Thursday, July 17, 2014

Some Reasons Why Youth Ministry Might Fail –

Our kids are leaving the church!

We’ve all heard the statistics. The number one time people walk away from active involvement in church and their own personal walk with God is following their years in high school.
A wealth of research is out there that provides the proof for this alarming trend, and there are almost as many voices blaming youth ministry for this epidemic. There may be certain common denominators within some churches that lead to the mass departure of young people following high school graduation.
Here are some of my observations based upon my almost 40 years of active involvement in youth ministry:
1.       Activity-Based Youth Ministry. If a church’s youth ministry is built upon programs and a variety of seemingly unrelated activities, your graduates will probably walk away after they graduate from high school. Young adults can and will find their entertainment elsewhere. The appeal of amusement parts and all-nighters fades fairly quickly.

2.       Program-Based Youth Ministry. Another reason why high school graduates walk away from regular involvement in church is if the youth group has been characterized by the structure of a “boxed” youth program. These canned approaches are, in fact, designed to be terminal program, with a specific and publicized ending point. There tends to be one final step or one top award to earn. The students finish the program and they’re done.

3.       Personality-Based Youth Ministry. A common indictment of many church youth ministries is the tendency to center the ministry around the strong personality of an energetic and magnetic youth leader. Strong personalities may attract impressionable high school students, and it seems to make sense for churches to do that – until the inevitable transition between personalities. If the students are attracted to the presence of one strong personality, it will be very difficult for them to transition into the church as a whole without the involvement of another equally-strong personality.

4.       Narcissism-Based Youth Ministry. Akin to the “activity-based” model is a narcissistic approach where churches seek to entertain teenagers by providing everything they want. If the kids want to go skiing, they go on ski trips. If the kids want to go swimming; they take them to the beach. This approach will ultimately produce self-absorbed and self-centered graduates who believe the church is all them.

5.       Generationally-Based Youth Ministry. I absolutely believe that a ministry that totally separates its’ youth from the overall life of the church is making a big mistake. In the long run this hurts students because they do not develop significant and long-lasting relationships with a number of influential adults which is imperative for teens to ultimately transition into the life of the church.
      This article is taken from my new book Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for the Church – available in print or e-book at Other resources (PowerPoint slides, video, bibliography, and Bible studies) about this subject are available on my book web site at:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Remember Robert Fulghum’s little book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”? This bestseller presented what the author called “uncommon thoughts on common things.” His thoughts included such wisdom as “Share everything. Don’t hit people. Clean up your own mess. Flush. Take a nap every afternoon. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.”

Several years ago I heard a takeoff on Fulghum’s list titled, “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Noah's Ark”. It included such advice as “Don't miss the boat. Remember that we are all in the same boat. Plan ahead; it wasn't raining when Noah built the ark. Stay fit; when you're 60 years old, someone may ask you to do something really big. Don't listen to critics; just get on with the job that needs to be done. Build your future on high ground. For safety's sake, travel in pairs. Speed isn't always an advantage; the snails were on board with the cheetahs. When you're stressed, float awhile. Remember, the ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic, by professionals. No matter the storm, when you are with God, there's always a rainbow waiting.”
With apologies to Robert Fulghum, I have realized that “everything I need to know I learned from teenagers.” So, here is what I have learned from teenagers during my years in youth ministry.
1.      My ideas don’t always work.
I actually learned this lesson very early on in my ministry. The lesson came the first time one of my “great ideas” bombed. I thought it was a great idea. I worked hard on it and . . . it was a bust. I was expecting forty, fifty, maybe even sixty teenagers; three showed up. I sent all of my volunteer youth workers home, and I took the three kids to McDonald’s for milkshakes. Years later, one of those kids told me that that night was the thing he remembered most about anything the youth group ever did. That experience taught me that building relationships with kids is a whole lot more important than programs or activities.
2.      God is in control.
I don’t always know why difficult things happen, but I have learned that God does have a reason for why He allows those things to happen and that He is totally sovereign and omnipotent. Even after the tragedies of multiple school shootings, I have seen teenagers rally around the truth and comfort of the Word of God and share that truth with others in very real and meaningful ways.
3.      God is faithful.
On Thanksgiving morning the first year that I was a youth pastor, I received a phone call from a girl in our group. She told me that her mom had just shot and killed her dad. It was first-degree, premeditated murder. The kids called the police, called the funeral home--and then called me. What do you say at a time like that? Bible college and seminary hadn’t given me those kinds of answers. But I could share that God is faithful and that He would show Himself to be strong in their behalf. I have learned that I often don’t have all the answers, but I do know that God is faithful.
4.      God changes people’s lives.
Teenagers have taught me that God is still in the business of changing people’s lives. I have seen the grace of God at work in the lives of pregnant girls, drug addicts, con artists, and violent criminals. Some kids in my youth groups stole cars, committed assults and armed robbery, and even attempted murder. And I have seen God change those kids into servants who were ultimately used by God to accomplish great things for Him. I guess the most valuable lesson anyone can learn from working with teenagers is to appreciate the grace of God at work in the lives of kids.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


