Two approaches to youth ministry

I saw this over on

The traditional style of youth ministry is to have a youth pastor and a few sponsors run a youth group. They meet separately, they have their own activities.

There is another approach that is gaining popularity that plays down the group mentality, as it were, for a more parent-driven ministry. This system keeps the youth integrated with the rest of the body on the whole, and only gathers the teens together in a group once a month or so. These group meetings are very different from traditional meetings. The parents are strongly urged to attend, they play the games and hear the teaching.

The goal is to keep the parents as involved with raising/discipling their children as possible. As it is the duty of the parents to train up their children, the youth leaders strive to do nothing more than come alongside the parents and encourage them.

The problem with the traditional style is that parents are largely removed from the picture, too much so. The problem with the group-driven ministry is that not all of our kids have parents, at least not parents who attend church. How would they feel attending a youth group where everyone else’s parents participated except theirs? Maybe the same way I felt back in high school when my wrestling teammate’s parents attended all our matches, but my parents couldn’t because of Bible study conflicts. (Thankfully, that changed immediately when I confronted them about it my junior year.) I also wonder about the balance between parents being over-involved and teenagers needing gradual independence. And I’m not sure how parents are discipling their children if they’re just listening to the same lesson the kids are. And what about the kids who need a place away from home just to vent about family problems?

I’m not against the parent-driven model at all. I strongly support the whole Deuteronomy 6 approach — I’m just not sure how it should best play out practically. It seems that both approaches have downsides. There may not be an easy solution to the whole parent-participatory youth ministry. What do you guys think?

Posted on June 25, 2007

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  • Ryan


    I have to admit this is a topic that has been on my mind for some time, and while there is no easy answer to the question of what approach may be best I believe it is worth exploring the upsides and downsides to each approach. I have really struggled with the lack of parent involvement in my youth ministry and I believe there are many youth ministries in the same boat. However, I believe you are right in being leary of too much involvement in the youth ministry. My thought is, what would it hurt to get parents involved in a bible study or Sunday morning activity once or twice a month. I know that some students don’t have parents who attend church, but maybe relationships will be fostered between another students parents and a “parentless” child that will only encourage and foster spiritual growth in that student, while also giving a parental presence to the ministry. I don’t know, these are just some of my thoughts. I never usually comment on people’s blogs, but this topic just got the wheels turning…


  • i’ve often wondered how parent style youth ministry looks after students whose parents aren’t Christian.

    i don’t think it’s an either or

    by all means have a youth ministry for youth – but think through how to partner with Christian parents in a genuine way. i’m keen to think through how i can get more of our core parents to see the great opportunities to reach out to non-Christian parents.


  • Balance is key when it comes to partnering with parents. The great thing about student ministry is students hopefully figuring it(their faith) out by working it out in their hearts and minds. There needs to be some space for the students to make their faith their own and this is where student ministry is a positive influence.
    I too agree with the Deuteronomy approach and I wrestle with what every youth pastor struggles with in this area–getting parents to take a more hands on role in discipling their kids.
    We are about to start parents of teenagers small groups and go through the material “Rite of Passage” Parenting by Walker Moore(excellent resource). I am going to lead one of these groups, so that I can get into the world and into the mind of the parent and see how to effectively come alongside them.

  • Tim I believe that Deuteronomy 6 is much more than just an approach or latest method. It is the ideal. It is the way things should be. God was clear… if you want to continue then here are some things you MUST do. The fact is today’s parent/youth ministry is awkward because we have strayed away from the original design. That does not make the original design bad or evil, it makes it all the more clear. Just like divorce which is ugly and awkward and evil for a reason… because it is not the original design.

    Every argument I hear about this topic these days goes something like this… “How do we get parents involved in Youth ministry?” That’s the wrong approach in my opinion. Since when is the ‘Youth Ministry’ the thing we need to get parents involved in? How about getting the family as a whole involved in the church. Parent’s don’t like the idea of getting involved in the Youth ministry because they don’t need 50 teenagers as best friends. However offer them tools and encouragement in navigating the waters of raising an adolescent and they will come around. Show a family how to minister as group and you’ll stain them for life.

    About those students who (i) have no parents, or (ii) have no parents capable of leading them… that is a whole new set of problems. That is where the church must step in with intentional adult relationships (usually 3-5 adults per kid) that are designed to help that student along. This scenario is always sticky, awkward, and ugly at times. And rightly so… it was not designed to be that way.

    Man, I’m glad I’m not the only one struggling with this!

  • People actually get parents to come to a youth ministry function? How do they do that? Most of the parent involvement I see is either co-dependent or drop and run. Mike Devries wrote a great book about it, but I have yet to see anyone actually have a ministry of both parents and youth.

    Anyone out there ever tried this? Had any success?

