Sunday, August 16, 2009

Does Your Church have a Youth Program or a Youth Ministry

I travel a lot in my role as the a church planting catalyst and seminar speaker. This allows me the opportunity to talk to a lot of different people in a number of states about what churches are doing in the area of missions and outreach. I believe these conversations give me a better understanding of the “big picture” of what God is doing across the region than what some pastors might have. Because of my keen interest in passing the faith on to the next generation, I often find myself in discussions with church leaders about the nature of their missions and outreach ministries to teenagers.

Some churches are doing a great job of reaching young people. Other churches are putting forth a lot of effort but not seeing much result. One observation that I have made as I sought to determine why some churches are doing so well in this area while other churches are not, is the difference in whether a church has a youth MINISTRY or a youth PROGRAM. Churches trying to reach young people in any fashion are to be commended. But in my travels I have found that churches with a youth program are not reaching many young people for Christ, while those with a youth ministry are much more effective. What is the difference between a youth program and youth ministry?

A youth program is something that the church sponsors once or twice a week. It begins and ends at a specific time and is very structured in the way it functions. Youth programs often have a small core, mostly of teenagers whose parents are part of the church. That core takes part in the youth program when their schedule permits, but it is not unusual for them to be absent from the program if they have something else going on. They seldom bring their friends to such a program. It is not unusual for teens in youth programs to not be very active in the overall life of the church. Many adults in the church often see the youth program as a drain on the budget but they invest the money anyway in hopes of keeping the parents of the youth from going to a nearby church. A significant number of teens who participate in youth programs will drop out of church during their college years. Many of them will never return.

A youth ministry on the other hand, is quite different than a youth program. A youth ministry emerges from a passion that a church has for reaching young people with the Gospel. While a youth ministry probably does include some structured times, it also includes a lot of impromptu events. Teens and their adult chaperons that are a part of a youth ministry spend a lot of time together. It might be over a hamburger at McDonald’s, or over ice cream at the local ice cream shop, or it might be playing cards or Wii, etc. They know each other, encourage each other and are involved in each other’s lives. Teens that are a part of a youth ministry often come from outside the church and may take part in church without any support from their families. Their adult chaperons look for ways to include these teens in the overall life of the church. The adults in the church see them as a little unruly, but are so excited about the changed lives they see in these teens, that they are committed to helping those teens despite the occasional frustrations the teens bring to the church.

In my experience, churches with youth programs never get much beyond the core group. Churches with youth ministries can hardly find places to put all the teens who respond. Churches with youth programs see these programs as a duty they should fulfill so they can have a church in the future. Churches with youth ministries see them as a natural expression of their faith as they build the church of today.

In my experience, churches with youth programs seldom see unchurched teens come to a life changing experience with Christ. They may see a lot of teens who pray the “sinner’s prayer” at a special function or youth event, but it seldom translates into an actual life change in the lives of teens. Churches with youth ministries see many unchurched teens completely transformed as they turn from the way they were living and find new life in Christ. Interestingly enough, churches with youth programs often have paid staff members and invest larger quantities of money in the programs run by those staff members. Churches with youth ministries may have a paid staff member responsible for reaching teens, but the bulk of the work is done by lots of volunteer workers who often operate on shoe string budgets.

As you consider your own church’s efforts to reach teens for Christ, which do you have, a youth program or a youth ministry? You may not be able to change what has been done in the past, but you can impact what type of youth ministry your church has in the future.


Learn more about reaching young people in Dr. Terry Dorsett's book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church.

15 comments:

  1. I love this, it's so true. It's time invested in our teens, no the money or obligation. I have an obligation to feed and cloth my teens, but I need to invest in their lives in order to make an influenece on them. My life needs to medel what I expect of them. If I invest now, he'll get the pay off later. This takes me to the fact that the children are as important as the teens. I myself would like to see a children's ministry at our church. It's something Ed and I are praying on, being as we both love that ministry. I am so thankful for our 2 local churches that are doing such a wonderful job with teens. I only mention these tow, casue that's what I know about. Our teens are so important to include in the church, they bring such a great and modern point of view on our world and how it affects us. Praise the Lord for those "unruly" teens. Zeb and I jusy got back from Teen Week at Camp Good News, it was the best. those kids heard about the love of God in all different ways and had a great time doing it.

    Thank you Pastor Terry for all you do for our Lord, SN

    ReplyDelete
  2. great article Terry! Have you read Ministry Mutiny by Greg Stier? It's along the same lines. It's not about the programing, but discipling, mentoring, helping our teens find a true and real relationship with God. I believe when they truly experience God and see the change He can make in their lives, then they become on fire, real, dedicated teenagers for the Lord.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Most excellent distinction between a program and a ministry. Well put. If you don't mind, I shall copy and paste the article to use as a handout for pastors. I will of course have your byline duly noted. Thanks for the link.

    ReplyDelete
  4. So true.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Nice article...makes me think.

    ReplyDelete
  6. You are so right on, Well written.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Great distinction Terry, thanks for sharing. I will share what you write with our youth leadership. God is using the minsitry there to encourage and transform other ministries.

    ReplyDelete
  8. You are exactly right. The big picture is that some churches want to see kids in the church but don't want to get into the nitty-gritty of life. These are youth program churches. Thanks again for this great article. I hope more people listen to it. I will be praying for you and your family.

    ReplyDelete
  9. This is very helpful! Our church clearly has a "program" but needs a ministry.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I have seen you in action. And you and your wife are totally immersed in the lives of the teens you minister too. Keep up the great work.

    ReplyDelete
  11. This is very good and your church has proved it works.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I have found that this is not just true of youth ministry, but of children's ministry too.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Looking for practical ways to put some of the principles in this blog post into action? Purchase my book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church. The first part of the book explains why bivocational ministry is biblical, normal and missional. The second part of the book explains how to mobilize the laity to do high level ministry in a team setting with the pastor so that the church can be effective in reaching its community for Christ.
    The book is published by Crossbooks and you can buy the book directly from them at:

    http://www.crossbooks.com/BookStore/BookStoreBookDetails.aspx?bookid=58188

    The book is also available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Nobles.com and a many other online bookstores.
    If you live in Central Vermont, you can purchase a copy at the Faith Community Church in Barre, VT.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I had a discussion with a group the other day about this. They keep trying to "program" their way out of decline. Just not going to work.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Here is the Amazon link for the book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church.
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007QNUN74

    ReplyDelete