Why Youth Ministry is so Important
“Youth are the future of the church.” If you believe this to be the motivation for youth work; we have already lost the battle of youth ministry. They are no more the ‘future’ of the church than you or I are the ‘past’ of the church. To treat us as merely the church’s history would be dismissive to the point of being rude. Moreover, it would be untrue. As we live, love and grow as a community of believers; we experience full participation in what it is to be ‘church.’ That the youth are the future of the church is true as a statement of fact; but only with adequate investment. When we invest in youth now, we need to do it as recognition that it is part of the life of the church in a wider context.
For those still tempted to dismiss our young people as simply the ‘future’ of the church; allow me to remind you of all of the worship-leading, prayers, bible reading and even preaching they can be engaged in when asked. The church can certainly be enriched by what our young people have to bring to it; and if we are serious about cultivating the best possible worship and teaching, we must be serious about our investment into our young people for the here and now. Perhaps you are feeling a stretching call into doing more in the church, but have never considered youth work. If I ask people if they’re interested in youth ministry, some responses would suggest that it’s a world just too alien to them to consider.
“That’s not my thing…”
“I don’t know anything about teenagers…”
“I’m not sure what I’d have to offer to them…”
But let me ask a slightly different question. What can you bring to the church? What gifts and talents do you have to bring to the whole community of church? If you can teach, you can do youth work. If you can worship, you can do youth work. If you can make a cup of tea and chat, you can do youth work! If you have been thinking up until now that youth work is not your thing, but have been involved in the life of the church – then please accept my thanks for your unacknowledged contribution to our youth. If you are involved in church life, you have already been instrumental in youth ministry.
Now you and I, whilst being the church of the past, are also the church of today along with the young people. The difference is that they can also be the church of the future. The young people in our congregation will be able to use the ceilings we build as the floors for their own lives. By investing fully in whatever area we are called to, we can build up the body of believers in this place to attain things that would otherwise just not be possible. A recent survey by a youth and student ministry organisation indicated that 90% of any church’s young people will drop away from church between the ages of 16 and 20; many never to return. As adolescents grow into young adults they (rightly) question everything that makes them who they are. When they leave home they are given brand new opportunities to be entirely in control of how they spend their time, money, etc. If the church has only offered them some clubs to pass time with as teenagers, it would be obvious that they would quickly outgrow that as adults. How can we expect to hold our young people right through into eternity if we offer them little of eternal value now? Only if we, as a whole church, can nurture our young people and grow them spiritually, emotionally and socially, can we truly say we have invested in them and expect any return from that investment. If church has not succeeded in sharing with them authentic, life-altering faith; how can we expect them to continue on to being the ‘future of the church’? If you are serious about your Christian faith amongst a community of believers you must be serious about the upbuilding of every member of our church family. I know that I’m challenging nobody more than I am challenging myself with this statement!
The survey mentioned above also showed something very interesting. The drop-off rates of 90% were fairly consistent across the board. Youth who leave churches with well staffed and vibrant youth ministries still experience drop off rates close to this figure (although perhaps youth stay a bit longer before leaving). The only statistically significant group that buck this trend are those young people who have had some real, personal and committed discipling. Young people from family units in which the parents have deeply committed to the spiritual development of their own children and at least one other significant adult has devoted their time and self to the young person. The ‘rate of retention’ of young adults who have grown from this background is closer, according to this survey, to 60% (as opposed 10% from the prevailing group). It is also statistically significant that of the 40% who drop off from church from this group, a much higher proportion will return to church in the future. If statistics alone could prove anything, it would be that investment for the young people now is the only way we can grow church. If our young people are not the church of today, they will certainly not be the church of the future!
But what more can you share? Could you invest in discipling some of our spiritually hungry teens? Would you give an evening every couple of months to the service of the community in helping run a youth club? Youth ministry in your church needs you. Every church can be proud of its young people, and the amount they put back into the church; but needs you to be able to nurture and grow all that they are doing. As I am only one man, it would be negligent for me to try and singularly invest in all of our young people. If I did, I’d be letting them down, I’d be letting my employers down, and I’d be under-investing in the future of the church!
In whatever the coming year brings for us as a community bringing God’s kingdom forward; let’s move together encouraged by all that God is doing in and through our young people.