A word of caution: this might end up being a gigantic brain-dump!
A few weeks ago I was listening to the Simply Youth Ministry Podcast and heard an interesting comment. At some point Josh Griffin, one of the podcasters, said he had read that parenting styles tend to gravitate toward the “middle ground.” His explanation was that we tend to parent our oldest as though they are slightly younger than their age and our youngest as though they are slightly older than they really are.
It was an interesting thought, and he wondered about its implications in youth ministry. Do we treat our oldest students as though they were younger and vise versa? I have to say that, at least in my ministry and experience, we do.
It has been my experience, both in my own ministry and others, that there is a struggle when it comes to attracting (read: connecting and engaging) older high schoolers. I know in my own ministry, it is comprised mostly of sophomores and lower. I think that is because we tend to design and target our ministries at the 15 and under crowd.
So, why do we do this? I think there are a couple reasons:
It’s all we know. Most of us have grown up on what Mark Oestreicher would call the “Youth Ministry 2.0” model. In short, YM 2.0 is a big programs, big groups, big games, big building ministry model that “worked” for a few decades in the 70’s 80’s and part of the 90’s. There is more to it than that, but the one-size-fits-all “youth church” idea with its sermons, games and goofiness designed to attract every youth in the church and community is very much a product of YM 2.0.
Most youth workers have grown up in a ministry like that. If we went to school for youth ministry, then we probably got an education that was based at least partly on YM 2.0 principles. Basically, we don’t really know anything else.
It’s easy. We know this style, we’ve lived this in our days in a youth ministry and are comfortable with it. When we do youth ministry, we do what we know. It is so much easier to do things like they’ve “always been done.”
To be perfectly honest, this also takes the pressure off of the teachers. If you think about it, most kids are going to think youth group was great if the snacks and games were good, but the lesson was only so-so. I think that, deep down, we know this and are, sadly, kind of ok with it.
It’s safe. Most youth ministries won’t collapse under a system like this. It is this fact that will impede change. It is safer to stay the same than to risk change. Especially if things are “working”, even if not as well as they could or should be.
Just because a a ministry won’t collapse doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. I can’t ever remember dreaming of having a ministry that “won’t collapse.” Somehow, I feel like when I meet Jesus and give an account of my ministry, I think “It didn’t collapse” is going to be a good report.
There is much more to it than just that, but I’ll save that for a later date. I’m hoping to post a follow up to this with some thoughts on how to get out of this situation in the near future, so stay tuned.