Youth Ministry must change or die


That might seem like an extreme title but it’s true.


If we don’t change the fundamental goals of youth ministry, we should just pack up and quit... Because yesterday’s youth ministry isn’t just ineffective for this generation; it’s chasing them away.


In the 1990’s when I was a youth the universal goal of youth ministry seemed to be

“Get them saved, keep them pure.” - Youth Pastors for the last 30 years...

And I’m here to tell you, even back then, the goal was bad news.

The emphasis on salvation as a one-time emotional event most often led to students being subjected to an emotionally coercive and manipulative event that had effectively no bearing on the student’s life as soon as the event concluded except as a romanticized and subsequently unachievable “spiritual high”. Meanwhile the emphasis on “purity” caused massive confusion and shame in countless students who were taught to demonize their developing bodies. Unsurprisingly this “pity culture” has harmed more Christian (and former Christian) men and women from my generation than perhaps anything else.


So what is the alternative?


I present four cornerstones for every youth minister and youth ministry program in 2022... Click to expand each goal

1. Create positive associations with faith

This has always been a secondary goal in youth ministry (often called “Memory Making”) but it needs to be a cornerstone. Children, and specifically teenagers, are at a unique stage of neurological development. Their brains are creating and discarding more neural pathways than at any other point in human development. Churches have often tried to exploit this fact to indoctrinate them with dogma but what they should really be doing is creating as many positive associations with faith/church/God as possible. The goal here is not to scare or manipulate them into slavish obedience to a religious system, it is to permanently entrench faith as a positive rather than a neutral or negative feeling. That way, regardless of what life brings, they will always have, embedded in their neural anatomy, that faith is ultimately positive. This might mean finding a faith community (without your prompting) when they get to college or with their spouse or after their kids are born and they want them to have those same positive experiences. I want to be clear, if your youth ministry is shaming kids for their desires, judging their choices, rejecting them because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, coercing them with fear tactics, or emotionally manipulating them into “making a decision for Jesus,” you cannot do this. Like it or not, doctrine and theology take a back seat here. The goal is positive association with faith, not short term obedience or faith profession.

2. Foster deep conversations focused on questions not answers

3. Facilitate spritiual practices

4. Unconditionally care for students

That's It.


Those are the four cornerstones of youth ministry in 2022. Feel free to shoot me an email with questions about this or your teen and, if you're local to the South Western Suburbs of Chicago (where my church is), I would love to grab coffee.

Rooting for you and your teenagers,

Pastor Jon

Jon@orlandhope.org

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