The History of YTH Ministry: From The Jesus MOvement (1967-1978) to the Modern Industry Age of YTH Ministry (2000-Present) - Part 2/2

 Let’s take a look at YTH ministry from The Jesus Movement of the late1960’s into the late-1970’s all the way up to the Modern Industry Age of YTH ministry today.

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The Jesus Movement (1967-1978)

Time Magazine had these words to say as they covered this historic revolution:

“Wanted: Jesus Christ. Alias: the messiah, the son of god, king of kings, lord of lords, prince of peace, etc. Notorious leader of an underground liberation movement, wanted for the following charges: Practicing medicine, winemaking and food distribution without a license. Interfering with businessmen in the temple. Associating with known criminals, radicals, subversives, prostitutes and street people. Claiming to have the authority to make people into God's children. His appearance is typical of the hippie type—long hair, beard, robe, and sandals.

 Jesus is alive and well and living in the radical spiritual fervor of a growing number of young Americans who have proclaimed an extraordinary religious revolution in his name. Their message: the Bible is true, miracles happen, God really did so love the world that he gave it his only begotten son.

 Christian coffeehouses have opened in many cities, signaling their faith even in their names: The Way Word in Greenwich Village, the Catacombs in Seattle, I Am in Spokane. A strip joint has been converted to a ‘Christian nightclub’ in San Antonio. Communal ‘Christian houses’ are multiplying like loaves and fishes for youngsters hungry for homes, many reaching out to the troubled with round-the-clock telephone hot lines. Bibles abound: whether the cherished, fur-covered King James Version or scruffy, back-pocket paperbacks, they are invariably well-thumbed and often memorized. ‘It’s like a glacier,’ says ‘Jesus-Rock’ Singer Larry Norman, 24. ‘It’s growing and there’s no stopping it.’”

-June 21, 1971 Time Magazine cover article


In the late 1960's, in San Francisco, California, the Bay area would see an awakening that stirred the West and ultimately the rest of the country. And to most historians, its affects were known globally also. We call it The Jesus Movement. A grass-roots awakening which started a cultural phenomenon that influenced a wave of young people into the church. And with this wave came an increasing need to disciple these young converts. Because of the increasing numbers of young people, many churches and organizations began placing more emphasis upon YTH than ever before.

In his book called The Jesus Movement in America, Edward Plowman, himself raised in the movement, recalls the beginnings of this nation-shifting phenomenon.

“When the first Christian coffeehouse in Haight-Ashbury opened in 1967, street Christian workers did not have to argue for the existence of the supernatural. Most street people already knew that the supernatural was a real realm and that they were soulish beings somehow related to it. From 1967 on, ever increasing numbers of the lost turned to Christ for the answer. And it was their psychedelic drugs that paved the way.

Through drugs I discovered that spiritual phenomena I was experiencing was an ever present reality influencing all men. And the meaning and purpose of life that came from Christianity was the perfect setup for a generation of young people who couldn’t find it in the drug and hippie culture.”  

Given this radical revolution of Christianity upon our nation, what most American Christian teenagers have lacked is a true revival of undeniable affect upon America in their lifetime. The Jesus Movement was the latest. And it may be something teenagers today may have only heard of if they happen to be church-goers.

 Marked by music, concerts, outdoor festivals, gatherings, and house meetings, The Jesus Movement took Christianity public like the early days of the Great Awakenings. Coming off the beaches and out of bars were the next great leaders of the church and society. Whether that was Pastor Chuck Smith of the Calvary Chapels nation-wide, musicians like Randy Stonehill and or, government leaders and business owners of Fortune 500 companies, the revolution changed America because it changed the people of America.

And this shift would begin to take place in this next movement.


The Mega-Church Movement (1982-present)

About the time the Millennials were being born, another powerful wave of YTH ministry rushed across our nation. It was stirred by a growing number of mega-churches with full-time YTH ministry teams that placed a major emphasis upon the middle school, high school, and university campus. About 20 years before the turn of the century, in the 1980's, the mega-church and these YTH leaders would stir a generation of young people to take their faith to the public schools and transform the way YTH ministry was done in the Church.

In the early days of the mega-church movement there were criticisms. They ranged from their weakness in discipleship, the message of the gospel was watered-down, and it was all programming. There were arguments that the setting was too organized and polished. And that all mega-churches taught a materialistic gospel and were led by pastors who lived in big houses and flew around the country in private jets. I’ve always felt that these generalist statements were unfounded descriptions.

I thought these were unfounded descriptions because I was in one of these top ten fastest growing churches and knew many of the other young leaders in the other mega-churches. We were as concerned about theology as we were strategy. And we spent more time emphasizing presence than programs. Sure, there had to be a level of administration. But that was still second to the presence of the Holy Spirit.

According to The Washington Post, in a February 2018 article, here are some of the characteristic traits of YTH ministry in these churches:

1.      It takes a lot of organization and administration to pull off a weekend of services or a YTH event for a few hundred teenagers

2.      Because of the kind of effort it takes to lead at that level, the leaders were a mix of charisma and corporate competencies, as well as, anointed and able spiritual leaders

3.      These churches had community capital and were often quite involved in the social setting where they were located

4.      There were generally a lot of resources available in the mega-church and this allowed for a variety of programs both internally and externally

5.      And the nation took notice of these congregations of thousands that were impacting their cities with the gospel. Many of them involved in government, education, and the community.

