By now, everyone has heard about the latest Pew Research.
— Pew Research Religion (@PewReligion) May 13, 2015
Last Fall, I stood up at The Summit and presented complimentary data.
“Youth Group” Reaches Few
Programmatic “youth group” reaches 5%-10% of any given student population.
But, in many churches, youth group is accepted as 100% of what the church formally does to reach teenagers.Anything else that happens is ancillary, at best, sometimes viewed as competing with the “real” youth ministry at the church.
40+ Years of Data on Youth Group Returns
While the youth ministry tribe generally refuses to do so, you can look at 40+ years of youth group data and come to an educated conclusion– youth group, in it’s current iteration, will continue reaching fewer and fewer teenagers.
After generations of investment… investment largely backed by good will and not data… most reasonable people have come to accept that youth group, as we know it today, isn’t going to reach a theologically appropriate number of middle and high schoolers going forward.
The answer to reaching more teenagers can’t be “Just keep going, go harder, be faithful and this strategy will work eventually.”
Less Money, Not More
I feel like the town crier on this. I guarantee you that thousands of people will look at new data from Pew and try to use the data as a justification that their youth group needs more investment. We need better facilities, we need another staff member, we need a new stage or a band or lights or whatever.
Since the 1980’s the church in America has invested billions and billions of (tax free) dollars to rapidly expand facilities and staff at local churches.
And what’s the result? We’re reaching fewer than ever. Why? That’s for smarter people to debate, I’m sure there are lots f reasons, the video above outlines a couple of things I think.
But I do know that when the U.S. church is compared to places in the developing world where the church is growing that there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of money spent and the number of people reached: The more money you spend on buildings and staff, the less people you reach.
To Americans this seems counter-intuitive, but this is the trend nonetheless.
U.S. churches have near limitless resources and reach fewer and fewer people.
Many places around the world have no or almost no financial resources and reach more people.
That’s not an indictment on the people doing the ministry. That’s not an indictment on the effort. But it is an indictment on the one-size-fits-all approach.
It. doesn’t. work.
It. never. worked.
Stop. the. insanity.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Don’t mis-read this. I am saying that we need to give up on youth group as the solution to ministering to teenagers at your church.
Absolutely. We need to deal with the fact that youth group is A solution. It’s not THE solution.
Youth group pretty effectively reaches 5%-10% of the communities teenagers. Let’s keep doing it, let’s keep making it better. (Obviously, so much of what I do on a day-to-day basis resources youth group’s around the country.)
I am not saying get rid of youth group or youth ministry is dying or whatever.
But we need to shift our priorities.
Schedule a meeting today and start thinking about how you can activate the adults in your church who already have a natural connection to teenagers outside of youth group to minister to teenagers. Create something that isn’t an invitation to come to a room, sing some songs, listen to a talk, etc. 90% to 95% of teenagers in your community have heard about it and rejected it.
Create something that doesn’t require a staff or a facility.
Create something that any adult can do to minister to a single teenager on their block.
Unleash 100 ideas.
Try something different.
Track your data.
Make decision based on data, not emotions.
Pretty please with sugar on top.
I double dog dare you.
I’m begging you.
Try something else.
You aren’t the problem, you’re the solution.
Allow it. Encourage it. Champion it. Celebrate it.
And then come tell us about it.