The Future of YTH Ministry (2/2)

“…the soul of the citizens is so soft that, in the presence of the slightest suggestion of serviture, they feel irritated and can't stand it. And in the end, you know that they no longer care for laws, written or unwritten, so as no longer to have anywhere any master. What is to become of the young people?”

-Plato, The Republic, Book 8

“We live in a decaying age. Young people no longer respect their parents. They are rude and impatient. They frequently inhabit taverns and have no self-control."

(Inscribed on a 6,000-year-old Egyptian tomb)

"What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets, inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?"

(Plato remarks from The Republic, 4th century BC)

"The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint ... As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress."

(Peter the Hermit, 1274 AD)

Historically, every generation has downed youth. There’s a name for it. It’s called ephebiphobia, or, the fear of youth. The negative reports of YTH is widely reported over the years.

It is not easy to predict the future. But the more data and information we have it’s certainly easier. Looking at a long-term view of YTH ministry history can help.

Here’s a quick review of the history of YTH ministry in America:

The Sunday School influence late (1790’s)

Early para-Church Movements (1820’s-1950’s)

Student Volunteer Movement / College campuses (1860’s-1900)

Billy Graham Crusades (1930’s-1980’s)

Jesus Movement (1960’s-1970’s)

Interdenominational Movements / Mega-Church Movement (1980’s-2000’s)

Millennial / Industry Movement (2000-2020)

Classic YTH Ministry

If you look at classic YTH ministry it could be defined as an emphasis upon Evangelism and Disciple-making. There was an emphasis on theology and prayer and outreach. And much of YTH ministry in the classic sense was Presence-based and little emphasis on programming.

I grew up in a YTH ministry in the 1970s that basically included acoustic worship, my YTH pastor preaching to us, and a prayer time at the end. Much of YTH ministry was done this way. However, there was also a major emphasis of small groups in the Sunday School setting. Who could forget their Sunday School days with the seventh grade boys in the basement classroom?!

And frankly, with all of the emphasis, the YTH ministry numbers have not changed in 40 years. I can remember statistics that said there were about 320,000 teenagers in YTH groups in our denomination in America. And today that number has not changed much at all (350,000). That is interesting to me. That no matter the era or the model or the budget or the growth in the number of churches, there really are not that many more students involved in our YTH ministry.

So, looking at YTH ministry today, what does present day Millennial and Gen Z YTH ministry look like?

Millennial/Gen Z YTH Ministry

To look at YTH ministry today in the 21st-century is a different kind of methodology. Although there are many styles and kinds of YTH ministries represented in America, generally, YTH ministry in America today is a gathering and culture building experience. There’s a greater emphasis upon gathering and culture-building than the previous YTH ministry form in the classic setting.

Most of these ministries will be personality driven, have a unique name, include activities such as games and food, and be highly entertaining. This kind of attractional model was not a value in the classic model of YTH ministry. Really, Millennial and Gen Z YTH ministry has become program based and industry minded. It seems more like an emphasis upon meology and personality and culture and leadership than anything else.

So, with that quick review in mind, here are five futurist ethics that I believe must be a part of YTH ministry in the next 25 years, if the Lord tarries.

5 Ethics for the Future of YTH Ministry:

1. Contextual YTH Ethic - We must raise students who would rather be the church and not just go to church. We must get students to understand that they can serve God in the context of their world. That will include their family, their schools, their teams, in the places where they hang out. A missional mindset of every YTH leader must be to be present in the setting of students and teenagers. God is present in all things in and outside of the church building!

2. Neutral-site Ethic - This is where the future of YTH ministry must be more than a gathering. It must take place in neutral-site settings. Similar to the contextual ethic, this ethic will require YTH ministry being in context also. And not just our students. Every YTH leader must become a sociologist and understand culture and subculture. Having YTH services and events outside of the church building will create missional students. This will make YTH ministry more public, after all, 71% of Gen Z would go to church if asked.

3. Diversity Ethic - Gen Z is the largest nonwhite generation in American history. At this point 50% of Gen Z is non-white. That is historical. And this must shape the way we do YTH ministry in the next 25 years. We could be on the verge of re-writing the race relations narrative in the church and ultimately the culture if we continue with this healing and reparations emphasis and trend. It is undeniable. And this diversity narrative must include new language and terms and action.

4. Theology Ethic - Another Gen Z trait that should influence the future of YTH ministry is that only 4% of this generation has a Biblical worldview. Also included in this needed ethic is the fact that Atheism is at its highest percentage than any generation also. It cannot be a very encouraging trend that we have created more atheists than any time in American history. We must see a renewed emphasis on theology in YTH ministry.

5. The Sexuality Ethic - Identity among the Millennial’s and the Gen Z set is confusing at best. I say this because there is so much re-definition going on as it relates to gender. I last counted over 30 gender type names that have been created just in the past few years. It is stunning to see the variety of ways that people define their sexuality. If YTH ministry is going to have a voice in this latest 21st century sexual revolution, we must define a biblical identity for teenagers today. They cannot get their identity definition from culture. Yet, this ethic is not just about identity. It is about purity. And that is going to require practical training to help teenagers protect their principles.

Finally

We cannot deny the impact of YTH ministry on our culture. And it will require all of us doing our part. I would love to hear your thoughts on the future of YTH ministry. Send your comments and let’s see if we can get some more prophetic looks at the future of YTH ministry.

Jeff Grenell