Youth ministry sets the path for the whole church to follow

Topic / Leadership

Youth ministry sets the path for the whole church to followLast month Dan Kimball blogged about Youth Ministry 3.0 and said something I knew deep down inside somewhere, but had never struck me until he articulated it.

“Youth Ministry sets the path for the whole church to follow.”

It’s perhaps the most important ministry of your church. The old saying is somewhat true: “Teens are not the church of the future; they’re the church of today.” Yes, they are they church of today, but they are also the church of tomorrow. And as these teens grow into adults, their church will become the church of the future. This is why you must evaluate yourself and the youth ministry and lead with a strong vision.

Something I have been wondering about and this book stirred this up in my thinking again, is how influential youth ministry is to the church at large. What I mean by that is wondering if what youth ministries do now will become what churches are like in the future. I have been interested in looking at in particular the rise of some “adult” churches in the Bible belt. This may just be my perspective and incorrect – but some of the very large ones, look almost identical to youth ministries of the 1990’s. The lights, the bands, the smoke machines, the whole shebang in what the worship gatherings are like.

Youth ministry may be critical in so many more ways than you ever considered.

Posted on June 17, 2009

  • I reckon you're onto something with that. They way we do Youth Ministry can definitely shape our church. The question I come back to though, which is related, is how different from the church that employs you can you make your youth ministry in style and outlook etc. before the two become incompatible? Which leads me to wonder if we create frustrated youth with no power leaving when they become young adults because the church is nothing like the youth ministry in terms of culture or style etc.

  • I heard Andy Stanley say something similar to this once.

    Truth is, the churches that are successfully reaching unchurched young adults today seem to be the ones where the main worship service closely resembles (at least in music and preaching style) the youth service. These churches are "early adopters" of current, contextualized ministry.

    In many churches (like mine) the youth service is so far out ahead of the main worship service that I fear for youth becoming disenfranchised with our church, and maybe church in general, when they no longer have youth services and realize the disconnect between what happens on Sunday morning and what happens on Wednesday night.

  • Art,

    Do you think that is good or bad ?

    Is it good because you are reaching them now and if you did not do what you were doing, they would not be there – so you are planting seeds ?

    Is it bad, because they will possibly never connect with the church at large and walk away from the church forever because they can't get connected to the church ? Thus, we have harmerd the potential for their life-long journey "in the church"

    Just asking, definitely not finger pointing. Issues that I am wrestling with.

    • Jeff,

      I think it is good that we are reaching them now, and planting seeds, but I think in the long run the disconnect between "big church" and "youth church" will hurt us in the end. I watch every Sunday as our youth who passionately worship God on Wednesday sit in their seats bored to tears. It has nothing to do with our pastor's preaching (he is awesome!), but the students do not connect with the worship.

      Reality is there is a disconnect, and somehow we need to change that before we lose a generation from our churches.

      • But how much of that is really the church's responsibility to make worship happen for individuals? Scripture tells us that we should be able to go into our closet and worship alone. It shouldn't be dependent on style, ya know?

        If that was happening in my church, I think the bigger issue I would think about is if these teens (and parents) are truly worshipers or if they just respond to an environment. I'm not downplaying the role of the environment at all, just saying that it shouldn't be dependent on it.

        • Good call. It does strike me as unfair perhaps that youth are expected to conform to the culture that adults enjoy, and if they get frustrated with it or want to change it then they are confronted with arguments like, surely your worship isn't dependent on style. (I know that's not what your doing in this case!)

          It's very very hard to work out how far your teens should move, in terms of style, expression of faith, etc. to accommodate the adults (especially if they are new in the faith) and how far the adults (who have been Christians for 10, 20 or 30+ years) should move to accommodate those starting out in their faith.

      • Matt


        Don't you feel that this needed "change" is simply a carbon-copy of what our culture is doing today. The youth already exists as the driving force of the majority of culture at large. They need to understand that the church does not exist to conform to their personal tastes and emotional desires. Where are the elders in this conversation? When, if ever, are we going to communicate to our youth that their desires are not the only desires that exists? Maybe they have to get through a few tears to understand the depth of a relationship with God that they cannot fully comprehend in their immediate and emotionally driven state? I don't know… I'm not completely writing this discussion off, but I am bothered by the complete writing off of the "big church."

