families, not you, to disciple their kids.
This kinda goes back to the 1st point. It also pushes against the general “spiritual welfare” mindset that is intrinsically under girding most youth ministry.
4) Even if you have a big group and require a gathering due to some very good reasons. Fight aggressively against the center of your ministry being the gathering rather than what happens outside of it.
I’ve found that having a ministry centered around a gathering can lead to an undertow of sectarianism and doesn’t lend itself to an “on the ground” level of living out faith.
This is the big deal. We, as Christians, were never called to build a ministry or church. We were called to make disciples. That sometimes leads to a ministry or church. It’s also far more sustainable. I will continue to push for that. Next week I’ll talk about some of how we have worked this out on a ground level and what it means.