Youth Ministry and the Future of the Church Post 2

Primary Audience – Local Context
Secondary Audience – Fellow youthworkers and Kingdombuilders

If you are new to my blog, I offer a sincere welcome. I am among the many youth pastors that takes this aspect of the Church very seriously. In short, I really believe that the Church is going to have to focus a lot of its efforts to the family, our neighbor’s family and our enemy’s family. Hopefully, I’ll get to some of that later. To summarize the last post, youth ministry must center on discipleship in order for their to be a future church (and of course a present one).

I’m going to lay a few cards down on the table here and list some of my presuppositions:
1. I don’t really know what the future church is going to really look like. And honestly, I don’t really think anyone really, really does but some people get it better than others.
2. I do agree with those that say the mid-size church will be disappearing over the next 50-100 years.
A. Thus we will be left with big churches (more than 1000) and small churches (under 100, but probably much, much smaller).
B. Presumably, there will still be professional youth ministry in the bigger churches and probably one or none professional clergy in the small churches.
C. Both types will need to focus on youth ministry but of course, a different type of one than is happening today.

And here is this post’s main point – Soon, today’s churches will need to focus on the Millennials the way it focused on the Boomers. It’s a bit “Captain Obvious” in some sense, but in another, it isn’t. From where I sit, family ministries in many churches serve as a “service” to attract more Boomers. For a number of reasons, including the decline of the evangelical church, we are going to need to focus on the Millennials for their sake.

Think of it this way, as good preaching (and the worship experience) is to the Boomers, community and identity will be to the Millennials. The Boomer Generation churches were built on good preaching. Guys like Bill Hybels & Rick Warren illustrated this. I know, I know, it was much more than good preaching. Their seeker-sensitive, purpose driven approaches were keys in their ministries’ success. I get it – but they are extremely gifted communicators and I am pretty sure if you put Rick out in South Barrington and Bill out in Lake Forest, you’ll get something like Saddle Creek and Willow Back.

But here’s why churches will no longer be centered on preaching – the digital age has made sermons available to everyone. I am literally listening to Rob Bell right now and boy is he awesome (and Warren and Hybles are only a few clicks away). Further, I don’t need my pastor to preach like him, because I subscribe to him and a few others through iTunes. And even further, i don’t want my pastor to preach like them because imitation is the mother of flattery but the harlot of ingenuineness.  Don’t get me wrong, preaching is always going to be important but even in my lifetime, I have seen that dramatically change (which is a strange comfort to pastors who want to pastor and not just preach and scary thought to pastors who have inferior relational skills but are spectacular speakers).

But where the church is going to need to step it up is the place of creating community. As our culture becomes more secularized, the local church (and not the building) is going to have to create that culture and it will not be able to rely on the once a week Sunday morning worship preaching experience. You know who doesn’t have a once a week Sunday morning worship experience? The youth group. In fact, for many of us, the Sunday school hour is the weakest part of our ministry because it meets at a time when our target audience is barely awake.

Now, what you are about to hear could simply be dismissed as another youth pastor delusion but I am thinking that as time goes on, the youth pastor (family ministries, next-generation) position will be the focus (sorry worship pastors :). This does not mean that the youth pastor is going to have the big office or be on the cover of Christianity Today. But it does mean that the position/job description is going to change which is going to change the entire approach as well.

Here’s what it also means, youth ministry won’t be the “entry level” position for twenty-somethings with goatees and spikey hair. But it won’t be the Warren/Hybles guys either. The “successful” youth pastor will be the facilitator/organizer whose gift is creating community among teenagers. Don’t worry, he/she will speak too but this person is a creator/organizer/facilitator of youth ministry culture. (If you want a quick read, I recommend Doug Pagitt’s Church in the Inventive Age).

The landscape is changing, dramatically but not completely.  For instance, there will always be the “celebrity pastor”, there will always be the best-seller, every corner of every sub-culture will always have the old “it” person and the new “it” person – that’s not what I am talking about. But the need is community and identity, especially among the Millennials. Thus, growing churches are going to be the ones that are serious about ministering to teenagers and children. And the intentionally-minded churches (big and small) are going to pursue this need with creative and brilliant approaches with the similar urgency that it pursued the Boomers.

Feel free to add, disagree, push-back, reframe …


  1. At some point the “church” will come to the place where they recognize the incrdible value of a youth pastor. And, like you, I agree with you on the premise of it being not just an “entry level” position. Youth ministry is one of the few positions in a church where one interacts with all of the different people groups within the church: teens, their parents, church elders, volunteers, other staff, etc. The position has to become a dignified position of recognizing that it is actual ministry and not just a stepping stone from youth ministry to as i’ve heard it said once, the “reguar ministry” in reference to ministry with adults.

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