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.


9 thoughts on “Does Youth Ministry Need To Be Harder?

  1. All of the activities engaged by that 13 year old also require similar commitments from the others on his team and a public performance of their work together.

  2. Agree, Rocky!

    – Doug

    Doug Grissom Managing Director Madison Dearborn Partners Three First National Plaza Suite 4600 Chicago, IL 60602 (312) 895-1215

  3. I’d bank on the service over the course. Andy Root’s work suggests that what churches offer these days do not help set up youth for future success. But a service experience helps round out a college app in addition to actually doing some good in the world that seems win-win to me.

      1. Perhaps I’m not clear. I don’t suggest setting them up is our job. I am saying high-mindedly offering something out of step with their felt needs, while noble, will not produce the result we think it will. It’s not about an activity being harder. It’s that an activity fits their understanding about what they want to be and do in the world.

      2. I hear you. I guess I doubt my perception of “felt needs.” Do teenagers not feel a need to articulate the nuances of Calvin’s doctrine of election? And we are in both the fitting-your-understanding and the shaping-your-understanding business at the same time, no?

      3. I don’t think they do, and yes we are.

        I wonder how the pastor we interviewed in PLGRM #1, who cancelled Sunday School, would respond to your thoughts.

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