We need to take an honest look at youth ministry. For the past three decades, youth ministry has exploded across America, accompanied by a rise in the number of degrees in youth ministry granted by colleges and seminaries, an abundance of books and other resources, and a network of cottage industries devoted solely to youth ministry.
Yet those same three decades have failed to produce a generation of young people who graduate from high school or leave youth groups ready to change the world for Christ.
Looking Good on the Annual Report
The overwhelming majority of the people who make professions of faith and are baptized do so before age eighteen. Thus youth ministry is the force that fills the pool. Never mind the fact that the overwhelming majority of those we have baptized know neither the gospel nor the Christ of the Scriptures and have a worldview that is more closely aligned with Marxist Socialism than it is with Christian Theism. Our numbers look good on the annual report, and apparently that’s what matters most.
Alvin Reid, chair of the Evangelism Department at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, addressed this issue in his book, Raising the Bar. Reid, who is a proponent of youth ministry, notes, “The largest rise of full-time youth ministers in history has been accompanied by the biggest decline in youth evangelism effectiveness.”
Youth Ministry Drops the Ball
Thus it is hard to argue that being against youth ministry constitutes being against youth evangelism. In fact, one could argue the opposite. It is the youth ministry movement that has dropped the ball in evangelism. Evangelism is not about getting young people to walk an aisle and sign a card, only to apostatize once they get to college. Evangelism is about making disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). The most effective way to make disciples of teens is to make disciples of their parents and teach them to do what God commands, which includes evangelizing and discipling their children.
Of course, this model flies in the face of what most churches believe youth ministry is all about. Mark DeVries, author of Family-Based Youth Ministry, offers a candid assessment of the desired outcomes of youth ministry: Most youth ministries that I’ve seen are vastly undercapitalized financially and in terms of staff and volunteers. Plus, most youth pastors work with unclear job expectations—other than that their parking lot evaluation has to be positive. We feel guilty as mainliners talking about numbers, but people are always out in the parking lot of the church evaluating youth pastors based on how many kids are showing up.
The Numbers Matter
A senior pastor once said to me. “I don’t care about numbers, just give me a quality program.” He was lying. If I had two kids show up, and I was making a full-time salary, he would care about numbers. Eventually I learned that I needed to have 100 kids there for him to feel like I was doing my job. We can deny it all we want, but the bottom line is still the bottom line in youth ministry. The overwhelming majority of the people who make professions of faith and are baptized do so before age eighteen. (Baucham Jr., Voddie (2011-04-05). Family Driven Faith: Doing What It Takes to Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk with God (p. 210). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.)
The phrase that comes to my mind [Becky Fischer] is “If it’s broken, fix it!” But how? My kids are going to grow up and go to “youth ministry”. Good idea? What are the alternatives? Your thoughts?
Kids in Ministry International
PO Box 549 * 111 Collins Avenue
Mandan, ND 58554