ct article on the future of youth ministry

as is often the case with magazine interviews, the resulting article isn’t quite what i’d hoped it would be. the new issue of christianity today is a 50th anniversary issue, and they have a collection of article on the next 50 years in various ministry areas.

here’s the article on youth ministry.

but the interviewer ask SUCH intriguing questions, like, “tell me what will be different about youth ministry in 50 years.” i mean, 50 years? that’s a long time. i said something like: i expect, in the next 20 years, we’ll continue to see a widening gap in approach between those who want to put on a good show and get as many kids attending as possible, and those who are turning their back on those values in search of something else. then, by the time we get to the 50 year mark, i think churches will be in financial crisis, as giving to churches continues to decrease. i think the profession of youth ministry will be in crisis, as many church will cut their paid youth staff. and as critical and helpful as i think it was for youth ministry to go through a professionalization back in the 70s and 80s, i think this de-professionalization (let’s say it will happen in the 2020s and 2030s) will be just as helpful for youth ministry, as it will force our hand on several issues and approaches and values we hold onto because our jobs depend on it.

anyhow. the resulting CT article isn’t bad — i agree with pretty much everything in there. i was just hoping for more. anyone else want to give their 50 year predictions for youth ministry. ooh — i know — i’ll invite anyone to share in the comments section; but i’m going tag the following people and ask that they post about it: mark riddle, mike king, tony jones, scot mcknight (yeah, scot, i know you don’t know much about youth ministry — but i’d still love to hear your guesses!), andrew seely, mark helsel, kurt johnston, andy jack (who appears to have stopped blogging, but i know would have a great response), and the nifty gaggle of peeps over at youthministryexchange.com (a great discussion forum — only $5 for the year for full access). oh, and let’s get a couple non-u.s. perspectives: sivin kit (from malaysia), jonny baker (uk), and sam harvey (my new friend from nz who leads soulsurvivor nz). and let’s add some female voices: bobbie, lilly lewin, and tash mcgill (a kiwi youth ministry blogger i’ve become friends with).

tagged bloggers who have posted on this:
andy jack
mark riddle
mike king
kurt johnston
scot mcknight
bobbie (and, part two)
tash mcgill

other bloggers who have posted on this:
lev’s blog
daron bilyeu
tony sheng
pete lev (two posts)
joel newton
phil goodacre
dennis poulette
steve argue
jeff b lukens

37 thoughts on “ct article on the future of youth ministry”

  1. I too like the article. We do not have a Sunday morning program for our youth and they love being in church. All our youth programming is midweek (Wednesday night Bible Study and Friday night outreach/fun). We have youth involved in the main service on worship teams, helping in Sunday School, media, and dance. They are a part of the whole body.

  2. In 50 years the youth ministry will be vitally different. Rather then concentrating on appearances, or doing. We’ll be concentrating on being who God created us to be. We will be worshipping and out of that worship will come evangelism, discipleship, and all the other things we care so much about now. These are by products of being fully satisfied in God.

  3. Because of the way culture is moving, in fifty years more and more attention will be given to those in their early tweens (like 4th, 5th and 6th graders). Trends in sexuality and heavy relational issues are moving into the elementary grades. Youth ministry will go lower gradewise to focus on the unique needs of these upper elementary students.

    I also hope that in fifty years our churches will be more family friendly. That parents will be the main ones who are investing in the spiritual lives of their children. There will still be a need for youth pastors but it won’t be up to just them. According to Mrs. Clinton, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

  4. Great article. I hope that in 50 years (actually a lot sooner would be nice!) youth ministry will be much less concerned with attractional models of ministry and drawing large crowds, and more concerned about living in community with the church and following after and living like Jesus.

    We must change the way we measure success in youth ministry. It is not how many kids can we get to come to our programs, or raise their hands to make some kind of decision. It is changed lives, lives that are genuinely changed and turned toward following Jesus both as students, and especially beyond their teenage years.

    If this is where we head as a church, the look of youth minstry will be greatly changed. We will see a church that is as a whole community caring for and loving students, not just a select few, typically college aged people. Youth ministry will also no longer be a “church” within a church, that sadly kicks people out of church upon graduation.

    I’m sure pleased with the current discussion on where youth ministry is heading. I pray that it doesn’t take the church 50 years to accomplish.

