Anglican Distinctives in Youth Ministry

The question comes up from time to time.  What makes for an anglican approach to youth ministry? I’ve heard people try to articulate it but end up not saying much that differs from other traditions.  In the years I have served the Diocese of South Carolina, I have worked with a lot of Youth Ministers and helped churches hire them.  Sometimes I have interviewed candidates and many times I’ve had people approach me seeking a position and I’ve recommended them to a church. They have come to us from a variety of denominational backgrounds and some who had no denomination in the past. In all this, I have noticed enough patterns to realize that there are qualities or traits that can set anglican Youth Ministers apart. Perhaps this might begin to answer the question of what makes Anglican youth ministry Anglican.

First, Anglican Youth Ministers tend to have a different view of the church.  It’s a particular ecclesiology.  They tend to view the church as larger than just the congregation and are more likely to want to be part of something bigger than just their parish.  In the Anglican tradition, the diocese is the primary unit of the church and it consists of it’s parishes. The bishop is like the senior pastor of a multi-site church in many ways. So, Anglican Youth Ministers are more likely to work together on diocesan events and projects because they see the church as so much more than just their congregation.  Those who have come to us from a different denomination often don’t get this.  Some are thrilled that there is a network of Youth Ministers here and want to do events together because they have never really experienced that before.  Many denominations have regional structures but they are often not all as closely linked as a diocese can and should be. Some who come from other traditions look at what we do and cannot figure out why they should connect to it or participate.  They are happy being lone rangers because that is all they have ever known.  Anglican youth ministry has a larger perspective of the church because the diocese is the central unit of the church. Anglicans tend to want to expose their students to this larger vision of the church.

Second, Anglican Youth Ministers value liturgy.  Many have grown up in our tradition and have come to love the liturgy in our worship.  Others have come to us from outside and gained an appreciation of it. Therefore, it only makes sense that we weave liturgy into our youth ministries on a regular basis.  We should not do youth events that look like every other youth event out there. It simply does not connect our events to the weekly worship in our congregations. Since how people start is how they continue, if we fail to reflect a liturgical tradition in our youth ministries we end up raising basic evangelicals who have no connection to the tradition they were raised in. Our primary task is making Christians, yet how we go about this shapes their future participation.  What does this look like?  Every healthy youth group prays together.  Why not use prayers from our prayer book sometimes and introduce students to prayers in our tradition? Amongst our students, most all of them will start a group prayer with the bidding “The Lord be with you”. That is a liturgical distinctive. It is not limited to Anglicans but it’s not basic evangelical protestantism either. It is rooted in an ancient way of praying together. At our diocesan youth events, we try to weave a little liturgy into our main sessions and we shape those sessions to reflect a liturgical way of doing worship. We also add in Compline at our camp and in our youth events.  Sunday mornings at our events almost always include communion. We do this in a way that connects the event to the service rather than simply imposing a liturgy on Sunday morning.

Third in appreciating liturgy, an Anglican Youth Minister recognizes the value of structure. Specifically, this means recognizing that patterns and markers are useful in ministry. Many of our youth ministries design their yearly calendar around the church calendar so as to make the most of the different seasons. From Advent to Epiphany to Lent and beyond, the church calendar offers teaching opportunities that also connect the youth ministry to the rest of the church. Each season also brings certain youth events to the calendar which students can look forward to each year.  In my non-denominational  years I was often tempted to make change the norm and not repeat things done before.  I learned however that we can build on annual events without making them institutions in themselves. Confirmation is a significant marker in our tradition (and many others) that we can wisely use to proclaim the gospel and teach good doctrine. Students benefit from the stability of patterns and markers in knowing what they can look forward to.  There is safety in groups where we have patterns that allow students to enjoy a stronger sense of belonging.

Fourth, an Anglican Youth Minister engages students in the Bible.  This sadly was lost for many years in North American Anglicanism but is the emphasis of Anglicans in many parts of the world. A number of priests have commented to me that we lost our emphasis on preaching and teaching the scriptures when we started using the 1979 prayer book because it is so Eucharistic centered. Most Episcopalians would be shocked to learn that 200 years ago, Episcopal Churches commonly featured a 45 minute sermon that was an exposition of scripture. Looking at youth ministry resources from Australia and England for example shows us that teaching the Bible is a primary function of their ministries. It is fair to say we are recapturing this emphasis in North America these days and the Young Anglicans Project is working to make this a priority. 

More could be said here but I thought it would be great to get these thoughts out there first. I am not an Anglo-Catholic, so my perspective is limited to a more protestant and reformed approach.  There are also a great many assumptions in this as to what is just good youth ministry and not distinctively Anglican; such as gospel proclamation, relational approach, intergenerational integration, etc.

                  by Dave Wright, Coordinator for Youth Ministries, Diocese of South Carolina    



Former Archbishop of Canterbury Declares Need To Reach Young People

The church of England has been in decline for a very long time and I am not sure most of the leadership gets it.  Oh, they see the decline in the reports but the general response has been less than inspiring. The evangelical churches are the only ones actually growing (sweeping generalization) and they face greater challenges in proclaiming the gospel than we see in churches here in the states.  So, the former ABC's (Archbishop of Canterbury) comments here are worth taking seriously.  A few excerpts and comments:

     Christianity is just a “generation away from extinction” in Britain unless churches make a dramatic breakthrough in attracting young people back to the faith, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has warned.
     Clergy are now gripped by a “feeling of defeat”, congregations are worn down by “heaviness” while the public simply greets both with “rolled eyes and a yawn of boredom”, he said.
     His comments at a Christian conference came as a stark report laid before the Church of England’s General Synod warned that its position as a “national institution” will be in doubt if numbers in the pews drop much further.
     The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, also underlined the scale of the crisis telling members of the Synod they must “evangelise or fossilize”.

The challenge of reaching youth and young adults in England is unlike that of reaching this same age group in most of the states. Here we can generate a buzz with an aggressive outreach plan and a program or church service that is unlike the typical church.  In most places, youth inviting friends to a gathering will see some response.  However, in England, youth inviting peers to a Christian gathering is pretty much asking to be bullied or ignored.  In the latter, one often becomes a social outcast.  Despite the former ABC's best intentions, young people by and large are not going to go back to the faith because they did not have the faith to begin with. They need to be brought to the faith for the first time!

     He called for an ambitious campaign aimed at the “re-evangelisation of England”, on a par with the ministry of the northern saints such as Cuthbert, Hilda and Aidan who spread Christianity in Anglo-Saxon times.
     The Synod responded by voting to set up a committee.

Wow!  I can get excited about an evangelism strategy that would be on par with the celtic saints that spread the gospel so effectively.  But, a committee? The celtic saints came from Ireland and Scotland and travelled around, setting up monasteries from which they trained people to go out and share the gospel.  These were more like seminaries than monasteries in some respects.  My understanding of that history is that they went to the people and brought the gospel and settled with the people to set up churches where more folks could hear the gospel.  It was all very gospel driven and not institutional.  Some years ago I read a fascinating book called "Columba" by Nigel Tranter.  Tranter was a scottish historian who put history into novel form to make it very accessible and engaging.  Columba was an Irish monk who brought Christianity to Scotland and is credited for spreading the gospel across the land. The picture that Tranter paints is that of a tireless man who gave his life for the sake of the gospel. So, the synod set up a committee.  The word that comes to mind most readily is "Yikes!" If I understand the system correctly, the best a committee can do is write a report and commend that to be read widely.  In the mid 1990's there was a report published that I believe was called "Mind the Gap". It advocated for more youth ministry to take place across the nation.  If one looks at the stats, the number of employed youth workers rose significantly between the mid nineties and present day.  Yet I wonder if Lord Carey would make the same assessment about church decline and the need to reach young people in 1995 as he did recently.  How does someone set up a massive evangelism campaign  today that would be on par with the celtic saints?  I'd give anything to be part of that!

