The Youth Ministry Industry

Last week was the Youth Specialties annual conference in Sacramento.  Youth pastors from all across the country convened to talk about what it means to walk with students as they figure out their spirituality.  I didn’t attend, but thousands of others did.

You see, youth ministry is big business.  I get stuff in the mail (in e-mail) almost every day–an add for the latest book on youth ministry methods, a new retreat, or mission trip, or method.  Sometimes they’re selling a video series, or a new way to use secular media to connect with youth, or all kinds of stuff.

It all almost immediately finds its way to my recycle bin.

But it’s got me thinking–youth ministry is a big business!  A lot of people and a lot of organizations have a lot of time and money devoted to the business.  So I’ve been asking myself what it is that keeps this big business alive.

I think we’re looking for easy answers, for quick fixes.  We’re looking for the newest method or program or game that will convince teenagers that it’s “cool” to go to church.  We’re looking for the secret outreach technique (available for only $119.99!) that will result in youth pounding down the doors of our churches.  We’re looking for the easy way to boost attendance, to get the youth committee off of our backs, for any number of things.

I don’t think that youth are fooled, however.  They’re not idiots, and frankly, most of them are not interested in what the church is selling these days.  I don’t think they care so much about crazy games or hip music or applicable dvd lessons or exotic trips.

I think youth ministry, at its best (and I am by no means there…) is much simpler than all of that.  I don’t need a book to tell me that teenagers want what the rest of us want–community.  I don’t need a conference or membership to some organization to know that we live in an increasingly connected world but that all this connectivity has really only led to shallow relationships, and that teenagers want what we all want–meaningful connections.  A place to know and be known.  It doesn’t matter if there are 100 kids or 5 present.  Hip programs can never replace a hamburger at in-n-out.  Huge outreaches can never replace someone interested in their life and their friends.  Great dvd teaching can never replace Bible study and prayer with people they know and trust.  

I am under no illusions that I can single-handedly directly influence the lives of hundreds of teenagers every week.  Maybe other youth pastors can.  But hey–if I build a meaningful relationship with 10 kids, and walk with them as they follow Jesus, then they might do the same with a few of their friends.  Who might do the same with a few of their friends.  That’s discipleship.  It’s simple–it doesn’t require the newest books or methods or programs–just an investment into a person.

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~ by Mike Seawright on October 17, 2008.

One Response to “The Youth Ministry Industry”

  1. Excellent Mike! I just finished my Masters thesis and it was on this very topic. There is lots of conversation going on in the youth ministry world on whether youth ministry as we know it is developing lifelong disciples. I lean towards thinking that it is not. Research shows that youth need 5-10 significant faith nurturing relationships in their lives in order for them to grow into mature Christians. This conversation is vital to the long term health of the church and youth ministry (which go hand and hand). Thanks!

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