Does Youth Ministry Need To Be Harder?

A post mortem on our mostly ineffective summer experiments with youth programming produces some reliable culprits: teens are busy; families travel; new things take time to catch on. All of those explanations adequately account for why our calendar of weekly get togethers in the city and bizarre Sunday morning workshops generated such paltry participation.

But I’m grappling with another culprit: ease.

Maybe most of the youth I’m working with are simply not interested in things that are easy.

I thought about this yesterday after riding the morning train next to a 13 year old from the church who lives in my neighborhood. He was on his way to an acting class, and he was aiming to arrive an hour early. Later in the day he would get himself, again by train, to a three hour volleyball practice. He wouldn’t get home until around 8:00 that evening, and somewhere in his day’s schedule he also fits in an hour of swimming. Fall baseball practice is three days a week as well. All of this he does during his summer vacation, almost entirely on his own.

Each one of those activities challenges him mentally and physically, as does commuting on public transit by himself. He’s committed to them not in spite of their difficulty but because of it.

Churches must always always always maintain low commitment points of entry for teenagers, like relaxed youth group gatherings. Once we have that, though, I think we need to add things that are more demanding of teens as disciples.

So maybe the next experiment we attempt will be intense service experience or theology course.