     He warned against relying on “more gimmicks” to revive the Church’s fortunes adding: “The most urgent and worrying gap is in young peoples work."
     “So many churches have no ministry to young people and that means they have no interest in the future."

This last statement is also an accurate assessment of North American Anglicanism.  We have lots of churches with 75 or so people in them and no ministry to teens.  That reality is becoming the focus of more of my energy these days in my diocese and beyond and is the task before the Young Anglicans Project at the moment.

The whole article is here 

(by Dave Wright)

The Importance of Consistency

The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. - Psalm 9:9-10

We live in a chaotic world!  Things are always changing around us.  Students cannot believe that I did not have a cell phone until after I graduated college.  Email was a new when I went to college.  My daughter will not know a world without iPads.  The new social media craze will be different within a year.  Are you suppose to be posting on MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Instragram or some on some other place?  The times they are a changin'.

Our students are having to deal with all of these shifting targets.  They are conditioned to deal with it, but they yearn for something that is consistent and stable.  We all know that the only one that can completely fulfill this need is our Lord.  Our Triune God is our solid rock and our refuge.  He does not shift on us.  His character is what it is and we can trust that it will not change.  We can trust in his salvation through Jesus Christ and his strength to lead us through our life.  Hallelujah!

How is your youth ministry conveying that our Lord is consistent and stable? 

We need to give students a sense of consistency in our ministry.  This is one of the beauties of the Anglican liturgy.  The liturgy shows people that the Lord is consistent, because every time that someone comes into our worship they see the same worship.  We need to model this in our youth ministries. 

Do you have a structure that the students will know and absorb while they are in your ministry? 

My youth ministry meetings begin with the students being welcomed, then an opening prayer, three worship songs, an open prayer time, one worship song, a Bible study, one last song, and a charge when they leave.  The students know this and whenever it changes they start to complain.  I have done this for six years and have not heard one complaint about it being the same.  Our meeting is a rock in their shifting world.  Even the college students come back to our ministry and they tell me it is so comforting to know that nothing has changed.  They want and yearn for something that is consistent. 

Now you may be saying that students want what is new and want things that change.  There is a lot of change in the midst of the consistency of the meetings.  There are new welcomes, prayers, songs, and passages.  There are new retreats, camp locations, and new mission trip locations.  Do not over think how much change the students want or think they need.  Teach the students that consistency can be more important than change, because they will begin to see that their Lord and Savior is one that does not change and is consistent. 

As you plan your programs, meetings, and events, consider the ways that we can subtly show the character of God to our students, while you tell them directly about it.  They may not know that they are learning, but they will pick it up and own it.  Use every aspect of your ministry to glorify God.

           (The Rev. David Charney is Associate Rector at Christ Church Anglican in Atlanta and Canon for Youth Ministries in the Diocese of the South)

Why am I an Anglican?

Rob Schluter, Youth Minister at St. John's Parish in South Carolina, recently delivered a sermon speaking to why he is Anglican.  Kendall Harmon posted the whole thing at TitusOneNine where you can read it all.

Several years ago, as I watched our diocese and our church head towards the inevitable break with the national church and as I watched churches struggle with hard decisions on the uniqueness of Christ, the authority of scripture, or any other number of issues I went on a journey to see if I really fit in the Anglican Church. Part of my issue was a fear that there would be no professional home for me in the coming years, and I might as well see if I am truly Anglican or if perhaps I was Baptist or some sort of non-denominational Christian… The other issue I struggled with was reconciling my theology with the theology of the National Episcopal Church (who claimed to be Anglican). So I started searching my heart and mind for what I believed, as well as what scripture says to see what Christianity is supposed to be about. And while I am definitely not the scholar that Father Greg is, and while my understanding of pork products and the sacraments pales in comparison with Father Free’s, I hope you might find what I have to say somewhat helpful… In understanding my journey, and in a brief introduction to what we Anglicans believe.
Now I should start by saying that I am not Anglican by birth. I was not a cradle Episcopalian. I was baptized in an Episcopal church as an infant, but through a series of events I grew up in a rural Methodist church. Please don’t hold that against me or my parents… So I can’t claim to be Anglican because it is all I have known. In fact, when I visited an Episcopal church for the first time, I had to come to grips with the fact that it existed at all. My Methodist training and upbringing had neglected to tell me about the Episcopal Church. I didn’t even know it was there. So I claim no birthright.
And to be fair, I went to an Episcopal church because I thought a girl was cute. I was a teenager, a rather typical one actually, whose mind was less on theology and more on what my girlfriend was wearing. So I can’t even claim to have chosen the Episcopal Church. In many ways it chose me. A group of loving adults pointed the teenage me to the Jesus of the Bible, prayed that I might come into a saving relationship with Christ, and then proceeded to disciple me. Anglicans chose me, not the other way around. But a few years ago, I no longer could rest on that fact. It was time for me to choose.
As I searched my heart, and indeed the Bible, one thing was evident to me… Scripture is very important! I know that many of you hold to a very high view of scripture – in fact you would agree with St. Paul as he reminds Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “All scripture is breathed out by God…”. That the Bible is God’s very word! That God inspired its creation, and He speaks through His word today. But the Bible has an author (God) and an audience (us). While God breathed out the scriptures of the Old Testament and the New Testament, he did so for his glory and our transformation. Paul continues in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All scripture is breathed out by God… and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” The Bible is sparked by the divine, with all His authority. In fact, because it comes from God it’s profitable for little ‘ol me. God’s word can transform my heart and my life. And through that transformation, I might be made more and more into the image of Christ, ultimately leading to righteousness.
So, I wanted a church that thought as highly about the word of God as I do. I want a church that encourages us to daily take in God’s word, ponder its meaning, apply it to our lives, and live it out according to God’s purpose.

Do read the rest.  Rob's reasons for being an Anglican shape his approach to youth ministry, which would suggest that Rob does Anglican youth ministry. 

David Kinnaman is wrong: How the church really lost the millennials & what we can do to keep the next generation.

(A letter to youth pastors, senior pastors, parents, and church boards)

David Kinnaman is really smart. He writes good books too. However, I question the title and premise of his book, You Lost Me. Did the church ”lose” our young adults, as Dr. Kinnaman asserts, by being fearful, anti-science, controlling and hostile? I would like to suggest an alternate theory:  The church didn’t ”lose” the millennials at all. They were simply never actually in church to begin with.

At this point it is axiomatic that millennials are in an unprecedented exodus from the church.* Books are being published, “You Lost Me” conferences held, and churches are going to great lengths to address the issue of young adults distancing themselves from evangelicalism.[1] These efforts usually result in passionate appeals for market-driven changes to the practice and theology of the church. There is a danger here: If we start where Dr. Kinnaman does, with what young adults say without first examining the context that led them there, we will only perpetuate our problem.

How Did We Get Here?

Young adults in Barna’s qualitative studies have compelling stories to tell about the church being fearful, controlling, anti-science, and mean to the LGBT community. Surely those stories need to be listened to. But when we stop and ask ourselves, “What was the last ministry those millennials were a part of?” For most, the answer is the youth ministry. And when we consider that the 15-year-old youth group member of a decade ago is the 25 year-old non-attender of today, a question starts to form:  Did something happen in the youth room that might have caused this?  Follow my line of thought through the dots of what we did in our youth rooms and see if the millennial abandonment doesn’t seem a natural, if unintended consequence…

It Seemed Like Such A Good Idea At The Time

In the 80′s and 90′s, while mainline churches disinvested in young people, evangelicals began imitating successful parachurch ministries to “attract” students with games and activities. But what the parachurch did in neighborhood living rooms with careful evangelistic purpose was a bit less purposeful (even if “Purpose Driven”) in most church youth rooms. Regardless, evangelism was in. Rigorous discipleship was out.

