Last weekend, I had the tremendous opportunity to attend the National Youth Workers Convention for the third year in a row. It is one of the most encouraging parts of my year and I earnestly look forward to it each year.
A few days after I get back from a conference I try and decompress a little. Most conferences are the same in that they’re full of seminars, breakout sessions, speakers, etc. Basically they try and cram as much information in a small window of time, which is a great thing if you take the time afterwards to process and see what might be helpful in your context.
My main takeaway was simple: The Church needs youth ministry.
My heart breaks to see some churches devalue youth ministry. The quotes below are real statements about youth ministry that I have heard from people I know and love:
“I just don’t get it. Youth ministry seems like a waste of time because so many of them just ditch faith afterwards.”
“It just kind of seems pointless because they don’t tithe yet so you’re always investing in someone else’s church.”
Youth ministry is constantly being re-imagined and the Church should be as well. The message of Jesus never changes but the methods we communicate that message to any and all ages should always be able to change.
Not valuing youth ministry because it does not directly contribute to the church’s “bottom line” is a refusal to measure success the way God does and a tragic neglect of the kingdom of God, which is much bigger than your specific local church.
At the conference, Mark Matlock, executive director of Youth Specialties, briefly outlined 5 Reasons the Church Needs Youth Ministry (click here to watch the 8-minute video).
I thought they were so perfect I did not change them at all. They’re re-posted here with permission and the comments in between are my own.
5 Reasons the Church Needs Youth Ministry
1. Youth ministry is vital to helping teens integrate into the larger intergenerational community of the church.
The Church gets the tremendous honor and responsibility to create spaces for teenagers to transition from childhood to adulthood. The teenage years are choppy waters and can be difficult for students to navigate. Youth ministry gets to be the arm of the church (not a silo – off by itself) that gathers teenagers and their families under the banner of the cross as they seek to live these years well. Students will often hang with the church into adulthood to the level it hung with them through adolescence.
2. Youth ministry resists the status quo, helping a church stay relevant in a changing culture.
Youth ministry is fun, creative, and innovative. The Church as a whole can often look to youth ministry as a microcosm of where culture is and where it is going. When the church values youth ministry, it will see ways to stay fresh and engaging in an ever-changing world.
3. Youth ministry focuses on inviting those who are not already part of the church into the deeper narrative of God’s plan for humankind.
“Invite your friends!” As a student, I used to hate that phrase. It seemed like all of my youth pastors were constantly trying to get me to step out of my comfort zone and invite my friends to church…because they were. Their primary concern was not trying to simply draw a crowd. They all could have done that. Youth ministry is important because it is continually inviting in those who are outside the family of God.
Did you know that 85% of people will not change what they believe about God and eternity after the age of 13? Youth ministry gets to be apart of the most spiritually formative years of life and the invitation is always open.
4. Youth ministry reminds the church that teens are not marginalized members of the body, but are co-creators and conspirators in the divine work of the church, restoring life on earth as it is in heaven.
This might be my favorite. I love the language of “co-creators and conspirators.” Students are not the church of tomorrow; they are the church of today. If the Church refuses to acknowledge them it not only fails to love and lead them well but it tragically misses out on their contributions just waiting to be made.
P.S. This is not a “Hey some old lady needs her yard mowed; let’s call the youth!” This is real participation and real belonging.
5. Youth ministry helps the church focus on the way of Jesus, which goes beyond tradition, dogma, and ritual.
One of the great and terrible aspects of youth ministry is the turnover. Every single year the ministry changes by at least 20%. That can be a lot of fun because even in a declining church there’s always new students cycling in, even if it’s slow.
Lead pastors often get the blessing of walking through life multiple generations of life with the same family. Youth mnistry isn’t like that. You have a small window to impact a student’s life. If you do get to have a meaningful impact, don’t get comfortable because that leader will be in college before you know it. That’s heartbreaking, humbling, and exciting…all at the same time.
In youth ministry, we do not have time to waste on focusing too much on tradition, dogma, and ritual because we have a small window of time to focus on what is “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). We have to focus on what matters most: JESUS.