i led a late night discussion at the national youth workers convention this past fall on “the future of youth ministry”. in preparation for that discussion, i emailed a few dozen friends with better youth ministry minds than my own, and asked them to complete the sentence, “the future of youth ministry….” about 15 of them responded (often with more than a sentence!). i’m posting them here as a series, sometimes with a bit of commentary from myself, and sometimes merely as a reflection-prod. would love to hear your responses.
episode 1 (searching for the right way)
episode 2 (discipleship, barriers)
episode 3 (intergenerational ministry)
episode 4 (parents)
episode 5 (re-weird-ifying christianity)
episode 6 (the system is broken)
episode 7 (a little bit o’ sunshine)
i’ve only known terrace crawford for a year or two, and we’ve never actually met face-to-face. but i’ve enjoyed terrace’s positivity and good thinking. and i keep hearing his name from other sharp youth workers who have met him, and how much they enjoy him. about a year ago, i helped terrace land a part-time role as the youth ministry editor for churchleaders.com, a role he’s done really well with. here’s what terrace had to say:
I think we are beginning to see less paid staff in youth ministry than ever before… and this is just the beginning. I believe churches will recruit more volunteers in the days ahead. Additionally, I think we’ll see less silos in youth ministry and more integration of students into “big church.” As a result, students will begin assuming more leadership roles. Finally, I think churches & ministries are having to “strip down” to the basics because of the economy & budget cuts — and it just might be what the Lord has ordered. I believe what we often see in the physical realm is mirrored in the spiritual. God may be salvaging the remnants and stripping away what doesn’t need to remain in our ministries & we are better for it. Because of this, I am very hopeful about the future of youth ministry.
there is much i resonate with in terrace’s comments. and i agree that some of it is cause for being hopeful; but some of it will also be extremely difficult, even threatening. let’s parse it a bit:
less paid staff. yes, i’ve been saying for a while (as have others — mark riddle most notably) that the next 20 years will see a decline in the number of paid youth workers. the impact of the recession on church expedited this, and we might even see a little reprieve in the next few years (assuming things rebound a bit, as they likely will). but that will be a false indication that “the money is back”. giving to churches continues to decline — it was declining before the recession, and will continue to decline after the recession. churches will be forced to rethink farming out youth ministry to a hired gun. in many ways, i think this is a good thing. the hired gun mentality has hurt us in many ways that we didn’t see when we started down that road, because there are all sorts of systemic implications that flow out of that, not the least of which are both the abdication of the care of youth ministry to someone “more qualified”, and the wholesale isolation of teenagers to the fringes of our churches. in many ways, this is bad news for paid youth workers. there hasn’t been this much lack of job security in youth ministry in 40 years. heck, it’s even going to be a challenge for people like me who resource churches and youth workers.
the potential upside is this: congregations will be forced to re-engage teenagers, hopefully as an integral part of the body. all the research (sticky faith, national study of youth and religion) is telling us that this kind of congregrational engagement and integration is one of the necessary aspects for sustainable faith in teenagers moving to adulthood. but it just might be this financial reality that forces the issue.
less silos and more integration. connected to the last bit, this move away from isolation (the primary approach to youth ministry in america over the last 40 years) and toward re-integration is a move some churches are already wrestling with. this will require some boldness, some patience, and some experimentation. my hope is: enough churches will lead the way in this for missional/theological reasons that when thousands of other churches are forced to consider other options for youth ministry because of budget cut-backs, there will be loads of wonderful examples of how to do this well. in one sense it’s not rocket science; but most of our churches are so deeply steeped in a mindset of isolating teenagers, the pathways out of that thinking and practice won’t be obvious (and certainly won’t be easy).
students assuming leadership roles. this is another wonderful shift that needs to happen, and directly connects with what we’re learning from research about adolescent and young adult faith. meaningful responsibility and expectation are necessary for the transition to adulthood (the lack of these is one of the primary reasons for extended adolescence). an opportunity for teenagers and young adults to play a meaningful role in their churches (not just their youth ministries) is just what the doctor ordered.
terrace might be assuming that people will choose these shifts because they are more-than-necessary course corrections. i think a few churches will. but more will forced to strip down and get lean, which will put them in a place to consider new (and old) approaches that are more integrated, and mo’ better.