I met Mike Yaconelli "years ago"…more years than I am willing to admit. As I mentioned in my Doctoral Dissertation, Mike was one of the pivotal people in the emergence of what many of us would call "contemporary" youth ministry. Many of the activities, strategies, and tools of the "trade" were invented by a select few…Mike was a pioneer. Mike died a few years back…it was a tragedy because many of us miss him – his personality, humor, humanity, honesty, humility. Mike wrote an article for Youth Worker journal a few years back that I quote below. I would encourage you to read it…it is prophetic not just for youth ministry but for the church as a whole. Could it be that much of contemporary ministry has "little long term impact"? Could it be that the experiment of "church" in the 1970’s through now is a failure because the Kingdom is not being built in hearts and lived out in lives? You be the judge! For now, here’s the article…keep it around!
The Failure of Youth Ministry, Mike Yaconelli
(Originally Published in Youthworker Journal, 2003)
What is the most important function of youth ministry?
A) Introducing young people to Jesus
B) Providing healthy activities
C) Involving young people in service
D) Abstinence pledges
E) Good theological training
Answer: None of the above.
The most important function of youth ministry is longevity. Long-term discipleship.
It’s my contention that the vast majority of youth ministries focus all of their time and energy on the none-of-the-aboves and very little on longevity. How do I know?
Look at the results.
Attend any youth group in this country and notice the “ageing effect.”
Attendance is directly proportional to age. The older the students, the fewer are likely to attend youth group. Typically, there are more freshman than sophomores, more sophomores than juniors, and more juniors than seniors.
I’m sure there are many reasons for this phenomenon. Older students are more likely to work, more likely to have a car, and more likely to be extremely busy. But the real reason is that older students are much more likely to lose interest in Christianity, lose the desire to stay close to Christ, or don’t lose the willingness to pay the price of commitment. In the everyday battle for the souls of the older students, the lure of the secular is just too strong.
Almost every study out there shows that when it comes to moral behavior, there’s no difference between secular and Christian students. They drink as much, screw as much, have oral sex as much, and party as much.
Youth ministry doesn’t have any staying power.
Young people flock to Christian concerts, cheer Jesus at large events, and work on service projects. Unfortunately, it’s not because of Jesus; it’s because they’re young!
The success of youth ministry in this country is an illusion.
Very little youth ministry has a lasting impact on students.
I believe we’re no more effective today reaching young people with the gospel than we’ve ever been. In spite of all the dazzling super stars of youth ministry, the amazing array of YS products, the thousands of youth ministry training events, nothing much has changed.
Following Jesus is hard.
Faith is difficult.
Discipleship requires a huge investment of time. Most of us don’t have the time. Or we chose not to take the time. Or our current models of ministry don’t allow us the time.
So let’s be honest.
Youth ministry as an experiment has failed. If we want to see the church survive, we need to rethink youth ministry.
What does that mean? I don’t have a clue. But my hunch is that if we want to see young people have a faith that lasts, then we have to completely change the way we do youth ministry in America.
I wonder if any of us has the courage to try.