The White Horse Inn Blog just posted Part 1 of an article by Dr. Michael Horton titled, Generation Me and Youth Ministry Today, lamenting the individualism of our youth. By the time they hit early adulthood, they seem to be dropping from the church in droves. But the big question is whether they were ever really assimilated into the church. It’s a great article and you should take a read. Here is an excerpt critiquing the evolution of youth ministry:
Ministering to Youth vs. “Youth Ministry”
Youth ministry is about 150 years old. Arising at first as a way of reaching out to troubled teens especially in highly industrialized urban centers, parachurch ministries like the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) sought to provide safe activities and education in basic reading along with evangelism. Throughout the nineteenth century, parachurch organizations mushroomed. Attempting to create a Protestant Empire that transcended confessional differences, the Bible societies and Sunday School movement increasingly supplanted the ordinary structures, resources, and content of particular church traditions. According to the movement’s leaders, it’s what all evangelicals profess that matters, not what distinguishes Lutherans, Reformed, Baptists, and other denominations. Of course, there had always been catechism instruction for the young and new Christians. Now, however, Sunday school increasingly isolated the younger generations not only from the older but also from the wider confessional tradition to which they belonged. The Sunday school curriculum shared by all Protestant youths, not the catechism, shaped faith and practice. The “youth group” emerged as its own “church-within-a-church,” distinct from the public ministry and worship.
And so it has become increasingly easy for one to go from the nursery to children’s church to youth group and on to college ministry without having actually belonged to the local church. Young people may still drive with their family to the church campus, but from the parking lot they scatter to their own target-marketed groups. For many, the church is more a cafeteria of ministry offerings than a communion of saints. So is it really surprising that a good local church doesn’t figure into things when deciding upon a college and many don’t even join one because, after all, they have their campus ministry? I know of some instances, in fact, of such groups holding their meetings during the regular time of Sunday services.
From childhood, many have never known what it is like to go from catechism to profession/confirmation and first Communion with all of the privileges and responsibilities of church membership. Their memories of church are actually recollections mainly of youth-oriented (i.e., fun, exciting, entertaining) substitutes of the ordinary public service that their parents and grandparents attended on the same property. Is it any wonder that they feel alienated from the church, that they sense a lack of investment by older people in their spiritual growth, and that they do not know what they believe or why they believe it? Are they really dropping out of church in their college years? Or did they every really belong?
Maybe this is not as serious of an issue in your church. But if you read the entire article, you will see it is a real issue in evangelicalism. I recently did a Review on Giving Up Gimmicks in which Brian Crosby, a youth pastor, addresses some of these same problems. I think he offers some good advice. I am eager to read Part Two of Dr. Horton’s article for some solutions as well. I am a firm believer in good doctrinal teaching, as well as worshipping together as the body of Christ. As a congregant, I think it is important for us to be more intentional about building relationships with our youth. The teens are at an awkward age—too old to be amused with the elementary students, but too young to fit in with the adults. I think that we have convinced ourselves that we will bore them, and therefore have convinced them as well. I have been delighted to find many high school aged teens more than happy to join me for lunch, conversation, or some other opportunity of engagement. Sure, we may have different tastes, but I have much different tastes than many of the adults in my congregation as well. That’s part of the beauty of the body of Christ.