  • Summer Brown

    It's great insight and not along the lines that I've always thought, but similar.

    It's a double edged sword, A succesful youth ministry will make "successful" Christians, who will go and be productive in the church, and you will possibly see remnants of the youth ministry, because that is what was strong and stirring to THEM. There will always be people who leave the church because it isn't perfect.

    It's also a double edged sword. There's been many times I've thought to create a support group for "Recovering Christians from a Broken Youth Ministry". When there is a serious problem or lack, in a youth ministry, the fruit from that shows as well…many leaving the church, Teens abandoning God, an onslaught of teen pregnancy, drug use, and an empty, dying church. And it leaves scars.

    A genuine, caring ministry focused on the youth is so integral to the future of not only the Church, but the youth themselves.

    • I know what you're saying, but I'm a bit more careful than to say if teens abandon God, get pregnant, or use drugs then it must be the church's fault. We can do everything right and that will still happen. It's ultimately a work of the Holy Spirit in their life and how surrendered each individual is to it. Of course we are to strive in excellence in all we do, especially in ministry, but there are problems and things that are lacking in every youth ministry. This side of heaven with imperfect vessels, I'm not sure anything else could be the case.

  • Adam

    It's really interesting to think about. I think that happened in the church I grew up in. The church I interned in made a great transition and really moved forward, but I don't think that was necessarily led by the youth ministry.

    My bigger observation is that most youth ministries I've been a part of have generally reflected the larger church culture. Maybe we need to move all of these together. Or, better yet, get the youth involved early on to help the church adopt early to new trends, etc. Then they're part of the trend-setters, and continue to be involved with church life.

    That's a really tough thing to make happen.

  • tim, grateful you put your thougths in writing on this…and grateful for the good review from dan kimball. i concur that there is something afoot with this. given my current circumstance i'm seeing this playing out. i hosted a bbq with my adult leaders this past weekend and this observation was really the core of what my leaders are sensing. we still have much to unravel and peel away, but ym3.0 is at the core. will be really interesting to see where this all goes….and especially your statement that "This is why you must evaluate yourself and the youth ministry and lead with a strong vision." dead on.

  • Joe

    I had the exact same thought the other day and was going to blog about it! That thought continued and wondered what the church of tomorrow will be like…It's what we are doing now in youth ministry. I wonder if it'll be more like home churches. YM 3.0 talks about ministering specifically to the different groups. We do have a cowboy church just north of us here and it's exploding right now…Interesting!

  • Matt,

    You said: "They need to understand that the church does not exist to conform to their personal tastes and emotional desires. "

    I think teens will learn that as soon as adults do. I expect adults to be more accepting of various musical styles and methods than teenagers just because, well… they are adults! They should be more mature! However, I've seen adults walk out of a worship service because the teen worship team/band was leading worship, but I've never seen a teenager walk out of "big church" because they "big church" worship team was ministering.

    Ask yourself – who, in the church, are really the ones who are more hardheaded where personal tastes and desires are concerned?

    • Matt

      I think that we differ on our theology of worship. I do understand what you are saying about the hardheadedness of the adult generation. Their flexibility, at times, seems non-existent. But, I would also argue that flexibility, or "acceptance," does not automatically dictate maturity. The true point of contention, I feel, is the perception that worship is solely based on "personal tastes and desires." Is worship founded on the emotive need of me? If I can't "feel" worship then it simply does not and cannot exist. We have been handed the baton of our faith (Jude 3) and I am earnestly concerned that the younger generation understands nothing of our heritage. "If it is old, it's out." I would contend that if it has endured, we should ask ourselves why. We follow the path that has been trod by those before us. Now, I understand that doesn't mean we need to continue in an irrelevant rut that does nothing for the progression of the Church. Personal taste and desires have to come into the picture at some point and time, but It seems they are the sole basis of worship. A call to lessen ourselves and worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must be heard. We can't bow to each other in submission to our taste and desires in worship, we must ask ourselves what worship allows us to bow in submission to God.

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