In Defense of Youth Group

A post made the rounds last week advocating “blowing up” the youth group model of youth ministry. I enthusiastically shared it with some colleagues. Now, several days after I first read and shared it, I don’t agree with it. Here’s why.

  1. The youth in my congregation actually yearn for youth group

The argument is with “youth groups that are silos apart from the intergenerational nature of the larger work of a local church.” But the youth in my congregation yearn for a peer network where they experience hospitality, grace, and transformation, in contrast to what they experience at school and on the soccer field. The church youth group is where they find that.

Critically, there are adults in those teenage gatherings. The youth group is an intergenerational community, only it proceeds on the terms of the teens, not the adults. Adults are invited to participate as accompanists: to share the time and space with the gathered youth, to listen to them, to learn about them, and to grow in their love for them as children of God.

2. You can change youth group without blowing it up

Rather than the weekly youth group, Abbott wants to see youth leaders “gathering youth around the passions or experiences of young people with others in the congregation of various ages who have either similar passions or expertise.” Yes, yes, and yes.

But that alternative can be a supplement to a regular, welcoming space in the church for youth. In fact, I don’t see why those alternative gathering of young people and adults with aligning passions and expertise would not take the shape very similar to that of a . . . wait for it . . . youth group.

3. Working with teenagers is not for everyone

Further, the alternative Abbott is advocating “demands that every person be invested in the lives of young people in the church and not silo them off to a professional in the basement of the church with a couple of cool couches.”

But I don’t know of any church ministry in which every person is invested. Not the choir, not the property committee, and not the youth group. Part of our work as youth ministers needs to be helping adults in the congregation discern gifts for working with youth and then inviting them into that work. It’s not for everybody.

4. Deconstruction is not, by itself, minstry

We’re better at deconstruction than construction. That’s my worry.

Mainline Protestant denominations decided decades ago that it was better ecclesiology to include youth in the life of the whole church, rather than sequestering them into their own “youth ministry” silo. Theologically, that was a sound decision. What it produced, however, was a mass deconstruction of denominational resources for youth ministry that left nothing to take its place that actually accomplished the goals of a youth-inclusive ecclesiology.

If the youth group model is to paint an unused church room in neon and throw in pizza once a week, then, yes, blow that thing up. But that’s not what I’m seeing from my youth ministry colleagues. Most of their youth groups are thoughtful, welcoming spaces where adults are present to pay attention to the lives of teens.

6 thoughts on “In Defense of Youth Group

  1. I am with you on this one, Rocky. Our priority One is a safe place and we covenant with each other to create that, complete with code of conduct that they create.

    they have definitely shaped our youth group but it is a give and take. There is a lot of trust involved and I agree, not everyone is called to work with youth just like not everyone is called to work with the elderly.

    Thanks for the push back. Yes, blow up (or set aside) those elements that are on “auto-pilot”. We are into presence ministry…adults as well as youth being present with each other. It takes more intention and heartfelt involvement but it is so worth it.

  2. You make good points, and I see the value in a balance of age-separated and inter generational experiences in church. My context is different; there is a lot less yearning for youth group.

    I would like to gracefully challenge one point: “But I don’t know of any church ministry in which every person is invested.” True. But, youth are not a ministry, they are individual people. While not everyone is called to a particular ministry, are we all called to invest in the lives of other church members, regardless of their age? Yes. Hopefully, whatever the structure used, relationships between youth and adults are valued and nurtured.

    1. Thank you Christine. I’m trying to call us on expecting things from ministry with youth that we don’t expect of other adults in the church. We don’t expect every member of the church to be involved in the life of every other member, do we?

    1. There’s a plugin for that if you’re a paid user, which I’m not. I’m going to give it serious thought. Here’s the comment Blain made on Facebook, which is very, very helpful:
      “Been ruminating on this for a few days. Two quick things. One – older and less statistically sound but never the less important work done by Hardel and Strommen points to a four areas of influence: Family, Congregation, Youth Program, Community. It is the relative weight of these factors that is the important point. Family plays a disproportionate role and therefore, they argue, it should play a disproportionate role in our ministries. They don’t deny that Youth Programs play a part, even an integral part, but they do provide some way of weighting the relative value of various assets. Two – I am struck by how sociological research seems to trump theological reflection. Socialization into a faith community is a different thing than being a disciple within the church. At least it is for me, and I know for Kenda Creasy Dean and Andrew Root (who I think is alluded to in Duane’s post) it is as well. That is one of the points of Almost Christian, that to settle for socialization is to deny the living God active today. That is one of the points of Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry, that to settle for instrumentalization is to deny the personal found in Jesus Christ. I get that a blog or FB post can’t get at divine-human interaction but we shouldn’t be able to hold a conversation about youth ministry without at least some theological reflection.”

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