Jesus Creed

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Youth Ministry 3.0

posted by Scot McKnight

Marko.jpgI sat down the other day with a youth pastor and asked a direct question that I’ve asked a number of youth leaders: “What percentage of your youth become adult, mature Christians?”

His response: “You want the truth?”

I said, “Of course.”

His answer: “About 25%.”

We both sat there, fumbling our coffee cups, looking at one another, nothing said and nothing to be said. In grief and wonder we searched for what we might do together to change the course of the church. His numbers are about average for evangelical churches. I wonder if some youth pastors would sit down, think for 15 minutes or so over the last few years and what has become of their youth. What “worked” and what “didn’t work”? Listen to these ruggedly honest words from Mark Oestreicher:



“The way we’re doing things is already not working. We’re failing at our calling. And deep down, most of us know it. This is why we need an epochal shift in our assumptions, approaches, models, and methods.” This is from Marko’s new book: Youth Ministry 3.0: A Manifesto of Where We’ve Been, Where We Are & Where We Need to Go
. We want this blog to participate in that “epochal shift” and so we need to take a good hard look at this book.

Marko’s second chp sets up some important terms, and they overlap with our series on iGens. Three features of youth happen during adolescence:

1. Identity (formation): Who am I?
2. Autonomy: How am I unique and different?
3. Affinity: Where do I belong and to whom?

Marko’s proposal: the priorities of these three have shifted. From WW2 through the 60s, the focus was on identity. From the 70s through the 90s, the focus was on autonomy. The newest generation, however, is not as much about identity and autonomy as about affinity.

Youth ministry, Marko contends, has failed to adjust to the shift of emphasis on affinity.

Marko (and others), here’s a question for you: Would you say that I, as a professor, would have felt 30 years ago that my students were not yet adults but today I might sense that I’m not in their world? Has there been a shift from youth growing into the adult world to a culture much more shaped by their culture?



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Harry

posted March 17, 2009 at 7:44 am


You end this post with a very pertinent and astute question,
“Has there been a shift from youth growing into the adult world to a culture much more shaped by their culture?”
In my experience as someone in the church who works with young people this is very true. What, however, is also true is the shift in age of “young people”. In contemporary western society people seem to be getting married later on in life. This is a very simple fact that has implications for youth ministry, most notably that, in my experience in the UK people in their thirties to not want to go to “traditional church” and so hang around in youth ministry.
For this reason alone traditional approaches to youth ministry, worship, sacraments, etc. are now not enough.
The positives is that if we can meet this challenge and grow mature ministries that seriously engage, nurture, and disciple people aged between 15 and 35 then we ought to be able to bring positive changes to mainline churches.



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John W Frye

posted March 17, 2009 at 8:12 am


With a broad brush comment I suggest that most evangelical youth ministry entertains and entertains some more. The ministry is youth-centric. When these youth ‘graduate’ into the adult world where responsibility is a BIG word, they become bewildered and, frankly, bored. Entertain me has been ingrained into their vision of the faith…they want adult versions of video games, pool tables, foos ball contests and fun. I would surmise that the 25% who make it into the adult world are the compliant, do what you’re told kids. We have no initiation rites from boy to man, from girl to woman. Also, baby-boomer arrogance assumes that our way is the best way for the kids, too, and we are stunned that we bore kids silly with our version of following Jesus.
Youth ministry is one of the greatest challenges of evangelicalism. God bless MarkO and Mark Riddle and Steve Argue and a host of insightful leaders who want to reimagine YM.



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Will

posted March 17, 2009 at 8:51 am


I believe we step over a significant problem if we believe we can allow the terms of the new generation determine their need. Student ministries absolutely must address the complete developmental need of these parishioners. Identity, autonomy and afinity needs must all be part of the priority of ministry to adolescents. The passing of time and the shifting of culture does not eliminate these needs. We have already experienced what a disaster it is when the Church ignores cultural shift. But to give priority to affinity and set identity and autonomy on “the back burner” as if it will resolve itself is like the doctor saying “cardiology is what drives our practice and what we’ll treat” when the patient is also in renal and respiratory failure. This may be what is behind the 25% that grow to adult, mature Christianianity.



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Andy Crouch

posted March 17, 2009 at 8:53 am


Perhaps a logically prior question should be, “What percentage of your youth become mature adults?” :)
Seriously, I doubt whether we should expect youth at 18 to be mature, adult Christians when, for many, adolescence extends until 30. It will be interesting to see how the Great Deleveraging affects this trend . . . I could see it going either way.