  5. I wonder if the “teenager” a recent development in world history will also phase out…as more and more young people are making life deciding moves in their early high school years…

  6. yeah, you’re right, bobbie. i thought of that just as i was posting it, but had to run. most of the great female voices i would love to hear from on this subject don’t have blogs! i’ll add a few. please consider yourself tagged!

  7. it sounds like what you expect to happen in 50 years is already occuring in the mainline churches. i.e. financial crisis because of decreased giving and the deprofessionalization of youth ministry. this is causing us to radically rethink how we do things. if i didn’t have a paper to write tonight that is due tomorrow, i would blog about the article from a mainline prospective for you…maybe in a couple of days

  8. I think that youth ministries will be very different than what most churches do for youth ministry today.

    I think that Marko hit it in his statement that we ( leaders ) seem like we are missing the mark in some way. I think that we are missing the mark in a HUGE WAY and we may be the very reason for young adults leaving the church.

    Chap follows up with exciting thoughts on inter-generation as being vital in connecting individuals with faith.

    Thus, in 50 years, we will not see student ministry worship coinciding with adult worship, we will not see the students put away in a seperate building. What we will see is a group of people journeying in life together. When we do this, we will eliminate “transition” and “graduating from ministry” mindset and we will be the church.

  9. I’d like to add a Canadian voice to this 50 year prediction conversation.

    My thoughts go like this. If the trends in Canada continue — church involvment declining, intolerance towards Christians increasing, the undoing of traditional values, the growing scorn of anyone in public leadership, etc. — the church will be closing in on “persecuted church status.”

    In 50 years, youth ministry will be more subversive, even more cause focused, and the lines between those who follow Christ and those that don’t will be very clear.

    The risks of just being identified with youth ministry will get higher. It will take courage and strength just to be associated with youth ministry. It will attract strong leaders who have a deep, undying passion for the mission.

    As far as the model and approach? I’m not sure, it will evolve over time as the culture and generations change. 50 years is a long time in this new reality, but I think it will look alot like other persecuted churchs, something to do with decentralized leadership and cell groups.

    Also, I’m not sure if there will be age divided ministries. Each generation will need each other and we may see a return to multi-generational ministry. But whatever the case, I’m pretty sure they’ll use ys material. :-)

    there, just my loonies worth.

  10. In terms of the future of youth ministry, I’m not sure the article says anything massively revolutionary. I’m also intrigued by the fact the article states it only focused its research on the views of evangelical leaders.

    imho, it kinda feels like the whole ‘let’s think about context’ and the ‘need for young people to feel a sense of community’ thing is nothing especially new.

    i’m intrigued by ron luce’s comments at the end of the article. questions which are raised in my mind include:

    if that place where young people can grow, meet, hear the gospel is not what you define as ‘church’, then exactly what do you define as ‘church’?


    the notion that young people need to be part of ‘church’ as we understand it and define it today, sounds a bit like “we need to maintain this insitution”, rather than, “we want to see the Body of Christ flourish”.

    also, i agree with the general sentiment that the future of youth ministry/youth work may be limited if resources (financial or human) continue to decrease. but this cannot be taken out of context, it must not be thought of in isolation. the future of the church (perhaps institutionalised church at any rate) is in doubt. if this large-scale, sometimes institutionalised church wants to have any kind of meaningful future, it needs to do some serious thinking as a whole, not just in terms of its youth ministry/youth work.

    ok. hope that makes some sense, and not too rant-like. tis always hard to get a sense of what you’ve written in these tiny boxes.

  11. phil — to be fair, the article is in Christianity Today, which is somewhat of a self-declared placeholder for evangelicalism in america. it shouldn’t be surprising that their interviews were primarily within evangelicalism. that said, kenda dean would certainly not label herself (or her school: princeton!) as evangelical. a couple others on the interviewee list are likely more evangelical in history than in current affiliation or theology.

  12. point taken.

    as someone who is unsure of whether they are still evangelical or not, it kind of reads as though the evangelicals are saying perhaps they/we need to think a little wider than before.

    however it kind of reads, and perhaps this is too cycnical of me, as though this thinking about context etc is a new thing that they’ve just come up with.

    maybe i’m speaking out of turn, in which case forgive me.

    but it sounds like there is potential for people from different theological perspectives to learn from one another here. just wondering. that’s all.

