photo credit momentum youth
There are some leaders who blame successful youth ministries for the exodus of young adults from the church. I disagree. Other leaders suggest that shutting down youth ministries would help students stay longer in church. I don’t think this is the way to go. In fact, here are 5 reasons why every church needs a healthy youth ministry.
1. Provides Support
Large churches offer many different kinds of support groups. That is a good way to look at youth ministries. They exist to provide nurture and care for students, meeting their most basic needs for healthy relationships with students in similar life circumstances.
In a healthy group, students are encouraged by others who are facing struggles with school, negative peer pressure, parental expectations, personal insecurities, and physical adjustments.
2. Provides Identity
Many different students have said to me that youth was the highlight of their week. They looked forward to it all week long. They felt misunderstood by their teachers, other students, even their parents. They found acceptance and understanding in the youth ministry.
As students begin to identify with the group, it becomes a place, maybe the place, where they feel that they belong. I hear a lot of pastors say that youth need to find their “identity in Christ.” Youth ministries help students to begin to do that. Eventually they move from attending to identifying with the group and with Christ. At first it is their friend’s group, or their parent’s church. Eventually they move to the point of saying this is “my group” and “my church!”
3. Provides Connections
If students do not make connections at the church they are certain to leave. Most will leave before they go to college or get their first full time job. If you picture youth ministry as the life raft that brings students to the big ship (church) you get a better perspective on the role of healthy youth ministries.
Another way to picture it is from a Lego point of view. A lego piece is built we the ability to connect to other Lego. Students learn to connect with other students and adult leaders from the church. A healthy youth ministry will make sure that a student is connected to a few adults in the church who will stay connected after graduation.
This is one of the surest ways to keep students connected to the church. They will feel no connection to the building or the Sunday church hour is they are not connected to adults there. As a master lego builder a skilled youth worker will do everything possible to make these lasting connections.
4. Provides Opportunity
Good youth ministries get students involved. The youth room becomes a lab where students experiment with their ministry skills. Some will sing, play an instrument, run the lights, power point, or the sound. Others will develop leadership skills planning and executing events. Still others will invite friends out and learn how to disciple a new believer.
These excellent opportunities will excite students concerning opportunities as young adults. They may also be directed by a wise youth pastor to invest these skills in other areas of the church like the children’s ministry or the Sunday morning service.
5. Provides Experiences
Where did you first encounter God? Group magazine surveyed young adults and found that it was in camps, trips and extended times together that most of them encountered God. These times together were all associated with church based youth ministry or campus ministry.
Healthy youth ministries engineer meaningful experiences where students encounter God in community. Here the Bible comes alive as they become disciples taking upon themselves the responsibility of denying themselves and picking up the cross to follow Jesus. ,,,M
Don’t Blame the Youth Ministry
If students are leaving church after they have been so well cared for, could it be that they are not finding the same level of intentional care in the next stage of life? Youth ministry is not at fault for providing a healthy loving environment for students to discover their identity in Christ among their peers and caring adults.
Certainly youth ministries could have done a better job to help connect grads with other church programs and leaders. They can also be critiqued for neglecting the all-important involvement of parents. Historically, youth ministries have provided a place for students to share life in a safe, supportive group within the church community. They have been places where students encounter God normally in extended times together.
Not every youth ministry is healthy and not every program helps students to join, love and support their church. We need to do better at building bridges to the adult congregation instead of building barriers between them. Shutting them down is not the answer. Doing youth ministry better is the way to go.