I think that most, if not all Youth Ministries, are headed in one of two very distinct directions within the American Church. I don’t believe we are too many years away from seeing a permanent line drawn in the sand between these two types of Youth Ministries and I for one am already seeing signs of this trend taking place.
Many churches have viewed having a Youth Leader at some capacity as essential to the life of the church for several decades. It has become such a reality for churches that for the past 5-10 years you can get an under-graduate degree (and in some cases graduate level education) in Youth Ministry. In many cases, unfortunately, Youth Leaders are still referred to as not much more than glorified babysitters or hired security guards for the church. I think that the recent difficult economic times that our country is facing has accelerated (not caused) the trend I’ve been observing in Youth Ministry. I believe that every Youth Ministry can be classified to some degree as either MARGINALIZED or PRIORITIZED within the lifeblood of its church but that one day soon it will be distinctly one or the other with very little gray area.
Here are a few indicators that a Youth Ministry may becoming MARGINALIZED within a church:
- Teens are not incorporated into the regular functions of the church
- Funds of the church aren’t used to support, let alone accelerate, ministry to teens
- There isn’t a paid staff member overseeing ministry to teenagers
- Teenagers aren’t being empowered to use their spiritual gifts for the benefit of the church
- Teens are viewed more like children or spiritually immature
- The overall presence of teenagers is not evident within the church body
- There many not be any teens within the church at all
- What ministry that may exist is exclusively for the teenage children of adult members
Here are a few indicators that a Youth Ministry is hopefully becoming PRIORITIZED within a church:
- While there may be some programs set aside for teens, they are regularly incorporated to what’s going on in the life of the church
- Ministry dollars are spent to fuel ministry to teenagers that are both saved and unsaved
- There is a paid staff member who oversees this ministry
- Teenagers understand what their spiritual gifts are and are given opportunities to exercise them
- They are viewed as missionaries/saints capable of doing the work of the church
- You can’t help but notice the presence of teenagers within the church as they are everywhere doing everything
- There are new teenagers (even unsaved ones) constantly showing up to church
- The ministry to teens focuses on utilizing the teenage believers to reach unsaved teenagers in their schools and community
Keep in mind that these lists are not meant to be absolute. I have been on staff at a church as the full time paid Youth Pastor and can tell you that the teens were not a priority within the church, nor was I. Likewise, I am familiar with churches that don’t have the funds to pay someone to oversee the Youth Ministry but it is evident that they love their teenagers and ministering to them (although I would still err on the side of the argument that you invest what money you do have into your priorities).
Also keep in mind that these lists are not exhaustive. I’d love to know what indicators you would add to either list when it comes to determining if a Youth Ministry is being MARGINALIZED or is being PRIORITIZED. We may not be able to prevent this trend from taking place but we can be intentional about moving towards more PRIORITIZED Youth Ministry settings when and where we can.
There is one final thought I’d like to add to my assessment of the future of Youth Ministry. While I would love to see every church in America reaching every teenager within its community I’m not convinced that the separation of churches that are making Youth Ministry a PRIORITY from those that are not is a bad thing. When God prunes or separates the wheat from the chaff you typically see stronger and more effective ministry or growth take place. I am actually optimistic about the future of Youth Ministry and how this all will play out. The only instance that this separation of churches and Youth Ministries is a bad thing is for those churches that aren’t committed to being effective anyway.
What type of Youth Ministry will your’s become?