I had the great privilege of teaching adult ed. at a large church in the south metro (Twin Cities) this semester. On the last Sunday of the series, I spoke from the heart. Here’s a chunk of my heart for youth ministry:
1. Church should be cool. It should be fun to come here. You should have a great youth ministry space (they do, actually), loaded to the gills with lights and guitars and games and a sound system. Spend your money here. It will pay dividends to the whole church.
2. But it can’t be all toys and pizza and craziness. You gotta deliver content as well.
It has to be both. How many times have I heard adult Christians all over the country complain that there is no substance in their church’s youth ministry? 4,293. Approximately.
Yet, don’t knock the fun stuff, if you want kids to show up at all. What’s better–50 kids in the building, off the streets, having fun, with a chance to grow? Or seven nerds going “deep” with the Lord?
And if we find creative ways to deliver content and engage kids with the gospel of Jesus, maybe they won’t check out so fast when they leave high school. Maybe when they’re 19 they’ll swing by a college campus ministry such as the one I work for.
Myself–I look UP to youth pastors! They are amazing. I love them. I couldn’t do what they do. But mostly, the quality of youth ministry at your church and mine is up to us church leaders. WE are the ones who can “set up” the youth ministry. . . or set it down.
My question to you: How’s youth ministry going at your church? Is it fun? Spiritually meaningful?
a few good ideas are here: http://www.ehow.com/list_6156169_church-youth-room-decorating-ideas.html
I mostly agree, but I feel the tension of substance and fun.
I am convinced that kids are looking for something real, something that makes a difference in the world. Seeing who can cram the most marshmallows in their mouth does not scream real or meaningful to me, but I am an old fart.
I think the real gospel is deeply challenging and life giving. And I think that real community is a ton of fun as well. So how do we help our kids experience that?
I do not want to give cool a pass without some careful thought. My fear is that thoughtless cool can eventually define, shape and overwhelm gospel content. Is that not what happens on Christian TV? Neither do I think that the program should inattentive to feeling, mood, set-up, pace, color, room size, media, delivery and, etc.
What comes to mind right now, after my mind is cleared of an afternoon and evening of football, are two things. First. Whether you have the program bling or not, don’t forget that great programs start with great, Christ-centered leaders (pastor & students leaders). Youth program do some amazing things when programs are marked by genuine, actionable care. You engage the youth culture by engaging the youth! How? By praying for them, knowing their names, noticing stuff about them, attending school events, writing them letters with real stamps!, etc.
Second. I know 2 Corinthians 2:15 can be used as an excuse for a mediocre youth program, but it’s gotta fit into the youth ministry equation/discussion equation. Right? Ultimately, faithful content must be faithfully and clearly delivered. To some attendees that content will stink! To others, it will taste like honey!
In the end, youth program content (the meaningful and the cool) must be characterized by truth, sincerity, a stamp of authority, the presence of God, and riveted attention on Christ!
well dad… 🙂 Being in youth ministry myself with TreeHouse I somewhat agree, but not really. ha.
We meet in an old house with no gym, no cool meeting space, no cool decorations, the one x-box we had was stolen last summer!, and no electric guitars. But in my opinion TreeHouse is the most effective ministry I have ever seen (and a good amount of students attend). I think the reason TreeHouse works is because we connect on such a deep level with the students at TreeHouse and we get REAL. And oddly enough, students bring their friends…
On the other hand, we do some really fun trips and activities, and play games and do skits often which helps create fun memories and a community for the students.
But I definitely would pick deep relationships and content over bling and excitement.
Good job. I've attended a church in the Twin Cities for 41 years now . . can you believe that? And the youth ministry is excellent. Good leaders and cool stuff going on . . I personally don't like the music, but so what? I'm not the intended target audience anymore and that's a good thing.
I think mature Christians should go to church with the attitude of “how can I minister to others”, rather than “What's in it for me?” A good change of perspective.
Hey Brad, moving up one level in age range, I challenged one of the InterVarsity groups in Michigan last spring to be the “most fun” group on campus. But also the most challenging.
They invited me to campus this fall and told me they'd risen to the occasion. Sure enough, they partied me out for two days in October. But they are also seeing a steady stream of students come to Christ.
That group is irresistible–as is Jesus in their midst.
Hi Bill, thanks for your thoughtful post. I'm glad you are struggling with me about the proper balance of fun and content in youth ministry.
“Fun” and “content,” to my thinking, are the tips of two giant icebergs: 1) Cultural relevance and contextualization of the gospel. 2) More traditional notions of disciple-making.
I find the ideas of cultural relevance and contextualization to be controversial among evangelicals. To my more conservative friends, it can feel like compromise. To my more progressive friends: indispensable.
I lean to the progressive side because of my experience in campus ministry and training in missions. In both arenas it's important to put the gospel in language that your audience can relate to (which is what Jesus did). And it's important to put your audience in a setting that is attractive and comfortable to them (even if the gospel itself is sometimes uncomfortable).
But in the end I would agree with you: No matter how you communicate the gospel message, to some it will be sweet, to others a stench.
You close with affirming the priority of relationships over bling and excitement. I'd modify that a bit and suggest that it's not an either/or question. Often, relationships and trust are developed inside a great social (fun) environment.
Kelli my dear, didn't I teach you to always agree with me? Just kidding.
By the grace of God and quality staff like yourself (as Bill mentions above), I know kids will show up and get their lives changed. But if I were starting a ministry at a church and had the choice of “cool youth room” with good content, or “dumpy youth room” with good content, that would be an easy choice for me.
p.s. Have you bought my Christmas present yet?
When I was a teenager, my brain development being what it was, I missed the Gospel entirely at youth events. Not that I didn't have an inner yearning for what I later learned was the Good News of Jesus Christ, I did. Frankly, I don't recall our youth leader ever saying a personal relationship with God was possible (it was late 50s and early 60s).
Today, at Hope Pres in Richfield MN (my church for 25 years), I've heard great things about our youth program. Based on what I've observed about our 3 youth leaders and their walk-the-talk, I believe our teens are getting both barrels. Here's to both the life-changing Message and the play-oriented packaging!
Hey John, I'm glad to hear that youth ministry is cookin' at Hope!
Yours is at least the third comment to mention the high quality of youth pastors. It's a special calling, to be sure.