Growing in our craft often means thinking about our craft. That’s what the MPC Youth leadership team have started doing this year. This term we have met to consider youth ministry by reading Mike McGarry’s book ‘A biblical theology of youth ministry: teenagers in the life of the church’. Parents: I’d recommend giving it a read! (You can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Biblical-Theology-Youth-Ministry/dp/1614840962)
In this last training session, we considered the landscape of modern youth ministry (Chapter 1 of the book). McGarry argues that there are three foundational and interrelated problems facing youth ministry: (1) Drop out rate, (2) youth culture, and (3) fragmentation between youth ministry, the family, and the church. You get a picture of that below:
McGarry begins by dropping a bombshell! 66% of teens drop out of church between the ages of 18-22. That’s as if two-thirds of MPC Youth disappear from our church in the next 5 years. It’s a crazy statistic, one which reveals something of the issues facing youth ministry in the West. What’s the solution? McGarry starts to argue for the thesis of his book, saying: “While many churches are tempted to remedy this tragedy with more attractive programs…a wiser approach would be to empower the parents and strengthen the homes in which today’s teenagers are being raised”. McGarry thinks that ‘youth ministry’ is not the whole answer… Interesting!
McGarry then moves to the second problem facing youth ministry: youth culture. In this section, the case is made that our youth are heavily influenced by the powerful companies, brands, and marketing of the world around them. They are kinda like the test ‘guinea-pigs’ of our society and its cultural norms. If you want to normalise a particular idea in a culture, market the idea to youth and then watch it become acceptable across the generations. In other words, youth culture makes its way into the home (and then influences the parents) and into the church (and then influences the church leadership). McGarry states: “The younger generation undeniably hold to less biblical views on doctrinal and lifestyle issues than their elders. But they have not come up with these ideas in a vacuum. Recognising the religious views of parents and other adult influencers on youth culture is vital”.
Finally, McGarry then focuses on the church. He argues that youth ministry is often fragmented from the family-home and the broader church gathering. On the ground, this looks like churches who create ministries that are silo’d from the Sunday gathering or other generations all-together (Think: ‘Youth Church’ ‘Kids Church’ ‘Young Adults Church’). This means that when teenagers finish youth group, they often leave the church all-together as they have not been integrated relationally into the broader Sunday gathering or community. But it’s not just the way churches structure ministry, it’s also the way churches support parents and the home. McGarry argues that churches often “call parents to disciple their children while not providing the resources and partnerships necessary to fulfil this duty”. The problem is a lack of support for parents from the wider-church and church leadership.
These are three big problems. As a leadership team, we felt a bit defeated. But, McGarry left us with a challenge: he urged churches to ask the question “Are we doing this [i.e. youth ministry] right?” and to seek answers through a biblical and theological study of God’s word. So that’s what we’re going to do in the next little while as a ministry team. Please pray for us!