What do I see happening in youth ministry? I think this song sums up the conversations I’ve had with youth workers of the last 2-3 years.On Christ the Solid Rock, I Stand All other ground is sinking sand All other ground is sinking sand
Things that have always worked, successes that we could always predict, and stability we could always enjoy are all gone. Kaput. Poof. Vanished.
And so I meet wonderful, wounded, hopeful people and all they can say is, “I’m holding on to Christ, my Rock. But I’m standing in sinking sand. What is going on?”
Conversely— redemptively and mercifully— I run into ministries/individuals/organizations figuring it out and moving forward.
Here’s four common threads I see gaining traction, whether articulated or unarticulated amongst these organizations finding success today.
From transactional relationships to transformative community
I don’t know how else to say it. But I think full-time, paid youth workers are at a disadvantage to their volunteering peers in many ways. Students are sophisticated, savvy, and motive-sensitive. It used to be that being a paid church staff member created instant trust. Now, for a multitude of reasons, being a pastor can be (though not always) a block for students. This was revealed to me in a conversation I had with a recent grad. She said, “There comes a point when you realize that outside of your parents every adult who ‘cares’ about me is paid to care about me.”
People today are looking for long-term, transformative community. In a world where everything changes all the time we instinctively desire stability that is found in long-term community.
From competitive to collaborative
Individuals, organizations, and local ministries who are gaining traction are rejecting the competitive/high-power business-driven models and seeking collaborative relationships. This means anything from churches combining forces to create a community-wide youth ministry to youth ministry organizations putting aside their long-term differences for the sake of working together.
There simply no place (or resources) for a competitive spirit when we are reaching so few people.
From experts to innovators
I don’t foresee us going back to a time when 1000s of people drooled over every word from an expert, writing notes furiously, and trying to wholesale implement their teachings.
It seems almost silly to mention that this is the way it used to be. But this used to be the way it was!
Instead, I see people/organizations/ministries seeking inspiration from experts and contextualizing their learnings to innovate local solutions. Just like the Real Food Movement has people looking from national to local sources of food, youth workers are looking less at national experts and more towards local innovators.
From sound bytes to application
Isn’t it interesting that we have access to every bit of information we could ever want and yet we are reaching fewer people than ever in youth ministry?
I’m not alone in this observation. People who are figuring it out and finding success are walking away from teaching styles which delivered “aha moments” and are focusing their attention on application. That’s not devaluing teaching the Bible. In fact, it’s refusing to just glance over the Bible without holding their ministries accountable for applying what God is teaching them.
It’s no longer about pushing out the Gospel to whomever will listen. It’s about pulling people into the storyline of what God is doing and inviting them to accept their role.
These are ways I’m seeing people find bedrock. What are ways you are seeing this?