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T

posted March 17, 2009 at 8:53 am


The fact that there is a “their” culture is largely “our” doing. Who worships youth? Adults. Who makes the shows, the songs, the technology, etc. forming/facilitating “their” culture? Adults. Who made even ‘big’ church into something that ‘entertains then entertains some more?’ Adults. Who made following Jesus into something you can supposedly do while remaining loyal to consumerism? Adults. Youth groups are just amped up versions of big church, trying to ‘reach’ a more media sophisticated, less religious, more energetic group.
Our adult lives say that Jesus and mission are a side dish on the buffet of life. I don’t think youth ministries (or Western churches) have much hope outside of articulating a serious and compelling call to discipleship that involves naming and letting go of our various attachments and practice in the harder ways of Jesus, and pursuing that in very small, committed groups.



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Phil Niemi

posted March 17, 2009 at 9:21 am


I agree with T. As primarily a youth pastor, I see this. The desire is to get them out, get them through the door, then find something meaningful for them. I must admit, after 6 years at this location, most of the those still serving were or are church family youth, as opposed to “community” youth. What I do notice is that “community” youth do darken the door occasionally, but don’t usually make a commitment, but that is indicative to their schooling and other avenues of their life as well. There is definitely a prolonged adolescence.



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Happy

posted March 17, 2009 at 9:24 am


a) define mature Christians? (seriously, what context? Jesus? Claiborne? Parents? School? Community?)
My struggle for years is that Christ following would lead to separation of family, separation from “family values” (at least in the suburban church I worked at) separation from community/friends/school. When reading about the civil rights movement in Nashville and seeing that mostly college students were the ones doing the sit in’s and the freedom rides. This caused problems with their families, their schools and the student body.
And when i say define a mature Christian many people would say that a person who grows up does all the right things in “our” ministries, goes off to a christian school and marries a great christian then proceeds to have cute kids and buys into the “christian american dream” a mature christian.
Plus i’m not sure 25% is not a good number if you know what I mean.



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T

posted March 17, 2009 at 9:34 am


Happy,
Great question. What do we mean by ‘maturity’? Scot had this conversation with a friend, so the they likely have some substantial overlapping ideas on that, but that’s a good question: What do we hope will result from our ‘youth ministries?’



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Brian

posted March 17, 2009 at 9:52 am


The thing about adolescence is that it is a time of great passions/desires. And these passions at that stage in life are very mailable, because they are exploring and experimenting with what brings the most fulfillment of the desires. Most of the time we try to either squash those desires or cheapen them by giving youth a christian imitation of the expressions of the world. This is where we simply try to attract teenagers with “gimmick” type things.
I have always gone by “what you attract them with, you will have to keep them with” We have to give them a place where they can direct their passions toward a truly fulfilling goal, loving God with all they are and loving others.
I was challenged a few years back by an excellent book by Kenda Creasy Dean called Practicing Passion. The indictment of youth ministry is a lack of directing the passions of our flock towards something real. Let’s explore ways that youth ministry (and the church) can give fuel and inspire the passions of youth to be directed in Spirit ways. I have been considering Galatians 5 this morning and been inspired even further in my own life and ministry about desires and passions!



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marko

posted March 17, 2009 at 10:01 am


thanks, scot!
in response to your question(s): yeah, that’s an interesting observation. two (or more) forces playing into that:
1. the lengthening of adolescence. andy mentions this in the comment above. adolescence has gone from an 18 month period (when it was first discussed, 100 years ago), to a 5 year period (the traditional JH and HS, 13 – 18 y/o framing many of us grew up with), to a 15+ year process (starting roughly at 11, ending — very loosely — in the mid- to late-20s. so on hand, your undergraduate students are “more” adolescent than they were 30 years ago.
2. however, youth culture did two things around the last epochal shift (very roughly, around the turn of the millennium). as it began to be the dominant culture in america (and much of the world) at a pop-culture level, another level of youth culture (the deeper aspects, pertaining to relationships and behavioral norms) splintered, and went underground.
bottom line: this splintered, underground youth culture makes your undergraduates part of a culture that is very different from the one you (and i) live in; and — to be honest — you’re not welcome in theirs. that doesn’t mean you can’t have a valuable, helpful, honest, and meaningful relationship; but, you (and i) are not welcome in the core of their sub-cultural world.



