Rethinking Youth Ministry

I ran across the ‘Rethinking Youth Ministry’ blog recently and it’s full of interesting thoughts.

In addition to some good thoughts, research and ideas, my biggest take-away from their site was that there are many veteran youth workers and pastors who understand we need to reinvent our ministries to youth, and not merely “re-invigorate”. I’ve been writing about the same thing for years and experimenting in practice. To read about one type of “new” youth group I worked on, read “The Tribe13 Experiment” at

Kids in my Tribe13 youthgroup

More about “Reinvent, …not merely invigorate”…….

Many churches have given up on youth/teen ministry (overtly or in practice). They chased away the kids (current and past), or were never able to attract them, and now they blame the culture, or parents, or kids. Those ready to take another shot at doing youth minitry often only have the idea to “just do it better” or “hire a dynamic new youth leader”. Yet, if it were just that easy, I probably wouldn’t be posting this. Where are all the kids from the 70’s and 80’s heyday of youth ministry? They didn’t come back to the church. That’s why we need reinvention, and not just retreading.

Rather, we need to figure out a few things in order to move forward:

1) What went wrong?  What about past youth ministry FAILED US and the kids in the long-term? Where are all those teens we had in youth groups back in the 70’s and 80’s?   Most didn’t come back to the church, and we need to understand WHY.  This is hard for those of us who joined through youth groups and never left.

2) We need to understand that some FUNDAMENTAL CHANGES have taken place in the society since the heydays of youth ministry. And that requires some reading and research.
For example…. Barna Group and David Kinnaman’s five-year project surveyed youth and young adults about their reasons for disconnecting from the Church. In particular, the study looked at youth who had been active in church but left it. The respondents shared many reasons why they left, but six major themes emerged that tell us what seems to be keeping youth away from organized Christian faith:
•Churches seems overprotective (e.g. resist, demonize, and ignore real-world issues and problems).
•Youth experience Christianity in the Church as shallow (e.g. not relevant or connected to an experience of God.)
•Churches appear antagonistic to science.
•Churches take an overly-simplistic or judgmental view of sexuality.
•Youth struggle with exclusive claims of some Christian churches.
•Youth sees the Church as unfriendly to those who doubt.

(I can hear the remant naysayers now saying, “You can’t change the Gospel.” …the dopes. Like the version of Christianity they are practicing has never changed! The church is always changing its approach and refining its message. Most naysayers would be run out of Calvin’s church as revisionists.  But I digress…)

We have a lot to learn, and a lot to UN-learn.
None of this is going to be easy.
Some of what we “did in the past” was right-on. But much of it did not work to produce long term people of faith, and some of it won’t work in today’s culture. But the stuff that DOES work is so exciting. And sharing your life with teens is an awesome experience and privilege.

I want to put in a plug for’s new book Missional Youth Ministry. Good ideas in it.

And I want to put in a plug for Mark DeVries book, “Family Based Youth Ministry”,

Between these two books and my article on “Tribe13” you’ll find a lot to chew on.
<>< Neil
btw….teens love to teach. They love to feel like servants and share what they know. That’s why I encourage my software churches to use teens as computer lab teaching assistants. It works much better than thrown a bunch of teens in a room with a bunch of folding chairs.

Great Bible game software for teens.

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2 Responses to Rethinking Youth Ministry

  1. Jeff says:

    Hi Neil. I wanted to know how to contact you. In particular atm, I would like permission to print and redistribute some things. Right now I would like to be able to redistribute your “Confessions of (an Old) Youth Minister to our congregation. Thanks for your reply.

  2. Neil says:

    Thanks for asking. You’re very welcome to excerpt or reprint.

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