As we moved into the 2000’s, bands, fog machines and light shows became the youth room rage. Tim Elmore dubbed today’s young adults, “the overindulged generation.”[2] The church gladly played along, “wowing” them students with noise, technology and millions of pizzas. Students were segregated away from the grownups on Sunday morning in a new idea: the “youth service.” The model of removing youth from the sanctuary, was dubbed early on “The One-eared Mickey Mouse.”[3] The youth service essentially turned the “student ministry” into a parachurch ministry on the church property – perhaps Christ-centered in its message and developmentally appropriate, but segregating youth from the larger faith community in order to do programs “attractive” to students.

Segregation: The Drug Of Choice

The entire church embraced this paradigm shift. It was the drug everyone wanted: Parents wanted their kids to like church. Pastors wanted undistracted parents listening to their sermons. Worship leaders wanted to avoid the complexity of pleasing multiple generations. Youth Pastors liked the numbers and accolades. Kids liked the band and shorter message. On top of that, donors were excited to write large checks to build expensive facilities with the promise of reaching lost and hurting kids. And if our metrics are seats filled and satisfaction surveys, it looked like it was working. But what are the long-term effects of segregated, program-driven student ministry?

Many students graduate from high school…without having ever seen the inside of the sanctuary or meeting the senior pastor. In effect, without having ever connected with the larger Church.

In the new model, students develop the crucial affiliation bond not with the church or its leadership, but to the youth pastor and youth program. Because youth pastors have high turnover, new youth pastors have to continually “win” over the last youth pastor’s group. Students get used to being “won” and begin to expect adults to cater to their desires and preferences. The One-Eared Mickey Mouse, led by entrepreneurs with little theological training, becomes what the market demands: the great show kids desire and the teaching parents require: just enough “God” to motivate kids to avoid risky behaviors like drugs and sex.[4] Because youth pastors are generally people of spiritual passion and commitment, many students graduate from high school having had a real experience of spiritual transformation but without having ever seen the inside of the sanctuary or meeting the senior pastor. In effect, without having ever connected with the larger Church. In this model, older adults no longer have a role in the formation of the young, parents, who have outsourced their children’s spiritual formation, often oppose a rigorous transformational faith, and the young have no interest in taking their place in the concerns and councils of the church…so students graduate from the youth group into the next thing that will cater to their preferences…like the local Starbucks.

An Assembly Line That Builds Self-focussed Christians

In fairness, this didn’t start in the youth room. The church shuttles our young down an assembly line from the nursery to the children’s rooms, then to the junior high room, then the high school “youth service.” Then we graduate them to college groups. No one seems to notice that nowhere in that system did we bother to connect our young people to the church at all. 

We have treated students as a market to be pandered to in order to fill youth rooms. And, now that it is time for young adults to take their place in extending the Kingdom of God through the life of the Church, they are, as one would expect, wondering what we are going to do next to woo them. Should we be surprised that they are failing to become mature Christians, participating and leading in the body of Christ? Rather than “equip the saints for the work of ministry,” we have infantilized them. [5]

How did we not see this coming? How did we fail to connect the dots? Instead of connecting them to God and his church, we, with Pavlovian discipline, conditioned our young to jump from church to church as consumers of glitzy religio-entertainment. We systematically taught those with the most to give how to take and take and take.

Are there other factors? Of course there are. For one, parents have largely stopped passing on the faith in the home. For another, the evangelical church has lowered its ecclesiology to something akin to “we exist to be entertain you.” However, right between those two polarities stands a ministry that could bridge the gap: the youth ministry. How? To start with we can drop the misshapen narrative – the narrative that we “lost them” by giving the young too rigorous a theology and by being hostile and negative. Although problematic, fear, negativity, and rigor simply do not tell the whole story at thousands of churches. And trying to un-lose a generation by again pandering to whatever the latest market research says millennials want to hear is not only to fail to be faithful stewards of both the Gospel and them, it is to repeat yesterday’s mistakes.

What now?

The exodus of young adults from the church is a reality caused, not primarily by cultural change or negative message, but by ill-advised leadership decisions by youth pastors, senior pastors, parents and church boards. We did this to ourselves by investing in segregationist youth ministries that proved ultimately unhelpful. What we can do in response? We can repent of where we failed them in their youth rather than by again pandering to where we have left them as young adults.

Then, Youth pastors, pastors, parents and board members, lets put students into the sanctuary on Sunday morning. Reclaim rigorous discipleship, multi-generational relationships, and youth serving as full members of the church. Challenge and equip parents to spiritually lead in their homes. Re-invision youth ministry as youth who DO ministry, pursuing and extending the faith connected to the entirety of the community of faith, the church.

Together lets make sure the next generation of young people does not leave the church when they leave our youth rooms.

(Material in this article appeared in “Renewing the Youth in Youth Ministry” published in last month’s edition of The Living Church Magazine:

*In 2008, Pew Research reported that 20-30 year-olds attend church at ½ the rate of their parents and ¼ the rate of their grandparents.[a] Depending on the researcher, between 60% and 88% of churched youth will not attend church in their 20’s.[b]

[a] Lugo, Luis. “The Decline of Institutional Religion” Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Retrieved from: Aggregated data from surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, January-July 2012.  Brett Kunkle lists 7 such more such research reports in 2009:

[b] Time Magazine, 2009, Lifeway, 2010.

[1] Book: Kinnaman, David. You Lost Me, Baker Books. Grand Rapids, 2011. Conference: Donohue Forum: Nov. 15-16 “The Future of the Church, Exploring What’s Wrong and Dreaming What’s Possible. Innovative Ministry Response: PhoenixOne, an ecumenical young adult ministry that is very friendly to liturgy and mystery is an example of the best of these attempts.

[2] Elmore, Tim. Generation iY. Poet Gardiner Publishing, Atlanta, GA. 2010

[3] Stuart Cummings-Bond in a 1989 Youthworker Journal article.

[4] What Christian Smith calls “moralistic, therapeutic, deism” in his groundbreaking 2005 book, “Soul Searching.”

[5] Ephesians 4:12


Tinkering with Church


The character that Scottish novelist J.M. Barrie created over a hundred years ago may be what we are creating in a segment of the modern church.  The notion of a boy who would never grow up implies a forever childhood of play.  The way Barrie’s character was able to remain forever a child was to always forget what he learned from the past.  

The Roman statesman and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote “Not to know what happened before you were born, that is to be always a boy, to be forever a child”.  In order to not know what happened before you were born one must be ignorant of history.  That would seem to require a rejection of the past as irrelevant or of no interest.  Are there places in our world today that actively set aside history as irrelevant? Is this what we are doing in a segment of the modern church?

I have previously argued that what we have done in youth ministry in recent decades is what we are doing in many contemporary churches today.  It’s not uncommon in the profession of youth ministry to find people who really don’t want to grow old.  To do so would be to be perceived as irrelevant.  But at what cost does relevance come? Do we throw away 2000 years of church history in order to create a church that is hip and cool? If we do church the way that youth ministry has been done in recent decades, are we not just creating an atmosphere for Peter Pan Christians?  It is so easy to find churches that have created a rock and roll concert atmosphere devoid of any resemblance to the church of past centuries. We play some music, give a talk, and send them home.

