Last week Darline brought home a written article dealing with youth ministry in North America- the name of the article is ‘Bucking the Trend.’ She and Wenda read it and immediately brought it to me- with the comment that they had found much confirmation in it regarding what I have been presenting here around the topic of ‘Family Ministry.’
I was very impressed with the research- and was both encouraged and greatly challenged by the findings.
Reaching back to the early 1980’s, and my time in youth ministry in Memphis, there were particular people involved with youth ministry on national and international levels- people who became trusted voices in the field. All these years later I have rediscovered those voices in this article. I share that to simply speak to the whole issue of credibility- first of the people themselves, and secondly of their ministry, and thirdly of their findings.
Some of those names you will be familiar with and others you will not have heard: Carmen Mayell, George Barna (of the Barna Research Group), Josh McDowell, Michael Wilkins, Mike Yaconelli, Paul Gates. There were, of course, many more, but these are the ones who have reappeared via this article.
I will begin this presentation by setting some numbers before you, followed by a conclusion based upon those numbers, followed by a question regarding that conclusion. That question will form the heart of what I am hoping to communicate regarding a basic definition of family ministry.
I should tell you that this article was written in 2003. While these findings would have changed some in the three years since the writing, the basic realities still hold true.
Here is the first finding based upon the research of the Barna Research Group: two out of three teenagers attend a church youth program in a typical month. Here’s what the numbers looked like in 2003- of the 22 million teenagers then, 15 million had some involvement with youth ministry.
On the surface the conclusion was that youth groups across America were bursting at the seams and that fact alone defined success..
But here is the question that must inevitably be brought to the apparent conclusion- “How effective were they?”
Here is a description of a youth service in Southern California. I realise you have to be careful not to stereotype- but in some measure (to one degree or another) this fits much of youth ministry in North America. Also I ask that you understand that in presenting this I am not passing judgement upon it, nor am I calling you to judge it. Its fruit will judge it- and I do not think it is negative nor unhealthy for us to give due attention to that fruit.
Here is the scene: Read from the article ‘Bucking the Trend’.
The youth ministry leaders I listed at the beginning of this presentation summed up this approach to youth ministry in the following way- ‘Here we are now, entertain us.’ This does not mean that they nor I am against the uses of fun and media in reaching youth.
The issue has to do with balance, and the statistics indicate that discipleship is falling way behind entertainment. The fear is- and by the way I have just witnessed this happen in another situation away from our own fellowship- that in our sincere attempt to reach lost teens, we may be in danger of losing those we have already reached.
Carmen Mayell has concluded that “there is a crisis in youth ministry.” He bases that conclusion upon the hard numbers that only 4 percent of the 22 million teens in America consider themselves Evangelical Christians. If you spread that 4 percent over the number of high schools in America, it amounts to 17 kids in the average high school.
The other significant number in this is that an estimated 50 percent of the teenagers currently attending church will not continue to do so when they leave home.
Continuing to look at the numbers, Josh McDowell reports that 39 percent of those teens who are emphatic that they are born again strongly disagree that the Bible is the word of God. 58 percent insist that all faiths teach equally valid truths with Christianity- and 91 percent are emphatic that there is no absolute truth.
McDowell’s conclusion is (and it is sobering and calls for serious attention) that- “As the body of Christ, we have failed our young people- and if we do not reverse this, we will lose not only this generation, but many generations to come.” The only thought I would add to this is that it is not just the body of Christ who has failed our teens- it is also and primarily the home and family.
Michael Wilkins has taught theology for twenty years, and reports that with each new year the incoming freshmen arrive at his class with less and less basic Bible knowledge- until now most can’t recite the books of the New Testament. The exceptions to this are the students arriving from home school and Christian school situations.
His conclusion is that “not only are the churches generally less Bible content-oriented with the whole seeker movement, but that this has filtered down to the youth ministries trying to compete with our entertainment-oriented culture.”
Consider the following findings of Mike Yaconelli. ‘The entertainment emphasis within youth ministry is the result of American churches having adopted secular values- including a value on numbers. But it’s a serious mistake to evaluate the effectiveness of an event by the number of people who show up.
Using entertainment to draw kids is good if all you’re concerned about is getting a bunch of kids to show up. The question is: ‘Where are they going to be five years from now- and what kind of faith are they going to have?’
Let me make this as clear as I can; Bruce, Anne, Chris, and I have been meeting (and let me add that others have been imputing into the mix), and have been picking our way through what seemed to be endless pages of information in our attempt to build what is now called ‘Family Ministry of KCF’. That building process is on going and is far from completion- but the heart or core of the mission is expressed in the question I just related to you: ‘Where are they going to be five years from now; and what kind of faith are they going to have?
To rightly answer that question we are shooting for an ever deepening, discipling relationship with our youth- beginning with the nursery and following on through college and university. This will not be done in replacement of the family but in conjunction with a full family involvement- where such is possible.
Returning to the comments of Yaconelli, it is his position that the only way to reverse the present trend in youth ministry is to go counter-cultural to the secular values.
I want to close this out with some facts which very much support the core conviction I have regarding young people- that conviction being, give them something to die for and they will live committed lives in relation to that value.
Josh McDowell has developed a new campaign called- ‘Beyond Belief.’ At the core of this is the insistence that good and lengthy relationships with adults are key to developing Christian commitment among teenagers. With his material and in his seminars he assist parents in what he calls a two-pronged approach; one prong is relationship, and the second prong is apologetics- which he puts together as ‘relational apologetics.’
At core, apologetics means ‘in defence of’- the ability to defend by affectively arguing your position. What I see in McDowell’s comment is that the one really critical component in a young person’s ability to defend his or her faith position is the relational values that have been apart of that young person’s life.
Before leaving this I want to state that despite some very obvious issues to be overcome and dealt with, there is also some real signs which give rise to hope. Since 1998, Mayell has been hosting what he calls- ‘Strength for the Task Conferences.’ The very intentional mission of the conferences is to equip young people with training in the Bible, training in evangelism, and apologetics. This many years later the results are pointing to the effectiveness of the conferences in getting kids to daily spend time in Bible study, in prayer and in sharing their faith.
His whole strategy is to move the young people away from a consumerist mentality to a service mentality- around the words of the apostle Paul in 2Corithians 5- ‘We are Christ’s ambassadors.’
His view is that the church has spent too much time telling young people what they cannot or should not do- while failing to communicate the incredible mission, the life demanding assignment God has for them right now. We need to tell them that there is not a position they will ever hold in their lifetime- there is no multinational corporation anywhere that can challenge them with a greater opportunity then being a representative of the Living God.
I think we need to rethink the easy position that young people are not interested in commitment- a conclusion that shifts responsibility away from us. Could it be that the far greater issue is that we have failed to present them with a gospel- with a reality of Christianity- that calls for, insist upon, and demands a total commitment- one hundred percent participation.
My personal view is that until we have something to die for- we have nothing to live for. I am convinced that this core reality lives somewhere within the soul of every young person, and that everything we condemn and judge in the behaviour of youth is in fact an evidence of that desperate search to find that one reality worthy of committing their whole life to.
The bottom line is this: We can no longer present Christianity the way we have done for the past fifty years, where the focus has been on presenting evidence to show that Christianity is credibly true. Today we must also show that it is relationally relevant because young people will not develop a conviction that something is true until they live it out in their experience.
In light of this, the number one thing parents and youth pastors must do if they want teens to accept Christianity is to build a loving connection- a real life relationship, because the truth we present will not so much as be heard apart from the reality of the relationship we have with them. Biblical truth without life-relationship leads to rejection in today’s youth.