My Kids Aren’t Your Target Audience

Imagine the freedom of hearing this one phrase.

A parent affirming a youth pastor by saying, “My kids aren’t your target audience. Reach the lost.

What would happen if parents stepped into their role and discipled their teenage children, and at the same time affirmed the church’s youth pastor by saying, “My kids aren’t your target audience. Reach the lost.

Game changer.

G-A-M-E-C-H-A-N-G-E-R

The reason so many youth workers feel like babysitters or cruise directors is that they are regarded as such by many people in the pews. (And sadly, by their bosses and governing boards who see them as a way to attract or keep parents of teenagers.) The attitude is… “Well, we give money to the church which funds this persons salary and the program they run so we should allow the expert to pour into my kid and I’ll just step back, get the most for my money.

This makes some logical sense because its visible. But it is missing the point, missiologically and ecclesiologically.

Modern church youth ministry, as a movement, sprung out of parachurch ministries like Young Life and Youth for Christ in the 1950s-1960s who stepped up to answer the call the church would not… reach lost teenagers. It was primarily a method of evangelism. And it operated well outside of the walls of a church because the methods often used to get students interested in the Gospel freaked churchgoing adults out.

In the 1960s and 1970s churches woke up a bit and started hiring youth workers of their own. (Lots were former YFC and Young Life staff) And all of a sudden the vocation of youth pastor started to shift from something that looked like a missionary to something that looked like a pastor.

As things have morphed over the years many youth ministries focus has shifted from non-church teenagers to almost entirely church kids. Youth ministry has gone from being mostly about evangelism to mostly being about discipling church kids with an evangelism strategy which boils down to, “Bring a friend.

That’s a bad thing! And as I’ve said over and over again… we’re reaching a decreasing amount of the population with this strategy. Some try to dismiss me by claiming I’m just deconstructing. I’m not deconstructing, I’m calling the church to recognize her strategic failure and change!

Personal Example

I’ve always known this to be true. (That my churches job wasn’t to reach my kids, but to reach the lost.) But I suppose economic realities and race make it obvious enough for my dense mind to notice now that we go to a mission-styled church.

I don’t want my church reaching my kids. If I sit in on my churches kids ministry program and it is targeted at my kids I know something is wrong. Why? We’re a mission church in a neighborhood where 75% of the people don’t speak English in their home and even more are not from the U.S.A..

My kids aren’t the reason my staff raises support! I know this and I celebrate it. I’m pleased that my tithe doesn’t help create a ministry paradigm designed to disciple my kids. Why? That’s my job!

Their job is to reach the neighborhood!

Why is acknowledging this important?

  1. It changes my attitude from entitlement to supporting the mission of the church.
  2. It clarifies expectations.

Your Role as Parents

If you are like me, a Christian parent, your role is vital. Deuteronomy 6 is abundantly clear. A life with Jesus isn’t reserved for the temple. You’re to talk about God in all that you do, everywhere you go, and in your own home. You are to impress on your children that your faith is real. If you want your kids to believe in God it is up to you. If you leave it to your church to do you have failed as a parent. (If your church is telling you it is their job tell them they are wrong, they need to hear it.)

Your tithe is an offering to God not a ticket to entitlement to church programs. While it is our role to oversee and make sure that the church is not misappropriating funds– It is hardly an offering to God if it has strings attached to it which stipulate that the church will create programs to entertain and disciple your children.

Imagine

Imagine the freedom it would create to your church staff if you uttered this simple phrase, “My kids aren’t your target audience. Reach the lost.

Go ahead, try it.

By Adam McLane

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

32 comments

  1. Well said Adam! I love the post. Thanks for verbalizing God’s truth in such a way that communicates a clear and accurate view of Youth Ministry.

  2. “Reach the lost, but not at the expense of my kids” seems to be more of what I’ve heard. Parents and other adults are cool with an outreach to non-churched kids until those non-churched kids do something that threatens the safety of a churchy bubble. I’d love to hear “use and help my kids to reach the lost.”

  3. I struggled with this in my previous job. We had a weekly outreach program and a youth group. It was always so hard to find that balance (regarding the use of my time/energy) that would make people within the church happy – and still fulfill my calling. I never did succeeded in making everyone happy. I wish I had been given this exact permission from parents/leaders.

    Now I’m outside the church, working for a parachurch organization, doing ‘in the trenches’ youth ministry and loving every second of it!!

    1. I think you can see my difficulty in writing this post. I knew it’d resonate with youth workers. (It’s preaching to the choir) At issue is our action as parents. That’s why I think it starts with us in how we interact with the churches our own kids are part of. I think it was Ghandi that said, “Be the change you want to see.”

      I’d love it if thousands of parents would go to their church staffs and tell them in love, “My kids are not your target audience. Reach the lost.”

      It can’t be top down, change happens from the bottom up.