There was a time when I thought that doing church like we did youth ministry would be a good idea.  That was back when some folks were intentionally planting youth churches and I thought it would be cool to give it a try. My prerequisites for a worship service would be extremely contemporary music, good creative use of video and drama, and solid biblical preaching.  I had no interest in old hymns or liturgy. Ironically at that point, the one part of the worship service at my very traditional church that moved me was the doxology. I lacked a real understanding of the significance of prayers from the front in a service or other aspects of traditional worship. As I continued to dream, I thought we should find a cool place to meet rather than a church building.  Perhaps we could creatively transform an old warehouse into our worship space. Now you might be reading this and thinking that I am making this up because I am accurately describing many churches today. I honestly daydreamed about these things twenty years ago.  There were already churches that resembled this to some extent - like Willow Creek but without the cutting edge feel to it.  Just like we came up with cool names for our youth groups, we would need to come up with a creative name for our church (and not call it church of course).

I drive regularly past a sign for “Outbreak Church”. I am sure that has been the name of many youth groups in the past.  There are plenty of churches out there whose names were first youth groups.  Journey, Restoration, Elevation, Generation, Revolution, Encounter, Warehouse, Mosaic, and Passion all fit that description. Then the sort of post youth group names that are a bit more sophisticated like The Point, The Well, The River, The Rock, and The Refuge are out there. I am all for creativity in both youth ministry and the wider church.  I also personally don’t get excited by many traditional church names - especially 1st Denomination, 2nd Denomination, etc.  But back to the issue… 

Are we creating Peter Pan Christians who never want to grow up because we are too busy doing relevant, hip, and cool church?  Do we think the church must be perceived to be fun so that others might actually come along and participate?  That is the mindset of many in youth ministries.  We believe that fun is essential for outreach and if that carries over to the church are we not refusing to grow up? Now please don’t misunderstand me on this.  I like fun and believe it has a place in our lives.  I don’t strive for boring in anything I do. Deep down I still want to be hip and cool and have fun like a teenager. Being a youth pastor by nature means I really don’t want to get old. However, throwing away the history of Christianity or specifically the historic aspects of worship that have connected people to God for centuries is a mistake.  It does little more than create Peter Pan Christians who refuse to grow up.  Yet many churches have been planted that do exactly that.

There is hope!  Some years ago God drew my attention to the concept of revitalizing a dead church.  The idea behind it being for a congregation to be planted in an old church building that either has closed or is on the brink of closing its doors.  Recently on The Gospel Coalition Blog was a post about several contemporary church plants that have moved into old church buildings.  In the article the following words jumped out at me: “A 2008 survey by LifeWay Research found that "unchurched adults"---those who hadn't attended a church, mosque, or synagogue in the past six months other than for holidays or events---are more turned off to utilitarian buildings. More Americans prefer a medieval cathedral to a contemporary church building. Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, at the time said the findings surprised him, but suggested the look of a Gothic cathedral was more likely to connect visitors with the past.”  When we connect people to the past, we are eliminating the possibility of them remaining forever a child.

4 Key Ingredients for Youth Ministry




In the parable of the sower and soils (Matthew 13), Jesus compares the seeds that fell on good soil versus the seeds that fell on rocky or shallow soil. If we don't faithfully prepare the soils of youth ministry, we should not expect to reap a harvest. So how do we prepare the church for effective youth ministry? Based on 15 years as a youth pastor and a dozen more consulting with churches and training youth pastors, I offer these four key ingredients.

First, youth ministry needs a profile. The average congregation is not thinking about youth, especially if there are not many in their midst. So we need to draw attention to the teens in the congregation and the community. Think about the vast number of youth who have no contact with the church. Raise the issue of youth ministry in your congregation and in time it will be on the hearts of most of your members. The issues we talk about become our priorities. Mention students in prayers during services and ask the congregation to be praying for youth. Use church newsletters and bulletins to highlight youth-related news. 

Second, youth ministry needs a vision. Bill Hybels in his book Courageous Leadership defines vision as "a picture of the future that produces passion." A vision is more than just a good idea. It has the potential to captivate the attention of a congregation in a way that stirs people to action. A vision for youth ministry is more than just stating that we want more youth in the church. More compelling is the idea that we want to reach a generation of young people for Christ. The task needs to be understood as vital and urgent. In order for people to get excited, they to see the need and potential.

Fifteen years ago, Holy Cross Church outside Charleston, South Carolina, was a small congregation of mostly older people. At that time, the minister explained to the congregation that they needed to hire a youth minister. The response was overwhelmingly negative based on the obvious fact that there were no young people in the church. As the minister explained, that's exactly why they needed a youth minister. Today Holy Cross has two full-time youth ministers working exclusively with teenagers and the largest ministry to teens in its community.

It is the task of church leadership not only to declare that youth work will be a priority, but also to share a picture of what that will look like.

Third, youth ministry needs a strategy. How will we get to where we want to be? Developing strategy takes much prayer and time. Good youth ministry does not appear overnight. A church must think through realistic and measurable steps in order to begin or develop the necessary work. Avoid the trap of getting so caught up in the excitement of the vision that everyone expects a quantum leap forward. A realistic timetable will consider the challenge and count the cost. We develop strategy when we can divide the big picture into manageable sized smaller pictures. At the same time we also have to know how to answer the question, "What will we do when we get there?" 

The strategy must be driven by our understanding of Scripture before we consider the cultural context. We see in 1 Thessalonians 2 what Paul ministry's strategy looked like: build relationships, proclaim the gospel, and teach Scripture. We ought to avoid thinking in terms of creating programs but rather build our strategy around proclamation and discipleship in the context of relationships. The strategy must be communicated to the whole congregation. People respond to opportunities to get involved when they know and are excited about what is going on.

Finally, youth ministry needs support. Youth leaders must know the church is behind them. There is nothing more empowering than knowing firsthand that church members are praying every day for me and for the youth. When youth ministry is a priority we make resources available to the work. Youth should not be relegated to the worst rooms in the church. Many youth pastors feel like second-tier staff and would leave youth ministry if not for the call of God. Youth ministers should be featured up front regularly and, where appropriate, preach occasionally in their churches. Exposure allows the congregation to get to know them. Youth themselves must be a visible part of congregational life. The church needs to see and hear from those whose lives are being changed by the gospel. 

Setting up the church for success in youth ministry is a learning experience. The uniqueness of each congregation—shaped by location, population, and much more—suggests that one size does not fit all. The process must be bathed in prayer and shaped by Scripture. This is God's work and not some program, scheme, or cultural trend.

Questions to consider:

What do we want the church to look like in five years in regards to youth ministry?

Are our current structures or the way we do ministry leading us there?

How will we measure the effectiveness of our structure and strategy?

Is God's Word and prayer guiding our youth ministry efforts?

What exactly is a “Biblical Youth Ministry”?

A few years back a number of youth groups realized that the ‘old way of doing things’ just wasn’t working. The entertainment-based youth group meeting, designed to attract youth, wasn’t attracting youth. The pendulum, which had swung too far towards attraction, was now swinging back. In fact, for some groups, it swung to what was seen to be the opposite direction. That is, it went to ‘solid Bible teaching and prayer’. This was said to be a ‘Biblical Youth Ministry’.

Other groups realized that they needed to beef up the content in their time devoted to studying God’s word. Therefore they moved to having longer, more in depth Bible studies—a good thing by the way. However, they then referred to themselves as ‘Biblical’ simply because of Bible studies had been inserted into the existing program. Groups would still keep the “fun stuff” (rowdy games and activities) but then have a good time in the word of God. This for some reason, made them ‘Biblical’. In my experience, this is common in places like the U.K. and Australia.

What is ‘Biblical’?

It is important to realize that a youth ministry that wants to see itself as ‘Biblical’ must be a group that seeks not only to understand the word of God, but to live it out as well. And, do this corporately. (Think, James 1:22, Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.) For example, you cannot study Colossians 4:2-6 and then run a youth ministry where there is never any devotion to prayer!

