“Adam, why are you always assuming that the cup is half empty?”
Youth workers say this to me over coffee. Their lives are run wild with activities, planning, teaching, and meetings. Their ministries are full and something I’ve said has called that busyness into question.
My response, not trying to be trite, is “Oh no, I’m not saying the cup is half empty, I’m saying the cup is 95% empty.”
Again and again I’ve challenged folks to do the math for themselves. Most people can do it in their head. You don’t need a scientist to measure impact if you know basic facts about your community.
- How many students are in middle & high school in your community? How many students attend a youth ministry in your community? Divide. Probably less than 10% of the eligible population. (If you factor in students who attend youth group by choice… this number dramatically falls, doesn’t it?)
- How many years has the current model of youth ministry been impacting your community? 20, 30, 40 years? How much have churches grown as a result? At best, church attendance has flatlined over the past 20 years, likely declined compared to 30 or 40 years ago.
- You might be able to point to a couple of exceptional examples. (Communities of great impact or individuals greatly impacted) But for the amount of effort, amount of investment, in most communities the impact is pretty small.
My point is not to tear youth ministry down down. It’s to rebuild. We can’t think about the future until we can make a sober assessment of what our tribe has accomplished.
It’s not that the wrong people are in youth ministry, it’s not that they are uneducated, don’t care, are lazy, or even under-resourced. I actually think the frustration, the quitting, angst, and the burnout we see in youth ministry is because we have the RIGHT people working 24/7 [largely] on WRONG strategies. [More fairly, their current strategy is OK, just limited in impact.]
That’s not tearing down at all, is it?
My point is that the strategies we’ve used to date have a finite impact. We can look at 40 years of history and say “youth group” will impact less than 10% of any given student population. (How much more evidence do you need to see that this is true? 50 years? 100 years?)
The challenge to anyone who will listen is to think about the 95% of un-impacted adolescents in their community and ask themselves, “What are other strategies that might impact these students lives for the sake of the Gospel prevailing?”
That’s not being negative. It’s missiology 101.