I'm never quite sure when the dog days of summer are supposed to hit, but my guess is that it must be
this week! We’re only halfway through June, but this summer has been very busy already, and I’m tired.  

Most of today's students are over-scheduled and over-booked, too. If your teens are anything like the kids I know, they are trying to juggle too many things all at once. Their lives are stressed, hectic, and busy.  

Yet most of the youth workers I know have good intentions as far as summer ministries go. We know that it is a good thing for our students to go to summer camp. We realize that they should serve in Vacation Bible School, and we understand that they would benefit from wilderness trips, missions trips, leadership conferences, and national or regional youth events. I know of some youth groups that offer so many summer activities that their students are busy every week from June through the end of August. Certainly there are many good summer programs for today's Christian teenagers. But a conflict arises when our students try to balance these kinds of summer activities with their jobs, sports practices, and family vacations. 

Wise youth workers will learn how to make strategic decisions concerning their summer schedules for student ministry. Adult youth workers need to balance time for youth ministry programs and events with personal time for their families. That being said, I’d like to list some simple suggestions for summertime success in youth ministry. 

  1. Don’t get so busy that you crowd time with the Lord out of your life -- or out of the lives of your students. It’s easy to get so busy that we don’t have time for our own daily devotions and prayer time.
  2. Remember your philosophy of youth ministry. You don’t need to do everything in order to accomplish your purpose. Do only those things that will accomplish your purpose. You might need to bypass some good things in order to accomplish the best things.
  3. Help your students set Biblically-based priorities. Don’t encourage or promote an over-stressed, over-scheduled lifestyle. Since when is there merit in being too busy?
  4. Make sure that your youth ministry schedule is not placing undue stress on families or individual kids. Your students NEED time with their families. Yes, there will always be some poor family situations in which kids do not get positive help from their families. But don’t hurt your good families by over-scheduling their kids.
  5. Take the time for a vacation with your spouse or family. Remember that real vacations are a time to get away from the pressures of everyday life. If at all possible, try not to use all of your vacation time to visit your parents or other family members. Everyone needs a vacation.
  6. Summers are the ideal time to work on individual, personal relationships. That relationship-building can’t happen if your students are too busy. But it can happen on trips or extended times away from the normal affairs of life. Youth trips and youth events are important because they help youth workers develop positive and growing relations with students. Summertime gives great opportunities to spend quality and quantity time with individual students.
  7. My last practical piece of summer advice for youth workers: get out of the office! Our God is the creator of nature. Summer is a perfect time to enjoy His handiwork in creation. Spend some time outside. It will recharge your batteries and relieve stress. Buy a hammock, and throw some steaks on the barbecue. Take a walk down the lane. Play a round of golf. Find a pair of binoculars and go bird watching. Take a canoe trip, or go camping. Play catch with your kids, or throw a Frisbee. Go swimming or fishing. You’ll be glad you did . . . so will your spouse, and so will your students.

 By the way, fall is just around the corner. Enjoy.