A youth ministry that seeks to be Biblical is a youth ministry that seeks to run on the principles, exhortations and models of practice that are revealed in Scripture. As I have said earlier, we must not only be committed to the message of the Bible, we must be committed to the methods revealed in the Bible.

So, here’s what I am trying to do… and it takes constant effort, I must keep reading my Bible and:

If we can do these three things, we are on the way to becoming ‘Biblical’.

Ken Moser

Originally posted at: 

Rotational youth group programs…is there a better option?

One thing I’ve been noticing is that many youth groups run a ‘rotational ‘ style of youth group program. One week is one activity or event and another week is completely different. For example, on the first week of the month you may have a Bible study. On the next week you may have a games night, the week after that is evangelistic and the last week is a night committed to service and helping the community and so on.

I want to think through this program just a bit—is it a good thing to do? A helpful pattern?

I’m not sure where this style of thinking came from. Is it designed to enable youth to pick and choose those events that they want to go to? (Sort of a youth group program smorgasbord.) Or is it simply because we are all so busy these days that we can’t run a program that is a little more intensive that covers all those bases?

Do other ministries in the church do it? For example, do the adults run four services a month each with a different purpose and program? If they don’t, why do we?

My guess is the reason is fairy straightforward, we simply don’t know how to run a program that is enjoyable, evangelistic and builds at the same time. One of my friends in Australia uses a very helpful image: he reminds us of the cereal commercial that boasts “this cereal is healthy and tastes good.”[1] Isn’t this what we want in a cereal? It is also what we want in a program. We want to run a simple, ‘doable’ program that seeks to build, to reach, to serve (‘healthy’),  and to be enjoyable (‘tastes good’).  This must be our aim.

The bottom line is this: when we build up a group of youth to love Jesus and take each other (and this world) seriously, they will seek to build each other, reach out to their friends, and do good works for the community. Sure, have an evangelistic event, but don’t regularly give up one of your nights to do it, make each night a night that nonbelievers can come to. Regular prayer, Bible study and Christian fellowship is simply too important for the health of a young person. Should you go out and do works of service for the poor and needy? Of course, make it a regular and additional part of your program. Ask the youth to give up gaming for a night, or social sports, or homework. This is what it means, in part, to walk the narrow road.

[1] A shout out to Rev. Jodie McNeil. Thanks Jodes!

Ken Moser

This post originally appeared at:

Thinking Theologically in Youth Ministry

Here is a great example of thinking theologically in youth ministry on a blog post written by a guy who is serving as a youth minister in an Anglican Church in Columbia, SC.  Not only does he engage theology, but he looks at literature and music through the lens of understanding theology and applying it to life.  Here are two snippets of his writing...

As young people grow older, they are awakened to their nature, what Calvin describes as being “overwhelmed by an unavoidable calamity from which only God's mercy can deliver them.”[2]  Therefore, as youth workers, we have the twofold task of tenderly shepherding them through this tumultuous time and giving them the theological and Biblical framework to understand their own sin and the consequences of sin in the world.

and later...

The truth of our utter enslavement to sin (Jn 8:34, Gal 4:8-9, Rm 6) flies in the face of our culture’s insistence upon individual autonomy and the indefatigable freedom of the will.  My experience of teaching this crucial doctrine to youth has been that it takes tender convincing and continual exposure to help them understand the grave extent of the fall.  Additionally, I believe that our under-emphasis of the depravity of man is one of the primary reasons that 1 in 4 American evangelical youth believe that all people will be saved, 26% believe it doesn’t matter what religion you believe because they all teach the same lesson, and 2 in 5 believe that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.[6]  In short, if we don’t know the extent of the fall, we won’t comprehend the absolute necessity of Christ.  As youth workers, we often stress the saving love of Christ without explaining the depth of what we are actually being saved from.  

I highly commend the entire post to you found on The Rooted Blog

Basic Professionalism for Youth Ministers

    Youth workers are known for a lot of great things: You are one of the few people in your church that can walk credibly in the world of kids. You understand youth culture. You have spiritual passion and a willingness to earn the right to be heard. You know the words to the latest songs, trends and can maybe even beat-box a bit. We have a well-earned reputation, though, for having a difficult time walking the distance between the campus and the office. As a youth worker you are a foreign missionary to the local campus. However, unlike a missionary who only comes home on an occasional furlough, we have to walk in two worlds multiple times each day. Learning to walk this tightrope can be a challenge. Although “suiting up” is not realistic for youth workers, neither is starting your sentences with “Dude” when speaking with the pastoral staff and parents.

Here are some tips to increase your credibility with adults:

1. Dress for your audience

The way people dress opens or closes doors for them. Dress for whomever you will be seeing that day. If you are meeting with other youth workers, causal attire is fine. When you have church staff meetings dress the part: Be professional. Guys wear slacks, collar, belt and loafers on staff meeting day. Ladies go office casual.  If you are meeting with parents or going on campus wear a collared shirt.  Remember, even with students you are still an adult Christian leader. It goes without saying to have your hair combed and avoid appearances that will shock adults. This is a chance to, in the words of Paul, “be all things to all people.”

2. Punctuality wins points

Time management will establish or destroy your credibility. Whether you are meeting with students, volunteers, parents, or supervisors, their time is valuable. You do not communicate that you are “busy for God” when you are late, but that you are unable to manage your life. Tardiness will be seen as a display of your character. Show up on time, be ten minutes early, and work on an email if no one is there yet. Instead of having back to back to back meetings, put an hour buffer in-between so that you can go over if need be and won’t be late to the next meeting. For parents’ sake, end youth group when you say you will. Finally, honor God with your time. Six days of work and a Sabbath is the expectation, not the suggestion. Give God His portion of your time.

3. Be accountable with your time:

The best and worst thing about the youth ministry schedule is the flexibility. You alone on the staff have the ability to come and go as you please. Make sure that you are doing the right things and that people know that.

a)    Fill out your weekly time report every week. Especially fill in the “Kingdom building” section. It makes sure that you are recruiting leaders, building teams and engaging in relationships with students.

b)    Link your calendar to all relevant parties. Make sure that people know where you are and why you are there. Make sure that your pastor, your supervisor, your mentoring youth director and your trainer can see your schedule. You are trying to work hard, without killing yourself. You are also trying to work smart and do the things that you need to do, not just the things you want to do.

c)    Post your office hours. Then stick to them…but resist the urge to spend too much time in the office! You are a missionary. Spend your time recruiting, training and reaching.

d)    Program up rather than down in the summer. Episcopal Church kids are really busy. Use this time to build relationships and momentum for fall.

4. Respect your leadership

We serve the Church. Youth ministry is our calling. It is frustrating when your rector or supervisor has rules that seem to hinder the work of reaching youth with the Gospel, but reacting with a lack of respect for that person never helps the situation. Do not talk behind your bosses’ back. Stop the gossip! Remove yourself if others are complaining for the sake of complaining. If something is bugging you, speak to them. Model speaking TO rather than ABOUT people. Work to understand your supervisor’s context and why they made the rule. It could be that they are not aware their rule is hindering your ministry and, if it is less important, they are probably going to be willing to allow you to redefine it. On the other hand, a senior pastor is tasked with maintaining the whole church. Know that senior leaders are often acting on information that you do not possess and that they are not free to share. Ask for your needs to be met. If they are not, trust your leadership to be working for the good of the church and your ministry and let it go.

5. Learn to delegate

We were hired to do youth ministry. That includes many duties: interacting with parents, developing leaders, and putting together a great ministry. A pastor once said during the hiring process of a youth worker, “I don’t want you to do the work of ten people. I want you to find ten people to do all that work.” Develop a community of people to surround you to reach every last student, but do not do it alone. Ensure that these people are properly trained, utilizing their gifts, and honoring their successes as well as being their during failures.

