How do we get to Youth Ministry 3.0?

t_9780310668664I’ve been wrestling with the concepts of Marko’s book, Youth Ministry 3.0 for a long time. Actually, before I worked a YS I had been going through a prolonged set of discussions at Romeo saying in a thousand different ways… What I’m doing isn’t working anymore.

The problem was simple. I was trained and experienced at how to do youth ministry a certain way. The entire ministry was built around a youth group night of games, worship, small groups, and a talk. I had seen it work and do incredible things! Even in Romeo we had seen this ministry model draw 40+ students to a church of 120. Lives were changed, kids were discipled, volunteers loved it, on and on. We ran that thing and worked that model like a well-oiled machine. I was well-versed in all the terminology of all the other well-oiled youth ministry systems and had written tons comparing and contrasting the strength of one model over the other. But in the last few years the model tanked. Kids stopped coming. The whole thing became kind of toxic. Instead of re-arranging their schedule to make in on Wednesday night all of a sudden kids were trying to find things to do on  Wednesday night so they could politely bow out. Frustration mounted and I kept saying, “What I’m doing isn’t working anymore.

The crazy thing was my reaction to a YM 2.0 model. My response was always, even to the last day, “I know this works, something is just missing, that’s all.” I would tweak things here, re-emphasize this or that. It was never that the concept was broken. The problem was always either the kids not getting the vision of the model or my model not having the funding/support it needed to succeed. It never really dawned on me that my solution to fixing things was to kill the model and search for a better way to minister to students. My reaction was always to just work harder and to keep trying.

Pray more, blame the parents. Pray more, blame the money. Pray more, blame myself. Pray more, blame the kids busyness. In the end I was royally frustrated and a little angry at God that He had me in a place where I couldn’t fix things.

But as Marko’s book shows, there is a massive shift from what he calls “Youth Ministry 2.0” built around programs and models, towards “Youth Ministry 3.0” where the programmatic approach is, probably though not necessarily, foregone for a draw towards ministries built around affinity. (A super over-simplified analysis, right there!)

My wrestling point right now is pretty simple… how do I help ministries kill what has worked for a generation and open their eyes to a way to reach this generation. My experience in YM 2.0 environments is that they’d be happy running an un-attended YM 2.0 model if that means they don’t have to change things. Youth workers may not like the sacred cows of big church but they have certainly built some sacred cows themselves. (Remember the fury over my articles, “I Kissed Retreats Goodbye?“)

From a national perspective I’m seeing one trend that is scaring me and I don’t want it to be the solution: Killing youth ministry budgets, staffs, and programs. Please tell me that we’re not going to throw the baby out with the bath water? Simply because a model isn’t working doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t minister to adolescents!

What is a more productive outcome than that?

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

9 comments

  1. Hey Adam (I remember you from a class we had through Huntington!)

    For me, we are in the process of moving from an event driven model to one that DOES focus on relationships, time, and connections. We are praying and teaching our leaders and volunteers better listening skills and restructuring THEIR time to make room for students in THEIR lives.

    I constantly through out questions like:

    WHERE are going into the community where our kids are at?
    How do I show students that I do care for them?
    Where do I allow for a kid to wrestle with the “WHO-THAT-THEY-ARE” in the world today?

    Budgets, staff, and buildings are NOT going to go away but CHURCH LEADERS 2.0 (something we NEED to address) need to understand the shift in youth culture (and I would even say American culture in general) and allow for a new paradigm that is NOT driven by numbers but is passionate about community, relationship, questions, messiness, and time together.

  2. Hey Tim, I absolutely remember you from class. Small world. 🙂 I love hearing about what you’re ministry is going through. What was the catalyst for this change?

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  4. I never commented on this when you posted it, but Marko’s link brought me back to it, again.

    It’s interesting, because as someone who graduated from an undergraduate youth ministry in 2006 we were essentially told from the beginning that youth ministry 2.0 didn’t work.

    Most of my class kind of knew deep down that it didn’t work. And then our junior year Soul Searching came out and quantifiable confirmed what we were feeling.

    What’s interesting is how many of my classmates, myself included at time, tend to “default” to a youth ministry 2.0 type mentality even when we’ve never really been taught to do it. I guess part of the reasons is that most of us did an internship at a 2.0 church. There is also the issue that most the adults at church expect a 2.0 style of ministry, some youth as well.