  • Hey Tim,

    Great post, gets the mind thinking more. We have been trying more and more over the past few years to get parents more involved in the student ministry at our church. We look at this ministry as more of a family ministry than that of a youth ministry. While we have seperate gatherings for youth that would seem to fall more into the “traditional” model, we are always on the lookout for how we can partner with the parents in helping them disciple their own kids.
    One practical way to involve parents is to recruit them for serving in the student ministry. Parents, in my mind, are the best resource that we have. They have a vested interest in seeing their kids grow in a deeper relationship with the Lord.
    I will admit, there are plenty of parents that just want to take the drop and run approach, but we have been purposeful in our reaching out to parents. I will literally go out into the parking lot and meet them at their car.
    Many parents, I have found, avoid entering the realm of “youthdom” in a midweek gathering because they only hear complaints about how their kid was disruptive, disrespectful, etc. We try and find opportunities to celebrate the victories of the youth with the parents. When they hear that their son/daughter took a step in being transparent during discussion, helped a new kid connect, took out the trash (that one always blows them away) they start to get more curious about what goes on inside.
    We advertise an “open door policy” for parents. We want them to be present. We record our messages each week and make a podcast available for parents to hear as well. This becomes a resource for parents to engage with the kids at home and continue the dialogue from our small groups.

    These are just a few ideas, we are always looking for more ways to creatively make parents feel welcome.

  • [Disclaimer: I am not involved in youth ministry, I have no kids, but I am opinionated and have actually studied the transition to adult faith. Sorry if this is a bit preachy and a bit of a tangent…I’ve just seen too many post-HS drifters.]

    For the transition to adult faith and continued involvement in church once they reach adulthood, “keeps the youth integrated with the rest of the body on the whole” is probably the most important concept. When “youth ministry” becomes another congregation, those graduating from the ministry have no where to go in the larger church body. There is a tendency for these graduates to either leave the church (or this particular church) or to be drawn back into the ministry as “leaders.” Either scenario is a shame. When kids and youth know, love, and are involved with the various generations in a local church, there is no need for “assimilation” after graduation.

    I’ve no answers, but after seven years in college ministry, I will say this: connect kids and youth to the larger body. You’ll not regret it.

  • I too have been struggling especially this past week with this topic. My first youth ministry I ever had, there was pretty much zero parent participation. Now with the ministry I am at now, it total opposite. There is so much participation. I like the comments by Robert who said that we need to get the family more involved in the church. I agree with that, but too me, and this is just my opinion, in the youth group can be too much. Now, the Youth Pastor’s role is to assist the parents in teaching their children, and that is where trust comes from the parent with the youth pastor. I consistently email parent letters, meetings such with our parents. I keep them up to date and they keep me up to date. But with things that have happened in the past few weeks for me, it reminded me that there can be too much involvement with parents in youth ministry. There are times for them to be involved and times where it should be a little more low key. For instance: We have a group of teens that love to be together (which is unusual sometimes) and we take every opportunity to be together, but the parents have that mindset too with the other parents. But why does it need to be at a youth function. Know what I mean. Anyways, I agree with the Deut. 6 approach too, but someone in these comments said there needs to be balance. That is what it is all about.

  • I’m making the transition to a parent based ministry and it is working well. I say “well” because I’ve never done it before and am as happy as a pig in crap that I meet weekly with parents for a study. Currently, we’re reading “Family-Based youth Ministry” by Mark DeVries. Starting in September, we’ll be doing the “Experiencing God” Bible study.

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  • Heidi

    My husband is on a church plant team with 4 other men.

    I was a paid youth worker for 10 years at 2 different churches and a volunteer for 8 years. I quit last year bacasue I have 4 kids and it is too much to balance.

    We are really struggleing through this issue as we seek to start a new church. It is clear in the Bible that Fathers are to diciple thier children. It seems that American youth minsitry is a dismal failure because we have left the Biblical mandate.

    The question maybe becomes when is a teen no longer a child? John the disicple was pretty young, as were most the other diciples. I think there is a huge move in thinking partterns between 16 and 18. It seems that the younger youth maybe even through 10th grade should be kept much closer to their parents, then around 16 parents should take on more of a mentor role. But the role of the church should be helping all people, and in this case parents of teens and the teens themself, to follow the Bible.

    Our culture celebrates indepence to a fault so we have a bunch of kids that are young indepentant fools leading they way and disregarding the wisdom of their parents and other authorities.

    I don't know how to fix the youth ministry crisis, but it seems that we should just follow the Bible and see where that leads us. We have tried the current model for years and I think it is time to upgrade.

    Just my thoughts.

  • Isai

    This is such a tough thing to deal with! Our biggest problems, since our church has had to move locations over the years, is how to make sure all of our carless youth can get driven by their parents, either because they don’t have the means, the time, or the motivation. Many times, it ends up being a case of “I can’t go unless someone picks me up”, and we end up in an hour-long call-fest between people who could pass by for someone. Of course, there’s also the unsure parents that need to speak to someone every time we have an event more than 2 hours, just to let their kids go.

    I definitely think its important to form some kind of commitment with the parents. The youth in our group who do the most and are the most spiritually firm, are the ones whose parents take their children every week to every meeting. We have a couple families who drive for hours just to drop off their kids. Its that kind of commitment that really brings a foundation to a youth ministry.

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