6. Use staff meetings and office time wisely:

     One place where you really need to be seen as a professional is in the church office.

    a) Office Time:

  -Dress professionally in the office.

  -Find out when your pastor wants you to be in the office and be there. They understand that           your value to the organization is as a missionary to the community and want you “outside”.           However, a church staff is a team, and having regular, scheduled interactions with the team        is an important part of being a team player- and we all play for the same team!

-Use your office time wisely: work on messages, organize to delegate, relate with the staff     but don’t waste time- even if others do. This is a ministry. Eternity is at stake. Don’t waste your time. It is far too valuable.

  -Use adult vocabulary in the office. Things are “awesome” on the campus and the youth       room. They are “fantastic” in the office.

b) Staff Meetings:

   -Never be the last one to the meeting, rushing in as the meeting starts. Show up five             minutes early and work on email if you are the first.

   -Don’t play with your phone or text people during meetings!

   -Pay Attention to everyone else’s business. You are part of the team.

   -Enter conversations as an equal…but calmly. And know when you have said enough.

7. Plan for the long haul:

       Youth workers do ministry in the “now,” after all, that is where kids live. Your students are not thinking of what is going on two months from now - Homecoming is next week! Remember that the adults and parents in our ministry are busy and are juggling commitments to be involved with us. Plan at least three months in advance. Have your summer activities planned and advertised (with costs) by December 1.

You will be surprised how much these simple seven items will improve other’s perception of you and raise the respect shown to you by the pastoral staff, your volunteers and parents.

©Matt Marino, 2012 Please do use with permission.


Get into the word, not into the theme

It seems that the phrase “Bible study group” is a common part of ministry. Many youth ministries have Bible study groups. It is, hopefully, a time to get into the word of God.  However, do they really get into the word?

I know of many groups that call themselves a ‘weekly Bible study’… however, they don’t appear to study the Bible! They study a modern Christian book, followed by topical DVDs, followed by a movie with a theme they discuss etc. Sometimes these can be good things to do, but they are not a replacement for the Bible! This kind of group is not a ‘weekly Bible study’.

This seems to be a pattern for many, many churches and youth groups.

Isn’t a Bible study a group where we … study the Bible? Is it all that difficult to open up one of the great books in the Book of Books and go through it? Sure, it can be tricky. Yes, we have to do a bit of prior preparation. And, it can lead to a difference of interpretation and even get a bit heated sometimes… but Bible study is GREAT. It is living, active, shapes our thinking and what we believe. It keeps us on the narrow road and informs our actions. If we keep this away from the people in our churches and youth ministries, we do so at our peril.

Here’s a suggestion for youth leaders: run a study in the book of 1 Thessalonians. This is the earliest letter that Paul wrote, it was written to a group of recent converts, and is filled with teaching and exhortation that is not all that difficult to understand. When you are done, look at the book of Job. The first two chapters will capture the interest of most young minds. Spend a week or two on the long discussion in chapters 3-37 and then focus on God’s response at the end of the book (ending with the Epilogue in the last chapter). Great stuff and (almost) guaranteed to thrill your small group. You could then move on to a themed study that comes from the word of God: Who is Jesus? or What does the Bible say about suffering?, these would be great topical studies based in God’s word.

After opening the Bible for 6-8 weeks, if you want to ‘take a break’ for a week or two, go and grab a DVD on relationships. But this is the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.

If you are not into actually opening the Bible in Bible study maybe you should call your group something else. “Theme Study Group” perhaps? Or, “Topical Response Group”? Or, even “Modern Author’s Opinions Thinking Group Discussion”!

Ken Moser

Originally posted at 



I am a rector. What do I do about these youth?

Sr. High youth are the church's best bellwether. They have just learned to think critically and have neither the patience nor the filter to be very kind in their critique. Help your parish both listen to their voice and lead those young people toward adulthood as committed Christians in the Anglican tradition.

I. Love and like the youth and children -­‐ the same way you love and like the adults. Talk to them like adults. Smile at them. Ask them how they are doing. Be their friend. After you are their friend, ask them about their faith. The more connected they are to you, the more the more connected they will be to the church...and the more other adults will imitate what you model. Bill Rhodes in Phoenix used to do "pizza with the rector" after church to discuss the sermon. A pile of kids loved their little Anglo-­‐Catholic high church as a result. It wasn’t that they loved chant. It was that Father Bill loved them and took them seriously.

II. Help the adults to be aware of the “messages” we are sending. Students believe what they see. When students don't like church it might be because they are picking up the messages we are sending and believing them. When we act like worship isn't important they believe us. When we treat them like they are not important-­‐ they believe us. When we invest in leadership for every group but them-­‐ they believe us. When we don't teach them how to worship or engage them in the planning and leadership of worship-­‐ they get the message. When we segregate them into another room and have a low-­‐bar for spiritual and life-­‐expectations, they get the message.

III. Have students in big-­‐church. We are not against age-­‐appropriate groupings, but we do not want to segregate students during worship and give them "their own service." If we do that we will turn them into consumers. Consumers never come to church to give. They only come to get. The outcome data on the mega-­‐church is that youth groups that “give kids what they want” develop students who always want to be served and drop out of church when asked for commitment. So we want students in church, but we have to make it accessible to them. See below:

IV. Worship with excellence-­‐ We are not merely putting on a good show, we are worshiping Almighty God. Youth want us to treat worship with joyful reverence.

  1. Teach the historic faith in word and ritual. Robust, energized faith is on display at our fastest growing churches. We are about something greater and grander than ourselves and worship reminds us of that! We have to explain our rituals...and not just to the youth. Our traditions are deep and detailed. When students know the “why”, the “what” has meaning and power. Many adults have forgotten why we do what we do to. Vision is leaky-­‐ we have to keep repeating it.

  2. Make worship family friendly. Episcopal Church researcher Kirk Hadaway, in his report “Facts on Growth” said that one of the factors that growing churches have in common is drums. One can be family friendly without drums...but don’t rule them out either.

  3. Have youth participate. Have them serve in every way canonically possible. Make sure you explain and train without talking down.

  4. Preach your socks off-­‐and theirs. Stephen Cady, whose Ph.D. project is on “Engaging youth in the church,” was quoted in a recent ChurchNext interview. In his research among Methodist youth groups, he found that 100% of the youth disliked the sermon. The ten largest churches in America are all led by former youth pastors. That is no an accident. Speaking to youth made them good speakers. Nick Knisely, bishop of Rhode Island and an effective preacher to young people said, “I learned to preach at youth camps. Three things are important: Be their friend first, be conversational but energetic, and if you believe the Scriptures it gives them permission to believe the Scriptures.” One great source for youth friendly preaching is Andy Stanley's book "Communicating for a Change" -­‐ I would never go to the guy's church, but 15k people a Sunday go to hear him preach because he is good at it.

      5. Music?

  • Quality over genre. I have heard people argue, “Youth want bands!” and the opposite, “Youth want contemplative!” We keep camp data on what high school and junior high students like liturgically. Excellence is the key more than genre. People like Chad Sundin (folk liturgist) for the same reason people like Joel Joa (hip/hop contemporary): Both genuinely love God, genuinely care about others and genuinely do their craft with excellence. We get all hung up on "we need someone who can do Taize" or "We need someone who can do rap." The genre of music is not as important as doing it well. The excellence of the music, the musician's walk of faith and their care for people are the critical pieces. Passion, excellence and genuine relationship are the keys to students!

  • Hymn’s rock. Contrary to popular belief, almost all students like the great hymns -­‐ because they are deep. Similarly, lame praise music is lame and good praise music is good. Consider using hymns with modern instruments and arrangements.

