Today I sat in on part two of Kara Powell’s Sticky Faith seminar based on her book “Sticky Faith: Practical Ideas To Nurture Long-Term Faith In Teenagers” and it got me thinking about my own youth ministry experience as a student growing up. When I was in jr. High and high school my experience of youth ministry was very different from what most youth ministries look like around the country today. Here is a snapshot of my experience of youth ministry as a teenager:
YOUTH MINISTRY OCCURRED ORGANICALLY EVEN BEFORE A FORMAL PROGRAM WAS INTRODUCED. Growing up, my church was not a large church. My church growing up wasn’t even a medium sized church. My church growing up was small! In fact, on our biggest day I think we tapped out at about 150 people. What I remember most about my old church was that it was one big family. We knew everyone in our church. Our friends were all from church. Our families all hung out and took trips together. And I remember learning about Jesus from a variety of different adults in our congregation from all walks of life. Even though we had no formal “youth ministry program” at first, our church welcomed teenagers as a real part of their community. We would go to the adult services with our parents and attend all-church BBQ’s together as one big community. Relational youth ministry naturally occurred because the adults in our congregation knew that it was their responsibility to care for, mentor and disciple the teenagers in the congregation.
YOUTH MINISTRY PROGRAMS NEVER BECAME A SUBSTITUTE FOR BEING ACTIVE IN THE LARGER CHRCH COMMUNITY. Eventually we had a youth program at the church, but these programs (midweeks, bible studies, etc) never became a “para-church within a church”. Teenagers didn’t have separate mission trips from that of the larger church, we just came with the adults on church wide trips. We didn’t have a bunch of separate fellowship events apart from the adults, but instead joined with the larger church to experience everything as one big church family.
In the Sticky Faith study, Kara and her team discovered that about 40-50% of youth group attending teenagers end up walking away from the faith after they graduate high school (click here for more information). At Sticky Faith, they postulate that perhaps one reason students leave the church after high school is because they were never really apart of the larger church, but instead have been segregated from the rest of the church by creating youth ministry programs that separate teenagers from the rest of the congregation. So what does this mean for our current youth ministry programs? Does this mean that we need to abandon current youth ministry models/programs or stop doing youth ministry all together? I don’t think so at all…BUT…I do think that as youth workers we need to find ways to build an intergenerational model into our church’s DNA. Here are some practice ideas:
1) Have an adult men’s small group at your church invite the 6th grade guys over for a BBQ one night.
2) Ask your women’s ministry leader to sponsor a “Girl’s Night Out” event where they invite the high school girls to join them for a fun activity with the other adult woman at your church.
3) Grab a few students from the youth ministry and have them help lead worship on a Sunday morning
4) Create a family event at your church where teenagers and adults can have fun and fellowship together as one big community.
5) At your church’s next men’s retreat, have the adults invite the jr. High or high school guys to come with them and learn/grow together.
What about your church? What simple things could you do to build an intergenerational model into your current youth ministry DNA? Share your ideas in the comments section below!