encouragement and challenge about the impact of youth ministry

i’m in the middle of reading kenda creasy dean‘s new book, almost christian: what the faith of our teenagers is telling the american church (it’s so good, and critical reading for all youth workers – i’m sure i’ll be posting more about it). the book is kenda’s interpretation of the findings of christian smith’s ‘national study on youth and religion’ (summarized in the book — or film, if you’re lazy — soul searching), and implications for the christian church (and, specifically, for youth ministry).

smith’s study, if you haven’t heard of it, found that the vast majority of teenagers in america subscribe to a faith he calls ‘moralistic therapeutic deism’. and, as tony jones writes in his endorsement of kenda’s book, “a lot of youth workers have been a bit depressed since the national study of youth and religion revealed what we’d long suspected about american teen spirituality.”

that’s why, early in the book, i found these few sentences very encouraging, while still clarifying the challenge:

we have known for some time that youth groups do important things for teenagers, providing moral formation, learned competencies, and social and organizational ties. but they seem less effective as catalysts for consequential faith, which is far more likely to take root in the rich relational soil of families, congregations, and mentor relationship where young people can see what faithful lives look like, and encounter the people who love them enacting a larger story of divine care and hope.

9 thoughts on “encouragement and challenge about the impact of youth ministry”

  1. Marko. Good to hear. I just bought a bunch of copies for my team and we’re going to read through it this fall.

  2. Thanks Mark, important things to think through. As we have thought in our church about “men’s ministry,” I was challenged by another person to think through events that could both challenge men and NOT take them away yet again from their families. Might be a challenge for youth workers too, how to have a great youth event that includes the whole family, getting the whole congregation involved.

  3. That quote summarizes the tension. Parents – at their worst – just want youth ministry to be behavior modification machines. Youth Pastors – at their best – want teens to have a radical, transformational encounter with Christ.

  4. Looking forward to the book…we actually just had a four-hour meeting with our junior high pastor, children’s director, YM administrator, and me (senior high) to create a concrete plan to do everything we can to see that real discipleship happens within families. “Consequential Faith” is a great way to put what I think many of us have been trying to define and have been longing for for years. Christian Century published an article based on this book, as well, if you’d like a short taste.

  5. Marko,
    Thanks for bringing this book to my attention. I love Kenda’s books. And I’ll strive to let my students “see what faithful lives look like.”

  6. marko, i read chapter one and thought the highlight was the section you quoted, her reflection that it isn’t the youth group that most deeply impacts, it’s the circles of family and friends. the missional incarnational impulse of church is to place the church into those circles rather than extract those circles into a church culture. does this make sense? do you see this happening in youth ministry? i am talking about a paradigm shift that will radically alter the way youth (and other) ministry is being done – or add another approach to augment the attractional model. i think this might be a solution. in other words the shift is away from creating or “providing moral formation, learned competencies, and social and organizational ties” and becoming a catalyst by moving to where the spirit is organically working in their lives, in everyday settings. do not “provide” social organization but undergird what is already there; youth workers become football coaches, chaplains, tutors, teachers …

  7. I bought a copy of this a couple weeks ago after reading a few of Tony Jones’ posts on it – he’s been blogging his way through it. Absolutely the best book I’ve read this year – definitely a must read. I NEVER highlight books – for some reason I can’t stand markings inside my books, and this one I have been highlighting things almost on every page. A lot of really thought provoking stuff in there!

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