  • Blend genres. Done well, this is the Holy Grail! Most youth have at least 10 different genres of music on their iPods. For the most part, they don’t listen to too much of any one style. I have seen urban kids love excellent classical music and chant in Episcopal Churches (although most can not take too much of it) and kids raised on classical Anglican music loving Christian hip/hop (although they probably can not take too much of that either).

  • Music should be missional. Offer music selections from the musical genres listened to by those you want to have in church.

    V. Help parents understand their need for a Christian education. In Soul Searching, Duke researcher and Episcopalian Christian Smith, tells us that the weak faith of our students is a direct reflection, not of the theology of the church, but the parents. We need to resource parents to be the primary spiritual influencers of our youth.

    Bonus tool: “A Lasting Faith” – the mission and vision for youth ministry in our diocese, is a research-­‐ based outline for building a youth program that reproduces Christian leadership.

©Matt Marino, 2012 Please do use with permission. 

The Price of The Gospel

The following post comes from Adventures of Lauren. Lauren just completed a summer  internship in youth ministry at a church in Virginia and had a eye opening experience on a mission trip to Philadelphia, which is what this post is about. Lauren is entering her senior year at Grove City College in PA.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 Andthe King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me.’” Matthew 25:35-40

Work this past week was a real eye-opener!  I have been to the streets of northern Philly that are clothed with drug abuse and poverty.  I have cleaned some of the streets of their cocaine bags, trash, and other items that should not be seen in public.  I have refilled jugs of water to thirsty men in a shelter that provides them with their daily lunch.  I have seen the face of poverty in one of the poorest areas in the nation.

The organizations I have been working with has a heart to eradicate injustice and poverty in this city.  They seek to show the love of Christ by services that enable the homeless to: eat, sleep, shower, get clothes for interviews, create online applications, have a mailing address, and so much more.  God is doing fabulous work through them!  They have touched countless lives, as have groups of volunteers.

I honestly and truly appreciate the work they are doing.

Planning-wise, the organization I am with has helped the leaders by taking the teaching and scheduling responsibilities.  We have had quite the rigorous schedule!

I love that they have the passion for social changes to take place in this city, but it seems to have come at the cost of openly proclaiming faith to those they interact with.

Sitting in the evening sessions, we have been discussing the encounter Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the well- found in John 4.  It is obvious to make the social distinction between Jesus and this woman, and they have in the teaching.  Fair enough.  However, I feel as though this passage was stretched too far to apply to our acts of service.  Each night we talked about the issues plaguing this world, yet failed to mention the need for a Savior.  I have heard the Gospel proclaimed twice by those we were working for, but not by the organization leaders!  The focus has been on overcoming boundaries and prejudices.  Yes this is needed, but the emphasis is extremely strong.

Several of our students asked after the first day if we get to actually share the Gospel with people we might interact with.  As the week progressed, we had little one-on-one communication with those we were serving.

One of the organizations, where one of our groups was working, is led by a minister that teaches art classes to students.  Not once did this minister pray or mention the Gospel or Christ to the kids.  She is claiming to show the love of Christ and help the families that have been hurt by the church…but fails to mention the reason she is doing this program.  I don’t want to judge her intentions, but it is difficult to stomach that a minister would set aside any discussion of faith because she has private, secular donors.

The notion of acting out our faith is good, and Biblical, but we are called to proclaim our faith as well.

We live in a time where the distinctions between faith and being a generally “good” and moral person are becoming too blurred, which in turn jeopardizes the proclamation of the Gospel.  Liberal theology and interpretations of Scripture rob us of a Divine Christ, who loved and cared for all… but make Him just a good man.

Knowing this, then, why are we not allowed to share this Good News of Grace and Salvation, while working with Christian organizations.  These people- the lost and “least of these” surely need to hear it too!


Unintended Consequences: How the “relevant” church and segregating youth is killing Christianity.

The following post from our friend Matt Marino seems to be going viral these days.  He originally posted it in September 2012 at


I recently spent six-months doing a rotation as a hospital chaplain. One day I received a page (Yes, hospitals actually still use pagers). Chaplains are generally called to the rooms of people who look ill: People gray with kidney disease, or yellow with liver failure, discouraged amputees, nervous cancer patients. In this room, however, was a strikingly attractive 23 year-old young lady sitting up cheerfully in the hospital bed, holding her infant daughter and chatting with family and friends.

Confused, I stepped outside and asked her nurse, “Why did I get paged to her room?”

“Oh, she looks fabulous. She also feels great and is asking to go home,” the nurse said.

“…And you are calling me because?” I asked in confusion.

The nurse looked me directly in the eye and said: “Because we will be disconnecting her from life support in three days and you will be doing her funeral in four.”

The young lady had taken too much Tylenol. She looked and acted fine. She even felt fine, but she was in full-blown liver failure. She was dying and couldn’t bring herself to accept the diagnosis.

Today I have the sense that we are at the same place in the church. The church may look healthy on the outside, but it has swallowed the fatal pills. The evidence is stacking up: the church is dying and, for the most part, we are refusing the diagnosis.

What evidence? Take a gander at these two shocking items:

1. 20-30 year olds attend church at 1/2 the rate of their parents and ¼ the rate of their grandparents. Think about the implication for those of us in youth ministry: Thousands of us have invested our lives in reproducing faith in the next generation and the group we were tasked with reaching left the church when they left us.

2. 61% of churched high school students graduate and never go back! (Time Magazine, 2009) Even worse: 78%  to 88% of those in youth programs today will leave churchmost to never return. (Lifeway, 2010) Please read those last two statistics again. Ask yourself why attending a church with nothing seems to be more effective at retaining youth than our youth programs.

We look at our youth group now and we feel good. But the youth group of today is the church of tomorrow, and study after study after study suggests that what we are building for the future is…

…empty churches.

We build big groups and count “decisions for Christ,” but the Great Commission is not to get kids to make decisions for Jesus but to make disciples for Him. We all want to make Christians for life, not just for high school. We have invested heavily in youth ministry with our lives specifically in order engage youth in the church. Why do we have such a low return on our investment?

What are we doing in our Youth Ministries that might be making people less likely to attend church as an adult?

What is the “pill” we have overdosed on? I believe it is “preference.” We have embraced the idea of market-driven youth ministry. Unfortunately, giving people what they “prefer” is a road, that once you go down it, has no end. Tim Elmore in his 2010 book entitled Generation iY calls this “the overindulged Generation.” They ask for more and more, and we give it to them. And more and more the power of God is substituted for market-driven experience. In an effort to give people something “attractive” and “relevant” we embraced novel new methods in youth ministry, that 20 years later are having a powerful shaping effect on the entire church. Here are the marks of being market-driven; Which are hallmarks of your ministry?

  1. Segregation. We bought into the idea that youth should be segregated from the family and the rest of the church. It started with youth rooms, and then we moved to “youth services.” We ghettoized our children! (After all, we are cooler than the older people in “big church”. And parents? Who wants their parents in their youth group?)Be honest: Have you ever thought you know more than your your student’s parents? Have you ever thought your youth group was cooler than “big church”?
  2. Big = effective. Big is (by definition) program driven: Less personal, lower commitment; a cultural and social thing as much as a spiritual thing. Are those the values that we actually hold?
  3. More programs attended = stronger disciples. The inventers of this idea, Willow Creek, in suburban Chicago, publically repudiated this several years ago. They discovered that there was no correlation between the number of meetings attended and people’s spiritual maturity. They learned the lesson. Will we?
  4. Christian replacementism. We developed a Christian version of everything the world offers: Christian bands, novels, schools, soccer leagues, t-shirts. We created the perfect Christian bubble.
  5. Cultural “relevance” over transformation.We imitated our culture’s most successful gathering places in an effort to be “relevant.” Reflect on the Sunday “experience” at most Big-box churches:
    1. Concert hall (worship)
    2. Comedy club (sermon)
    3. Coffee house (foyer)

And what about Transformation? Is that not missing from these models? Where is a sense of the holy?

