Issues in Youth Ministry: Jason Curlee

Issues in Youth Ministry: Jason CurleeWhat do you see as some of the main issues youth ministry is struggling with today?

In my opinion so often I see that youth ministry is struggling with being relevant. For the past few weeks I have been talking with some of our top leaders about how we can draw in a high school crowd. In time past it was often said that winning teens to Christ by the time they were 18 was the goal cause after that the chances of them coming to God drops dramatically. From my perspective now back in ministry after a 5 year hiatus, it is as if you better win them before 8th grade. But I see so many youth ministries that aren’t relevant to today’s unsaved teens. So many are spending so much time trying to keep the ones they have that they are not reaching the lost. There are 32,000 teens from 6th grade to 12th grade within 30 miles of our church. So for us, even though our [volunteer] team has doubled our youth [group] attendance since April, we are not satisfied cause there are so many teens out there that have not heard the gospel.

What do you see as some of the main issues youth ministry is responding to effectively?

I really have to think about this one [because, since] coming back [to youth ministry], I have such a focus on the unsaved teenager. Sometimes I wonder if youth ministry is responding effectively. Are we making a true difference? If the statistics are true, and some people don’t want to believe them, then we are failing. And one thing I am not ever going to do is say “that as long as I am there for the few that come I feel I am doing my part.” If the statistics say the only 4% of this generation is saved, then we are not responding effectively. And I am not even going to say that our ministry is being effective as well. Until the status quo changes we won’t know. Every week what drives me is whether we have created an environment that teens can bring their unsaved friends to.

Here is the thing: God has charged us with equipping our teens to reach their generation. So often we are equipping them with who “we” are as Christians and not equipping them to truly be effective. Then we send them out to do goofy Christian things and when there is no response or our teens are ridiculed we say things like, “Sometimes we are going to be persecuted for our faith.” Come on, man. God has called us to be more creative and relevant than that. Jesus changed water into “wine” (now I’m all about not drinking) and I believe it totally baffles the church but to the unbelievers of His time it was so on point. Jesus spent so much time being relevant to a lost generation that He wasn’t relevant to the church (Pharisees & Sadducees).

In what ways does youth ministry need to change?

It goes back to the whole relevant thing. If a group of unsaved teens walked in to our youth ministry, would we be speaking their language? Too often we are speaking so much “Christianese” and our “services” are designed for Christians. We are striving hard to change that in our meetings. Even changing the terms that we call everything. Sermons are messages, services are meetings, etc.

Jason Curlee is a youth pastor in Corpus Christi, TX. Check out his blog at Making Difference Makers.

[Read previous authors and posts in this series, “Issues in youth ministry.”]

Posted on December 10, 2006

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  • I agree. I think we have to have an emphasis on the lost teen and expect discipleship (small groups) to happen on other nights of the week. I think we do a decent job of reaching out to the lost teenager. 90% of our student ministry is made up kids that have no other church home and they come back week after week. However there has to be a balance…I think reaching that balance can sometimes be harder than we think.

  • I completely agree. I was speaking to the elders in my church about this last night. I always think of the parable of the lost sheep… If I had 99 kids in my youth group I’d be stoked, the truth is most of us would! Why worry about the 1 student (who represents the many) who isn’t there, who cares about 1 when you got 99 to work with? Jesus cares about the 1!
    But reaching the 1 has massive implications not just for youth ministry, but for how we do church. It’s not just about making changes or developing outreach programmes that’ll make youth ministry accessible to lost youth, it requires those changes to happen at every level of the church. yeah it is about finding balance, so come on church you may be stuck with the 99 but you don’t have to be stuck on the 99.

  • Paul I couldn’t have said it better. We are a rural community with 600-650 middle school and senior high kids in our community. OUr student ministry averages 140-150 each week. Most people in our church see this as a big thing…and it is but I did some research a year or so ago and there are only 250-275 students currently involved in any type of student ministry through out the week in our community. That leave 350-325 student that don’t attend. We still have a TON of unsaved students. My passion is now, “How do we reach those kids.” We have implemented some changes this year and we’re going to experiment with a few more after January 1. I am looking forward to it and seeing what God does through it.

  • What passion you have Chris…within 30 minutes of our church their are 32,000 and I figured that only about 4% are in church youth ministries. That is why I’m passionate about being relevant and reaching out.

  • Jason thanks for your kind words. God gave me this passion years ago and I feel this sense of urgency to reach every student I can.
    My heart aches for those who aren’t plugged in anywhere. I mean there are almost 400 students who aren’t plugged in on any level in our community and we are desperately trying to figure out how to tap into them.

  • Tim

    @ Shadow: I don't think balance is about having a certain percentage of church kids versus non-church kids at youth group. You can have a spiritual youth group with 100% unchurch kids and you can have a club for kids with 100% church kids. Balance isn't found in how long a kid's been coming to church. Look for balance in how many are truly growing spiritually, a quality I realize you don't have control over, but still, don't be content with anything less than 100%.

  • Shadow

    You make a comment aboutfinding the balance. “However there has to be a balanceā€¦I think reaching that balance can sometimes be harder than we think.” What would you consider a proper balance of church youth and unchurched youth? Our church is struggling with finding this balance is it safe to say you need to have 60% of the youth from the church to maintain a spiritual youth group rather than a club for kids?

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