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Brian McLaughlin

posted March 17, 2009 at 10:06 am


T (#5) is absolutely correct. It all begins with the adults, primarily the adults in the home. When most adults in the church do not possess a Christian worldview (according to Barna), why should we be surprised that a low number of our students do?
Allow me to be pessimistic for a moment: if mom and dad don’t have a Christian worldview, and if the larger church is failing in this respect, it doesn’t matter how youth ministry “reimagines” itself. Nothing will happen. We are all connected and even the best youth ministry can’t overcome a bad worldview at home.
Now allow me to sound optimistic: But God…thank God that He sends the Holy Spirit who CAN and DOES change lives one student at a time. If youth pastors would stop worrying about methods and the latest reimagining and see their calling to disciple youth and their parents one on one, the Holy Spirit will work and will change lives.



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marko

posted March 17, 2009 at 10:53 am


btw, you DO know that’s not the real cover, with that giant “marko”, right? :)



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Pamela

posted March 17, 2009 at 11:27 am


Perhaps 25% is a good number. About what we could expect from the population at large. If you aim for 100%, you may get a lot of acquiesences that mean nothing.
The old cliche still holds: “God has no grandchildren.” Stop beating yourselves up and gladly take in those who see some value in the Message.



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jon

posted March 17, 2009 at 11:57 am


Having read YM 3.0, I have to say that I agree with the vast majority of the book, and think the shift to affinity is a huge window into youth culture today. I do have one disagreement(?), though. In my brief experience working with youth, and having been recently a part of the university system, I do not see the need for affinity in later adolescence nearly as strong as in middle adolescence.
So i would disagree with marko in #9 with my own experience (though I may not be typical). For me, the university system was a chance to integrate into adult society, to change my peer network (and hence target of affinity). As a result, while Scot might begin in a different world, a truly great professor (and I had several) is student-focused enough to integrate students into mature adulthood.
Maybe you are in a different world, but you don’t have to be.
Primer question: if we live in different worlds from the youth we lead (which is obvious), can we only be a guide? or can we somehow become an incarnate version of God’s love in their world? How does the subterranean youth culture influence incarnational living? Marko argues that we cannot enter their world because they will never let us in. Do we settle for meeting arrangements in no-man’s land? Bring them into our world? Train some of them in our world and set them free to incarnate in theirs?
Why must we allow a generational disparity? Because it’s hard?



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Kathy Khang

posted March 17, 2009 at 12:15 pm


#9 Marko,
I’m hoping you’re still reading the thread…
I appreciated your response to Scot’s questions, and it has me wondering…what then helps folks on the outer fringes be more effective in our ministry to and with this splintered underground youth culture (great description)? And when we are invited to take a step closer, what words of caution and encouragement would you give us?



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Joseph

posted March 17, 2009 at 12:20 pm


This is a good discussion. I host a ?god?-party of young adults, ages 23 to about 27, with a whole range of beliefs from unchurched Christians to agnostic or atheist and everything in between. They are indeed looking for authentic affinity.
I was fascinated by Marko?s comments about the underground youth culture. I am 57, and hang with a bunch of 20-something and early 30s grad students on the university campus. I go with them to a lot of indy or underground type clubs ? oddly enough, I have felt accepted into their subculture, but perhaps only on a superficial level. I?ll buy the book.



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jon

posted March 17, 2009 at 12:21 pm


Joseph #16 another book worth checking out regarding the underground youth culture is Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers by Chap Clark.



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Barb

posted March 17, 2009 at 1:02 pm


I suggest that we invite Chap Clark into the discussion.



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Kacie

posted March 17, 2009 at 1:12 pm


The first question you asked the youth pastor has a discouraging answer, but it doesn’t surprise me.
Maybe this exposes my cynicism, but the fact that we estimate that 25% of the youth are spiritually mature probably reflects the fast that around 25% of their parents are spiritually mature. Our churches are filled with a wide spectrum of spiritual maturity, and often are cursed with a shallow, compartmentalized faith. Our youth reflect their parents.
This is not a bad thing necessarily, after all, we want to draw all people into the church, not just those that have their act together. That is why that 75% is our challenge – these children that have entered the church with their parents can be introduced to a deeper, more mature faith by leaders who care and can teach them well.
However, if you want youth to mature, the BEST thing to do is to raise them with mature parents who seek the Lord with all of their hearts. Secondly – surround them with a community that seeks the Lord.
And also – it is true that adoloescence has lengthened, and spiritual maturity follows.



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Barb

posted March 17, 2009 at 1:30 pm


Kacie @20 I agree that youth reflect their parents. My focus is on the 75%–that don’t have that kind of home. That’s why I believe that “all kids are my kids.” and I’m trying to get others in my local church to buy into it to–it really takes all of us to raise up our youth and communicate the truth. but it is a hard sell.