6. Professionalization. If we do know an unbeliever, we don’t need to share Christ with them, we have pastors to do that. We invite them to something… to an “inviter” event… we invite them to our “Christian” subculture.

7. “McDonald’s-ization” vs. Contextualization:  It is no longer our own vision and passion. We purchase it as a package from today’s biggest going mega-church. It is almost like a “franchise fee” from Saddleback or The Resurgence.

8. Attractional over missional. When our greatest value is butts in pews we embrace attractional models. Rather than embrace Paul’s Ephesians 4 model in which ministry gifts are given by God to “equip the saints” we have developed a top-down hierarchy aimed at filling buildings. This leaves us with Sunday “church” an experience for the unchurched, with God-centered worship of the Almighty relegated to the periphery and leading of the body of Christ to greater spiritual power and sanctification to untrained small group leaders.

Does not all of this work together as a package to leave us with churches full of emptypeople?

Here is an example: Your church. Does it look like this?  


If you look closely, you will see the photo on the right is of a nightclub, rather than a church. Can you see what I mean about “relevance” and the clean Christian version of what the world offers? Your youth room is a pretty good indicator of what your church will look like 15 years from now. Because of the principle “What you win them with, you win them to,” your students today will expect their adult church to look like your youth room.

In summary, “Market Driven” youth ministry gave students a youth group that looks like them, does activities they prefer, sings songs they like, and preaches on subjects they are interested in. It is a ministry of preference. And, with their feet, young adults are saying…


What might we do instead? The opposite of giving people what they want is to give them what they need. The beauty is that Christianity already knows how to do this.

Once upon a time our faith thrived in a non-Christian empire. It took less than 300 years for 11 scared dudes to take over the most powerful empire the world had ever seen. How did they do it? Where we have opted for a relevant, homogenously grouped, segregated, attractional professionalized model; the early church did it with a  multi-ethnic, multi-social class, seeker INsensitive church. Worship was filled with sacrament and symbol. It engaged the believing community in the Christian narrative. This worship was so God-directed and insider-shaping that in the early church non-Christians were asked to leave the building before communion! With what effect? From that fellowship of the transformed, the church went out to the highways and byways loving and serving the least, last and lost. In that body of Christ, Christians shared their faith with Romans 1:16 boldness, served the poor with abandon, fed widows and took orphans into their homes. The world noticed. We went to them in love rather than invited them to our event.

The beauty of where we are at today is that, unlike the girl in the hospital bed, our fatal pill could still be rejected. It is not too late. We can leave the culture-centered models we have been following for more Christ-centered ones. More ancient ones. More rooted ones. And the most beautiful thing is that students actually enjoy them.


What are youth ministries for?

The following originally appeared on The Rooted Blog as the first of a series that asked the question "what are youth ministries for?" This part looks at how the question has been answered historically.  The others look at it Biblically and philosophically.


Hitting a moving target requires an ever-changing aim.  This is as true in youth ministry as anywhere else.  The aim of youth ministries historically has shifted as the needs in society have changed.  It’s hard for us in the 21st century to imagine a world without adolescence, a world that would not understand the concept of a full time youth pastor.  We only need to turn the clock back a few centuries to find our role in the church completely irrelevant.  Why is that?  In the early days of youth ministry, specifically the 19th century, much of the efforts toward youth were devoted to children.  Most teenagers were in the work force at that point.  Later in the century the public high school emerged and by the early 1900’s the concept of adolescence was first described by psychologist G. Stanley Hall.  So, it’s not surprising that the aim of youth ministries historically has changed.

In a blog post for The Gospel Coalition, I looked at the history of youth ministry from the middle of the 20th century forward to see significant developments.  In this post we will look at just a few purposes or aims of youth ministries in the past.  For a more comprehensive look at the history of youth ministry, I would suggest Mark Senter’s book “When God Shows Up: A History of Protestant Youth Ministry in America.”  Meanwhile, let’s look at just five purposes that youth ministries have served or are serving at some point in history.  I am sure you can think of more.

1.     To keep kids off the streets.  Several ministries to young people emerged in history for the specific purpose of keeping kids off the streets.  The YMCA is an example of an organization that formed because rural young people were moving into the cities to find work and needed support in their new life in the city.  A gospel opportunity was seen and the YMCA became a place to gather young men and provide Bible studies, fellowship, and prayer meetings.  Many American youth ministers today would not describe this as their primary purpose for youth ministry. The typical suburban teen has more activities in their life than they have time for. Yet as I spoke with an Egyptian pastor recently I heard of a real need for the church to provide a safe haven from life on the streets.  He described to me how seven days a week loads of teens show up at his church and they feed them, help with homework, provide Bible studies, prayer, activities, etc.  What might not be viewed as a currently relevant purpose in one context may be vital in another.

2.     To keep a vibrant faith in the lives of young people. In the late 1800’s, Christian Endeavor emerged as an international movement that sought to help young people grow in their walk with Christ. Several mainline denominations soon formed their own organizations for similar purpose.  The denominational versions could take on a more catechetical approach as they brought to the table their own particular theological and ecclesiological emphasis.

3.     To provide Christian fellowship for teens.  Following the formation of denominational organizations that promoted Christian faith, local churches began fellowship groups for young people. These in some cases shifted the focus from discipleship to training in churchmanship. In many denominations over time these fellowship groups became a holding place for youth to be involved until they would be old enough to participate in the full life of the church.

4.     To reach unchurched young people with the gospel.  The para-church movements of Youth For Christ and Young Life took a decidedly more evangelistic approach.  The emergence of a distinct youth culture created a context to reach teens that were not being ministered to in the church.  Youth For Christ began with evangelistic rallies (Billy Graham being one of the main evangelists) and Young Life took a local club approach where groups met in students’ homes.

5.     To make disciples of young people.  In some ways reacting to the para-church movements, a number of organizations emerged that either sought to disciple teens or created resources for the church to make young disciples.  In some contexts this has meant resourcing or partnering with parents.  Most American youth pastors would likely describe their purpose in youth ministry as primarily making disciples.

Looking at the aims of youth ministry over history helps us see how context shapes the needs and opportunities for ministry to students.  My friends who do urban youth ministry speak of the need to get students off the streets while those doing suburban ministry complain that their students are far too busy for youth group meetings. Most of us however would deplore the idea of simply providing fellowship for youth because we have seen the need for making disciples and evangelizing the unchurched. Some would argue that there was a time in recent history when it appeared as if youth ministries existed merely to attract large crowds and make the church leadership feel good about the future of the church.  Fortunately things are changing in the youth ministry landscape both here and further afield.

Bad Mixer Questions

Suddenly one student turned to another and asked a question that left me speechless.  It was a rather shocking moment.  I had let students come up with their own mixer questions while we were on a trip. One of the students decided that the question he was most curious about was “do you know any homosexuals?”  Most of the group chuckled and chalked it up to the oddness of the individual. Good mixers use questions to help students get to know one another better.  Bad questions are unhelpful at best.  I got thinking recently… what are some of the bad mixer questions out there being used in youth groups or Christian settings?  Some of those might be inappropriate like “boxers or briefs?”.  Some might be rather gross like “fold or crumple?” (if that does not click, think toilet time). Both of these I have heard asked in Christian groups.  In a culture that is increasingly gross and accepting of humor that used to be way off limits, it’s not hard to imagine youth group mixer questions getting out of control.  So, I remain curious as to what questions you have heard used in mixers in a Christian youth group context.  Anyone care to share?