6.      Finally, these larger churches had multiple staff – including YTH leaders who were specialized at daycare, pre-school, children’s ministry, YTH ministry, and university or young adult programming.

One of the key influences of these mega-churches was the emphasis upon the school campus and building the relationship of the church and the school. This was never more realized than the most prominent movement within the church as the 21st century was about to start.


See You At The Pole (1990-present)

In 1962-1964 an initiative was launched to remove praying and mandatory Bible reading from our public schools. Of course, no one wants a mandatory religious prayer or reading. We would never be able to settle on that form anyway. One thing that was not accounted for in this initiative many years ago, however, was that you cannot remove praying students and Bible reading students from our public schools. And this is no different today. Because coming to a campus near you was one of the modern day Awakenings that would leave its mark on America in a significant way.

It really began about 30 years ago in a public school outside of Dallas, TX.

You cannot legislate religion in or out of our schools. Because there are so many campus missionaries (students) who have taken their faith public. I believe this generation of campus missionaries is going to lead The Next Great Awakening in America from the school campus and become another grassroots movement that shapes the history of YTH ministry.

Organized by a young middle school girl and her youth group in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, the annual prayer meeting called See You At The Pole (SYATP), has been one of the largest prayer meetings in the history of the world. More than 7 million students will pray world-wide every Fall around the flag poles of their schools. And about 4.5 million will pray every Fall around their flag poles in America. That cannot be legislated.

And this SYATP movement has placed an important focus upon YTH ministry in the public school setting helping students to take their faith to a neutral site outside of the Church. We must not allow those who have initiated the discussion of ultimately taking prayer out of schools to succeed. Our involvement with SYATP is the proof of that because there are moments in everyone's life that require commitment. I believe SYATP is just such a moment for this generation – will I or won’t I go public with my faith?

What this movement did was re-birth the para-church organizations and blow the wind back into their sails. Buoyed by an army of campus missionaries, there were bible clubs and prayer groups meeting in public schools across the nation. And it was as if the 1962-1964 efforts of Madalyn Murray O’Hair were never felt because of the national emphasis of YTH ministry on the school campus. And this mega-church and para-church movement gave way to the next powerful influence in YTH ministry in America.


The Industry Age of YTH Ministry (2000-2020)

This is a unique time in American YTH ministry. It really doesn’t look much like any other era. Depending upon your approach and the kind or type of church you are in, this modern era of YTH ministry is a highly productive one in most settings. I use the term Industry for a reason. Let’s look at the definition of this word and how I am using it for this next era in YTH ministry:

i n d u s t r y  |

1 a: manufacturing activity as a whole (the nation's industry). b: a distinct group of productive or profit-making enterprises (the banking industry). c: a department or branch of a craft, art, business, or manufacturing. d: systematic labor especially for some useful purpose or the creation of something of value.

2: diligence in an employment or pursuit or habitual effort

3: work devoted to the study of a particular subject or author (the Shakespeare industry)

When you look at that definition you can see a picture of YTH ministry today. Put all of these definitions together and you get something like this: “An activity or group production of a specific department or branch, with a useful purpose that creates value through diligence and habitual efforts toward a particular subject or author.” I mean. The only thing that is missing is unique names for the YTH group, YTH events, and the sale of YTH merch!

Here are a few positive and negative trends in the characteristic traits of this modern industry-type YTH ministry:

·       Modern industry-YTH ministry has a unique name, culture, and identity separate from the church (there is a growing movement of YTH groups that have adopted the whole church name into the YTH ID, but, not everyone has made that move)

·       Today’s industry-YTH ministry age is heavily built on production and entertainment

·       A high majority of YTH ministries lean mostly to a weekly large group rally mentality and format

·       There has been a loss of evangelism and outreach and an emphasis upon gathering together

·       The average YTH ministry is built around the church campus and getting students to “come” to church rather than emphasizing neutral site events and “being” the church

·       Industry-YTH ministry is divided into age-stage and graded junior and senior high settings and often taking younger teens out of the main church service setting

·       The average YTH leader is more concerned about attendance than even the roster or their school campus and community influence

·       More time is spent organizing and putting on a great YTH service and message series planning than anything else in the weekly administration

·       Industry-YTH ministry heavily promotes leadership development through team-based meetings and external (or internal) conferencing

·       This industry-YTH ministry era is strongly influenced by social media and image projection



Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of characteristic traits and movements in YTH ministry. But, it gives you a look at the most influential revolutions that have shaped what we see today in modern industry-YTH ministry. I know that you will read this list and agree with some of these things, or, you will read this list and disagree with some of these things. What is undeniable is that many things got us to where we are today in YTH ministry. And looking at these things is important.

In my extensive travels the past 6 years, this is as clear a timeline description of where we are in our present industry-YTH ministry setting as I can give. Sure, it is anecdotal. It is not scientific. At least in the data search sense. But, it comes from extensive travel in small, medium, and large churches. And it is based upon the urban, suburban, and rural church model. And knowing where we have come from is a critical step to deciding where we want to be in the next season of YTH ministry.

Jeff Grenell