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Janet

posted March 17, 2009 at 1:52 pm


I agree that parents are where it starts–which is why a youth ministry, to be effective, could use systems thinking and work with parents, as well. Those “community kids” could have a better chance if there was an effort to reach out and envelop their parents, both to Christ and support as they raise their kids in this unfamiliar culture.
In reference to #2, rites of passage, Catholics have first communion, the Jews have bar and bat mitzvahs, and Protestants have…? Conversion? “Church kids” have figured that out. Baptism? Perhaps, if youth groups were to teach about it. Becoming members of their church? As my 16 year old says,”Why do I need to do that? What does that do for me?” Abstinence ring cermonies? That might work for some, for a while. Really, what in their culture could be used to compel them to choose and live out like a belonging to Jesus and His people?



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Kacie

posted March 17, 2009 at 6:45 pm


#22 – Janet
My mom intentionally planned out a ceremony for each of the six kids in our family when we turned 13. When we turned 12 she worked with us to come up with “12 Tasks” that would be customized to us that we would work on throughout the year. Each task had a focus – physical, emotional, academic, creative… and attempted to develop our maturity in that area.
At the end of the year on our 13th birthday we had a big party (which we didn’t normally have for our birthdays) and my parents gave us a special gift, celebrating our entry into adulthood.
I’m sure mom got it from Dobson or someone like that, but it was a good idea that intentionally brought handing us some responsibility for our own decisions at that point.



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marko

posted March 17, 2009 at 7:25 pm


kathy khang (15) asked:
what then helps folks on the outer fringes be more effective in our ministry to and with this splintered underground youth culture (great description)? And when we are invited to take a step closer, what words of caution and encouragement would you give us?
well, read the book! :)
seriously, jon (18) is right: chap clark’s book, “hurt”, delves into this question of how the “underground” or hidden youth culture came to be, and how we can connect with teenagers. he goes into substantially more detail about this than i do in my book (in fact, i both reference him a few times, and he provided critical feedback on my manuscript).
a few comments:
- first, don’t assume that because there are problems with youth ministry, and that our “results” (i struggle with that word) aren’t what we’ve hoped for, that i think all youth ministry is bad. there are great things happening in youth ministries all over the place. my primary contention is that youth culture has shifted, and we haven’t shifted our values or approaches in response.
- as for connecting… well, the values of small and slow, communional and missional, are key to what i’m proposing. there is still plenty of opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with teenagers (particularly when we work within the natural “affinities” and social networks they live in). really, in some ways, this is a return to the incarnational impulses of some of the earliest youth workers (especially those early para-church youth workers), and a move away from the big program, entertainment mindset that has so dominated youth ministry for the last few decades.



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Jennifer

posted March 18, 2009 at 9:18 am


In reference to the rites of passage…
I think rites of passage are something that Youth Ministry needs to look deeper into. Either in providing those passages ourselves for our youth, or in encouraging and helping parents to create a rite of passage for their own children.
In looking at postmodern generations, there are many more undefined absolutes on today’s moral compass. There is more of a focus on feelings and what feel’s “right.” With feelings, responsibility is not the top priority. So in addressing this, I think that through rites of passage, or even just more of an emphasis on providing places where youth can step up and take responsibility that we can help shape our youth in positive ways moving them through adolescence to adult hood.
One last thing that I would add would be that from what I have experienced, in my own experience with Youth Ministry and what I have heard from others, is the lack of pushing youth to really think for themselves and “chew their own food” so to speak. If we blend everything up for our youth, and don’t allow them to chew their food, then our youth most likely won’t learn how to make decisions on their own and create their own foundations on their own thinking.



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Jim

posted March 18, 2009 at 9:42 am


Well said Marko. I think the question regarding results (how many youth grow up to be church going Christians) suggests that youth ministers are the fundamental determiner of their faith journey. We may be thinking too highly of ourselves. Don’t get me wrong. I think the youth minister can be one of the most powerful influencers in the life of a teen, however, just because we want this, we need to remember that we are not the only or THE greatest influence. We need to respect the life of the young person as multi-influenced and they are powerful to choose who leads them. The problem of young people not continuing in faith is not just the youth ministers concern but a commentary on our society at large and the capacity of the young person to find other options. Again, Marko, you are on it. We need to be so tuned into what culture is doing, what they are thinking/feelling/deciding and be wisely nimble to move with them and speak the Good News in ways they can hang on to (via identity, autonomy and affinity’s).



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