6 Dangers That MUST Be Addressed To Save Your Youth Group (and a Response)

Part 1 is an excerpt from an article by Justin Lopez at Austin Stone.  Humbly, I offer part 2 as my response.  It reflects what I would do about it if I were still leading a youth ministry and is informed by some of the things we are doing about it in our missional community efforts.

Part 1 – by Justin Lopez

Pastoring and shepherding the younger generation is critical. These teenagers will be the men and women who lead our churches and ministries in the decades ahead. We want these future church leaders to be Gospel-centered, mission-minded, Word-saturated, servant-hearted people, right?

There are dangers facing every youth group, and for the sake of the Church, its flourishing, and the advancement of the Gospel, we must address them.

Here are six common dangers:

  1. Too many youth have a poor understanding of the Gospel and how it applies to their lives.

While many people can explain the Gospel in some way, shape, or form, very few have learned to apply it to their own lives. The result is a religion largely motivated by legalistic rules that leads to guilt and shame when rules are not met or self-righteousness when they are.

Many students also struggle to see themselves as truly broken and in need of a Savior. Others will fall on the side of misunderstanding grace as a license for sin. Underneath it all is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Gospel.

  1. The American consumer mentality has severely skewed the way youth view the church.

Because so much of the emphasis on reaching youth is aimed at getting them in the door and staying there, many are not attracted by Christ, but rather by entertainment or friendships. While this may be effective in initially exposing them to Christ, it cannot be their only experience of Him.

There will inevitably come a day when church will not be focused primarily on their entertainment. For many, this will be a time of disillusionment with the church and one of the reasons so many youth do not remain a part of a church body after they leave home.

  1. Youth are more technologically connected than ever, yet experience more isolation than ever.

While youth may have more “friends” than ever before, they are being conditioned to only have friendships at a superficial level. They live in a world that prioritizes managing and puffing up their image, both online and offline.

As a result, youth have few people, if any, who actually know them truly and deeply and can help them in their walk with the Lord.

  1. There is a tendency to swing the pendulum too far toward either mission or community, neglecting one for the other.

Youth tend to operate in extremes. Depending on their background or whom they follow on Twitter, many youth, full of zeal, will tend to overemphasize either mission/”outreach” or community/”going deep”.

Either bent, if not coupled with the other, will lead to burnout or a “huddle” mentality. The eventual result will be a church that slowly fizzles out.

  1. Youth have a hard time seeing how they personally fit into God’s redemptive story.

Because many youth are new to the faith, they may have not yet seen God use them personally to impact the Kingdom. They see all of the “Christian celebrities” before them and can easily believe the lie that God only uses the more known or trained people with certain skills, passions, and gifts to advance the Gospel.

They feel disqualified, inexperienced or inferior, paralyzing them in life and ministry.

  1. Many youth lack the desire and ability to study and apply the word of God to their lives.

Because it is easier than ever to find teaching and blogs about the Bible, more and more youth do not know how to study the Word for themselves. Some are apathetic because they do not see the Bible as relevant to their life or situation and others see personal study as too difficult and would much rather listen to a podcast or read the latest Christian book or devotional. Personal study of the Word is critical for every believer, including youth.

Part 2 – my response:

To be fair, that is not the end of his article. Justin then goes on to write about a camp (called Switch) pulled together by Austin Stone (in Austin Texas). It is probably an awesome week. Check it out.

My response is fueled somewhat by an observation I’ve made over the years.  When Christian ministry leaders included their own children in their ministries from the time they were little, the kids generally “got it.”  They tended to grow into ministry leaders themselves.  But when parents took a hands off approach and kept their kids separated from their ministries, the child was as likely as not to give up when they grow up.

But here are my short responses to each danger listed:

  1. Too many youth have a poor understanding of the Gospel and how it applies to their lives.

I agree. So while you teach the youth about the gospel, teach the adults in their lives to understand the Gospel, too. Equip the adults in their lives to pass it on. To teach the gospel, I would begin with talking about Jesus and the Balanced Life (Up-In-Out) which reveals a whole in nearly everyone’s life – followed by an explanation of salvation by grace through faith. But a lasting impact requires discipleship. How can you equip the people in your ministry to learn from Jesus how to live like Jesus? How will you equip them to pass that on? If you don’t have good answers to those questions – may the Lord give you no rest until you have good answers!

  1. The American consumer mentality has severely skewed the way youth view the church.

Yep. Consumerism has touched us all. I love the way the Invitation-Challenge matrix brings immediate depth of understanding of that problem. To address it, I would work with the adults who are trying to create the high invitation environment for youth.  Usually they are ready to listen, because it is exhausting trying to create the purely invitational environment.  Encourage he adults in their lives to embrace a lifestyle of Up-In-Out in a “high invitation, high challenge” way and encourage them to include youth on the journey.

  1. Youth are more technologically connected than ever, yet experience more isolation than ever.

Community is formed when we do Up-In-Out together. Engaging in mission (out) while in a community of fellowship and support (in), worship, prayer, and Bible study (up) forms what Alan Hirsch and others call “communitas”. We all know that friendships go deeper when forged under trial. Passion for mission brings the challenge that keeps us open (even desperate) to engage and involve others and aware of our need for one another. Generational differences and divides break down in that environment.

  1. There is a tendency to swing the pendulum too far toward either mission or community, neglecting one for the other.

Yes. Mission or community is a false choice. It is mission AND community. Finding a sustainable rhythm that involves mission (out) and community (in) will help. And I would add to the rhythm a healthy dose of worship, prayer, listening for the Spirit, Bible study, etc., otherwise known us “up”.  And that is not just for youth.

  1. Youth have a hard time seeing how they personally fit into God’s redemptive story.

God’s redemptive story is beautiful to see, but it is not merely to be observed. We are called to live into it ourselves. As youth live into it, they find their place in it. Thank you, Lord that our youth see the emptiness of merely going to church. They instinctively know that there should be more to it than that. Youth groups can help by living into God’s redemptive story together. Families can do the same. Become a family on mission.

  1. Many youth lack the desire and ability to study and apply the word of God to their lives.

Yes. So teach them! Equip them. Read the Bible together.  Pray the scriptures.  Teach them to use good Study Bibles.  I like to teach them to use a little graphical tool called the Learning Circle. That helps us see how God spoke to people in scripture and what they did about it. In the process, it teaches us to recognize it when God is speaking to us though the scriptures and to learn ways to apply it. When we hear Jesus’s word and put it into practice, we grow as disciples.

Last thing: we have done all of these things within the context of missional community, but we encourage our kids to be in church youth groups, too.  We disciple our youth in partnership with others.  That bears much fruit!

Blessings on the journey, and thanks for your insights, Justin.   I hope more people read your stuff.

About Pastor Jesse

I am someone loved by Jesus - a disciple, husband, father, pastor, and engineer. I am passionate about making deeply surrendered disciples of Jesus who are motivated and equipped to make more.
This entry was posted in Discipleship, mission, Missional Community Experience, Prayer and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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