    I’m not sure where I am headed anywhere with all this. I guess I’m saying that even for those of us who are really just starting our professional ministry lives, 2.0 still has quite the hold on us.

    As for your last point about how to move into ym 3.0 without killing youth staff and budgets, I struggle with the same thing. A 2.0 style is very easy to justify financially. We are going to have to get a lot more creative with the way our ministries are evaluated if we are going to prove that youth ministry is “worth the money” in a 3.0 world.

  5. Hey Adam, I posted this over at Marko’s site, so I thought it appropriate to put it here too:)

    I’ve read YM 3.0 and a bunch of reviews as well. Some of what I am seeing troubles me. I loved the book and Marko did a fantastic job of not demonizing or marginalizing those who may disagree with him. That said, here are some of my issues:

    1. Some reviews I have read contain an adversarial undertone that the book does not. (Adam, this isn’t directed at you, but this seemed as good a place as any to discuss this). While many YMs seem ineffective in what they are doing, by what standard are we evaluating that “effectiveness”?

    It seems that we have moved from “nickels and noses” to an altogether different and more arbitrary standard to evaluate effectiveness. It is also fraught with the very same dangers inherent in the numbers game – namely, if a YM doesn’t meet MY definition of effectiveness, then it must be in need of dismantling.

    2. I fear this could be the new “fad” in youth ministry. I don’t mean that in a “Marko is evil and just wants to sell books” kind of way (Marko, if you come out with a YM 3.0 Prayer Journal, “WWYM 3.0 do?” bracelet or bumper sticker, I’ll change my mind), but the new buzz word will be “affinity”. The last thing we need is a new fad in YM.

    3. Adam, you made a statement that seems not to make sense in light of the switch to YM 3.0 and it seems to be a common theme in the reviews I have read.

    You said, “how do I help ministries kill what has worked for a generation and open their eyes to a way to reach this generation. My experience in YM 2.0 environments is that they’d be happy running an un-attended YM 2.0 model if that means they don’t have to change things.”

    While I understand the premise behind that statement it seems to be built upon the same numbers game by which we have evaluated our youth ministries in the past.

    First, I assume by “unattended” you mean “little attended”.

    Second, that seems to run smack-dab into the old way of evaluating YMs.

    4. Finally, as you stated (I paraphrase of course) in the book Marko, there isn’t a one-size fits all model for YM. What that means to me is there may be some very effective student ministries which still rely on older methods of ministry.

    I’m thinking of some of the more rural churches where culture has not changed quite as fast as it has in places like the East or West coast.

    Those ministries do indeed “need to allow culture to inform contextualization”, but the culture in which they minister is just one more group in the already-splintered youth culture and YM 3.0 thinking may not be as effective in that setting.

    All that said, I LOVED the book Marko. I am about to kick off our “Dream Team” made up of adults, student leaders and even some not-so-committed-believers in our ministry. The Dream Team will be tasked with two things:

    1. The students will be tasked with teaching my leaders and I.

    – What don’t we understand about youth culture?

    – What are some ways we are “missing the boat”?

    – How can we more effectively contextualize what we do to meet the needs of their culture?

    2. The group as a whole is tasked with listening to God’s voice and figuring out how to go where He wants us to go.

    Thanks Marko!

  6. Hey Brian- long time no see!

    Understand that I use hyperbole as a device a lot. Like you said, that statement simply means that people will gladly run a ministry that isn’t as effective as it could be.

    Is it about numbers? Yes and no. I think that there is a numbers component… even in a YM 3.0 world I think numbers are an indicator of health in ministry. I am pretty confident that a ministry that reaches 4-5 kids isn’t very effective. Wheras, that same youth worker may find an affinity group to minister to and reach 100.

    I dunno, I don’t claim to be an expert at all!

    As far as the hype around Marko’s book. All he is doing is reposting blog posts that people are organically posting. I don’t think that’s really hype. It’s not like he’s paying people to do it. It seems like its a book worth talking about.

  7. I know numbers will always be an indicator of overall health. I was simply suggesting that judging the effectiveness of a ministry by numbers is not acurate at times. My current YM is about as large as my previous one, but we are nowhere near as effective as I would like to be…yet:)

    I’m excited about the book…just don’t want it to catch on as a fad, but rather would like to see it go way beyond that into more of a lifestyle. Fads are dangerous. They may be great things, but the next great thing pops up and something that deserved more attention or may have needed more time to bear fruit is quickly discarded.

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