The State of YTH Ministry in America (1 of 2)


We are back on the blog grind now that Summer 2018 is over! This week is part 1 and next week is part 2 of a short series on my observation of youth ministry in America.

To start September, I want to review the Summer with a post on the encouraging things that I saw across our nation. The Summer brought me to 9 camps in eight states, speaking with paid and volunteer Youth Pastors and Leaders, representing large and small Churches, and from the urban setting to the rural setting all over America. And those experiences give me an interesting perspective on the health of youth ministry in various contexts.

It is like a university education to see Youth Ministry in so many different settings. One of the most asked questions that I get in my travel is about trends. Or what I see in the Church or in youth culture. This will seem anecdotal (situational and personal), but, I really think there is consistent representative data in these insights also. However un-scientific they may seem.

So, here are 2 noticeable trends in Youth Ministry across America:

A Worship Movement

Teens are raised in a mystical culture. We don’t have to teach students how to worship. They already worship stuff, icons, materialism, others, and self. No, we don’t need to teach teens how to worship - what we need to do is teach teens how to worship God. To switch their worship to their creator.

The strength of worship in a generation is really about idolatry - removing anything that is placed before God. Whether we are talking about Hollywood, athletes, the sexual revolution, meism, or even social media, today's teens are being raised in a sensual culture that has added to their idolatry. The idol of self.

I am watching the worship emphasis in the youth ministry of the Church create a presence-based youth ministry like we saw decades ago. Many youth ministries are shifting back from a solely small group (non-youth service) setting to a presence-based experiential setting. Mostly because of the lack of the presence of God, the moving of the Spirit and His gifts, and the reality that students are already in a classroom setting 35 hours a week in school.

We do not have to fear that production or presence is evil or shallow. Just read the worship scenes in heaven. Pretty spectacular. Musical worship, poems and spoken words, short story, or artistic expressions have added to the mystical or spiritual part of the culture in youth ministry settings. The fine arts gifts and talents of students is at an all-time high. Maybe a little because of competition shows like Idol or Dancing With The Stars, or America’s Got Talent. But mostly because of the dynamics of the manifest presence of God. Finally, watching teens use their gifts in the youth ministry setting is inspirational.   

Here are some things that I have seen: planning series on worship to increase knowledge and remove lids, acoustic worship nights, use of tracking on worship teams that need more excellence or training, stations in worship like writing or quietness, enhanced settings that remove distractions of games, priority and time set aside for elongated worship times, and neutral-site settings where youth ministry takes students off the Church grounds for worship in the community somewhere.

A Diversity Movement

This isn't something that most people would admit. Just listening to the news and the proliferation of disunity and racism and violence and anger, you would think that diversity would NOT be a significant trend in our culture and much less the Church. But, one of the growing traits of this generation has become an emerging force in our culture today.

With the prevailing racism and dissension in America, this younger generation is going to have a say in the future landscape of America as it relates to unity and respect for all.

This is not just about the ETHNIC part of the problem. It is about the ETHICAL part of the problem. And to watch youth ministry across America with its broad diversity and inclusion is very encouraging. I truly believe that Youth Ministry today in the Millennial and the GenZ set has the solution to the problems we are facing. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see a panel of students interviewed by the media and to hear their stories of inclusion and respect and love. The way that I have watched young people work together could be a wind of reconciliation to our nation.

There are so many settings in our country where gracism is exercised over racism. Where unity is more important than punity. And where love is more important than hatred. I do not believe that people are born racist. As a matter of fact, when you see the younger generation and how they exercise play, neighborhood relationships, athletic team participation, working jobs together, and honor among race, you have to wonder when does racism begin. And who is teaching people to hate?

If the media and the angry and hurt adults in our nation could visit the younger generation in their pursuit of ethnical unity and ethical valuation of each other nation-wide, they would be encouraged. It is a diversity movement we must allow to be celebrated so that it can silence the sins of our past!

I know that we have a history of racism and prejudice in our nation. I know that history is still being repeated by too many. And I know that our white privilege is arrogant and sinful. That is clear and without argument. But, could it be that we do not recognize the growing gracism and acceptance and reconciliation in our young people that is crying out to be heard - but quieted by the voices crying racism in our nation?

This racism is being taught in our homes and in our culture by an older generation who simply will not let the past go. And when we are fixated on the hurt and the sins of our past, we all are doomed to repeat them. To deliver them to our children and to culture. After all, we are going to get what we celebrate in our homes and in our culture. Why not take the small steps to celebrate the beautiful diversity of our young people and teenagers?

Why not become the fulfillment to Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech and all of this present day generation be the ‘someday’?

Here are some practical ways to increase diversity in your setting: Simply look at my Instagram over the past three months. My social media has become a clear depiction of the growing diversity in the Church. Look at their respect. See the joy. Hear the laughter. Feel the love. And duplicate that in your social media.

Make sure that the make-up of your leadership team reflects your diversity valuation.

We must also open our circles or tribes or squads and be more inclusive in our friendships. I am watching an intentional and tensional effort about our language and programming that is sensitive to minority groups that exist in the community of your reach.

Foremost in this effort of diversity is for all people to repent of prejudice. And witnessing this several times this Summer was emotionally moving and deeply healing for everyone.

So many other trends in Youth Ministry were noticeable this Summer. But, I have always tried to make these blogs a quick read. So, we will break more trends down next week here on the blog.

Jeff Grenell