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?

18 thoughts on “The Future of Youth Ministry

  1. A friend of mine told me that there are two types of people in the world; those that believe everything can be broken down into simple dualistic statements, and those that don’t!

    Being in the UK, I can’t really comment on the state of American youth ministry, but I don’t think it will ever be that clear cut. Of course, there are many churches that take their youth program for granted and do marginalize the youth pastors and young people to the extent that the ministry fails. But I believe there are more ebbs and flows within youth ministry as pastors leave, new groups form and life happens around the church. What might be a failing youth ministry can suddenly develop new life as God breathes into it.

    I do agree though that sometimes a failing youth ministry can be a good thing as it allows opportunities for other ministries to thrive and develop

    • Thanks for the insights Jon. I am definitely someone who leans to the dualistic statements, understanding that they are ends of a spectrum though. I hope you are right and that it will never be that clear cut, but based on my observations I unfortunately see churches moving in one of these two directions and vacating the gray areas. I guess the reality is that if Youth Ministry isn’t being prioritized within its church, then on some level it is being marginalized. Thanks again!

  2. I agree Jason. we need to continue to pray for and support those churches who see YM as a priority. if there is enough of a ground swell maybe others will change.

  3. After 9 years as in interim and the experiences and struggles I’ve faced I’d like to fully comment on your following point – “There isn’t a paid staff member overseeing ministry to teenagers.”

    I believe in many cases it takes someone with experience and some education depending on the church. I’m currently concluding an interim at a church that had a “youth pastor” in place but had no experience or education at all. They hired him to “fill a spot that was needed and he was available and needed a job.”

    When a church looks for a potential lead pastor they have a certain criteria and a very detailed description of what they are looking for. However, in some cases, not all, when it comes to hiring someone to work with the youth, churches just settle for whoever may be available and willing to do the job.

    To invest in teenagers a church needs to be willing to invest in it’s youth worker and not settle. If so, a church could end up with a glorified babysitter or cruise ship director.

    • Excellent insight Brian. Whether or not a church invests in the Leader of the Youth Ministry is another great indicator of whether or not it is being marginalize or prioritized. That makes a great sub point for those 3rd bullet points I listed.

  4. I think a good question is if the church believes God can use these youth to change the world. If a church believes that God can truly use anyone then I believe you will see a GREAT priority set on youth ministry. It always breaks my heart to see churches/people under estimate the power and influence God has given our youth. So we pray and educate, pray and educate. Great post babe!

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  7. I totally agree dude! I have been trained at TIU for youth ministry and have gotten into discussions with good Bible believe christians about youth ministry. The most recent was because of the blog post done by the guy at Mars Hill Church. Claiming that youth ministry does nothing. The second incident i remember was a professor in a missions class at Trinity asked students to introduce themselves and i introduced myself and said i was a youth pastor for life and see the importance of contextualizing the gospel in the context of youth culture. He then proceeded to ask me if i thought Youth pastor for life was an oxymoron. THIS WAS IN A MISSIONS CLASS! The one place i thought people would understand a calling and mission field… Overall there is a major pendulum swing from the 80s and 90s about youth ministry claiming its not important and works against the mission of the church…

  8. i appreciate your insights. I just differ on one point. You don’t have to have a paid staff person to be prioritized. To me that speaks only of large or mega churches. We have a small church and lean more toward prioritized with many people who give of their own time and people who are very generous and supportive. No paid, all volunteer.

    • thanks for the encouragement as well as for your counter to my paid staff comment. just to be clear, i don’t necessarily mean that you have to have a paid Youth Pastor, but someone on the paid staff needs to be a stake holder in the Youth Ministry. I know of churches that only have a Lead or Senior Pastor but because they have a heart for teens and equip and empower volunteers to run that ministry they have made it a priority. but i do contend that it starts top down. thanks again!

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  13. good stuff. i’m thinking those churches that marginalize will eventually find themselves looking at a lot of empty seats and see themselves dying. Those who leverage as a priority will find lots of new kinds of Kingdom building activities.

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