  13. phil — you’re not speaking out of turn or anything: we’re dialoguing! here’s the thing i see: i think this realization that something is wrong with our treasured approaches to youth ministry is the first thing that evangelicals and mainliners in youth ministry have been able to really stack hands on for a long time. it’s interesting to me that christian smith (the researcher mentioned in the article) is a mainliner, teaching at a secular school, and the team he’s pulled around him (like kenda dean, for instance) are primarily mainliners. evangelicals have been historically close-minded about taking any direction or suggestion from the mainline camp. but smith’s work has had a huge impact on evangelical youth workers. and chap clark, while he has some significantly different conclusions in his book (hurt) than in smith’s findings, shares with smith a conclusion that much of how we’ve done youth ministry must change.

    so… i’m actually encouraged by the across-the-great-divide agreement and dialogue surrounding this subject.

  14. I know this is a strong response, but I don’t think the article came close to addressing the topic. Everything they mentioned we are dealing with now, hence why my circle of friends call the magazine ‘christianity yesterday’. Articles that all youth pastors agree with are not going to help give us vision for what is to come. I don’t know what is to come, but it seems that trends are more towards personal gospel messages (bye bye 4 spiritual laws and a memorized prayer) (I’m talking about language and words not distorting the gospel), students not committing to one church – but to a group of spiritual friends, jesus-followers vs church goers, students not relying on the church or programs or big events to share what faith in Jesus is and means to them. Organizations like young life and youth for christ are going to be challenged in how they share the gospel as well. Maybe the word evangelism won’t even exist in 50 years. Maybe student ministry won’t exist either. Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne, Reggie McNeal, Brian McClaren (I wish I had more female authors to recommend) are people inspiring me towards the future could be. A few cents from a female rookie.

  15. AH!!! I can’t believe a couple of overybusy days at work and I nearly missed the tag! However – having devoured the study/book on moralistic therapeutic deism and listened to paul windsor .. read him of my sidebar… divulge on his thoughts of the same .. i can’t wait .. but first – I can’t believe that the next fifty years was summed up in so few years? Surely the number of youthworkers talked to required more words than that to cover their diversity??!?!!

    ok .. give me 24 hours to mull.

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  17. As you can see by the pingback (Mattopia), I threw in my two cents at my blog. It’s been an interesting day reading all of these posts and reflecting on our ministry. I’m looking forward to thinking about these things some more this weekend in Austin with some other youth workers. Blessings on all those who are traveling this weekend.

  18. i agree and have been saying this for a while – i don’t think ministry as we know it is sustainable in a post-christian age. while i’m thrilled that people are training youth ministers on a collegiate level, especially as one who still teaches youth ministry, i’m not confident that the current approach will be helpful in 50 years. unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that many people really want to acknowlege that this is the path we are on.

    or perhaps i’m wrong. :) that would be nice.

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  20. Sorry I am new to the blogging thing so not sure how it all quite works. Some thoughts I posted include:

    It is a really tough question – I struggle to think what things will be like in 2 or 3 years time let alone 50 – I will be 73 by that stage! I think it will be interesting to see how key thoughts and agencies adapt over time – thinking both of the emergent group but also of groups such as Scripture Union, Youth for Christ, and Crusaders. What will their role be, how will they have adapted?

    We had a strategy day for the local schools work group last weekend and someone there made a really interesting comment. What happens if the government takes all religious content out of the schools how then do we reach young people? If that were to happen – as seems increasingly likely, sad as it is, in this age of political correctness, it puts a big pressure on the church to ensure that it improves the way that it reaches out to young people. That is certainly a huge challenge to mull over.

  21. What will youth ministry be like in 50 years? It will cover a wider age range than we currently do, maybe up to 30, be more about growing disciples, intergenrational, and less connected to a local church building. As society changes and the local church becomes less and less relavant to cultural God will find new ways to reach his people (much like he did when he by passed generation between when the children of Israel left Egypt and actually stepped foot in the promised land). America will not be the county it is, their will be less religious freedoms that will call for a greater commitment to identify with the name “Christian” so those that do use it will be more committed and have a deeper faith. Just some thoughts

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