Youth ministry has been known to pioneer new and effective forms of ministry that also influence the rest of the church. But that trend, in some churches, has largely reversed.

Some youth ministries (and children’s ministries) try to mimic the form, methodologies and styles found in adult church, aka “Big Church.”

That’s a switch from youth ministry’s earlier years, upon which I also reported in Group magazine beginning in the ‘70s. During that era, youth workers (predominantly volunteers) frequently experimented with approaches to ministry in order to effectively reach kids. And some of those things, because they were effective and successful, were observed and admired by the larger church, and eventually adopted. For example, the use of guitars, drums and contemporary music in general began in youth ministry and then were adopted in adult church.

But now we see youth ministry weekly gatherings attempt to imitate what goes on at 11 a.m. on Sunday in adult church. It’s the familiar formula of half sing-along and half lecture. The youth pastor delivers a prepared monolog and the kids are expected to sit still and listen. Even though they’re not wired to learn or retain much from this approach.

In children’s ministry, some churches model “children’s church” after Big Church. Line up the spectators in neat rows, and put on a stage presentation. Even though they’d gain much more from being fully involved in active participation.

It’s a worrisome trend, especially because many of the methodologies employed in adult church are producing lackluster spiritual results.

What’s the goal?

It’s time for youth ministry and children’s ministry to step back and re-examine their purpose, mission and focus. Some suggestions:

  1. Know your audience. Start with their characteristics in mind.
  2. Honestly ask what really works to influence them.
  3. Know your ultimate goal. If that goal is something like helping kids grow in a relationship with Jesus, then measure everything you do against that goal.
  4. Do what produces actual spiritual results that are linked to your goal.
  5. Innovate. Try some new things. Just because you haven’t seen it done in Big Church . . . well, that’s probably a good thing.
  6. Lead the way. There’s good precedence for looking for inspiration from ministries with the young:   “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 18:2-4)

Youth and children’s ministries can–and should–be a refreshing gift to the entire church.