  4. Actually I feel as if this is a failure of youth pastors not being brave enough to stand up to parents. But youth ministry is both, reaching the lost AND discipling the saved. Problem is too many don’t use their time wisely enough or they are too lazy to really accomplish what God has called them to. Some saved students don’t have a saved parent at home.

  5. That’s funny, there are plenty of lazy ones out there. Let’s not act like it’s everyone else’s fault shall we? Just calling it like I see it. And yes I am a youth pastor myself.

  6. Thank you for writing this post, Adam. It pretty much just confirms what was said in a conversation this morning between my pastor and I and I’m glad that you are man enough to tackle tough topics like this and do it with both wit and grace. Again, thank you.

  7. OH my word! Love what you said here. I feel like it backs up what I’ve been saying since i became a parent. “Stop having someone else raise your kid.” Step up and be the parent God is calling you to be. And I know he’s calling all parents to teach and live out HIS teachings because that’s why we have children.
    I will one day have the opportunity to say that very thing. I have been working on discipling my now 9-yr. old. at home. If it’s your kid, you are already equipped to do just that. And kids understand WAAAAY more than most parents give them credit for. Talk to them, they understand. Thanks. My child isn’t the church’s target market either.

      1. I think the question (at least more as I’d like to see it) is “what is the target audience” (i.e. lost vs. believers)

  8. Your kids are a part of my target audience. I have never worked with a kid who hasn’t, at some point, at least for a short while, stopped listening to their parents. Part of my job in youth ministry is to be a guy that when those kids stop listening to their parents they might listen to me. I’ve had to play this role countless time, and I’m relatively new to youth ministry and I’m volunteer. It isn’t just kids whose parents fail to parent that leave the church. For various reasons, kids of all backgrounds from time to time choose to walk away. Part of my job is to make sure that your kid isn’t one of them.

    Granted, I don’t want my job to be just to entertain your kids while you do some other churchy thing…but if I’m not reaching your kids, I’m probably not reaching any at all.

      1. I see what you mean. Generally speaking, there’s not a huge gap between what will appeal to your kids and what will appeal to the unchurched kids down the road, at least in my community. The gap (in my world) is between what would be acceptable to you versus what would be acceptable to parents in the community. Of course, I’m getting pressure to make youth activities appropriate for young adults with special needs, so that gives you an idea of what kind of respect youth ministry gets around here.

        1. See, I’m not really talking to church leaders and how to apply what I’m saying. The distinction is that I’m talking about fellow parents. You know the freedom such a thing would create… The real trick is asking Christian parents to verbalize what they believe.

  9. First of all, I agree with your post.

    Though, I would say that those church kids are a part of the target audience, in that we train them to also go and be missionaries to the lost.

  10. Jesus is my target audience. That way He can tell me who to spend time with versus a static model.

    No… really.

  11. I loved reading this post! In fact, as a younger youth pastor, I have become increasingly more frustrated with the current church model found so often in Western culture. In line with Lars, my question is what then is the Church service supposed to operate like? Do we utilize church gatherings to simply reach the lost or to grow and disciple already committed believers? Which takes precedence? With the first, we may win souls but we end up having shallow believers. The latter produces maturing believers that are equipped to reach the lost within their own sphere of influence. I tend to side with the latter. I love the concept of “using teens to reach the lost” and have in fact been more convinced that I am to live my ministry and invite students to do it along side of me. Example, Jesus knew his mission and invited others to join with him, training them to do it but never was derailed when people didn’t join his cause. I guess what I am saying is that I am tired of the expectation that my job is to cater to churched kids who don’t care about reaching the lost just to make their lives happy and healthy more than teaming with those that do care and actually want to make a difference in the Kingdom of God. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    1. @stephen- first and foremost… this post is for parents. It’s backwards thinking to assume that the youth pastor is going to decide “your kids aren’t my target audience.” That’s a quick way to get fired.

      So, if you are a parent it’s simply saying to yourself and then verbalizing to your church… “I got mine, I’d rather you focused your attention on those who aren’t reached.”

      As far as Adam’s comment above… My assumption is that your kids can always talk to the people in their faith community. In our context, we have a church we attend and that’s our church. But our faith community is the group of 8-10 adults who come together every Monday at our house. These people surround my kids with love, pray, and are voices into their life. To put that responsibility on a staff member of the church makes zero sense.

      This isn’t a post I want youth pastors thinking somehow is a magic bullet for them. It’s a personal post for parents (who may be youth pastors) to be reminded… we have a responsibility to raise our own children and help them develop a life with Christ. That’s on us.

  12. Great post Adam! I just had to list it as our (X2J) Top 5 for the week taking the #1 spot. I’ve always appreciated your honesty and forwardness. Sometimes ?”we should expect change to produce discomfort before we see fruit.” Your posts may cause some discomfort for your readers but it’s necessary in order to see fruit. Keep posting what God places in your heart – the truth.

  13. Adam, thanks for the post and thanks for your contribution to the discussion on Greg Stier’s blog about the movie divided- you definitely added to the conversation and from the looks of this post I can see why your thoughts were so well thought out.

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