If youth ministry doesnt mean anything to young people, they’ll find something else that does

Its just great that we have a youth group for our teenagers!

Oh isnt it lovely that young people come to the church every now and then!

We had 100 young people at our youth event last month, isnt God moving! 

As a Diocese our youth ministry team are putting together a great strategy! 

These are all statements I am hearing more and more, in churches, with other youth workers. And if they’re not said, its also the implication of the presentations of success of youth ministry in photos on social media, gatherings of people.

What seems to be talked about and valued is that ‘As youth ministers, we have managed to arrange for young people to occupy a space’  

And as Youth Ministers, Clergy, Diocese/affiliation/conference organisers – The faces, or silouetted gatherings of young people become hot property for sharing and emphasising.

Youth Ministry clearly means something to us as professionals, leaders and church leaders. We are rightly proud of the ministry we have, like parents at the parents evening or end of term certificate evening, we want to show off what has been achieved. And gathering young people into spaces, ensures that, in the expectations of keeping young people safe/diverted/away from the sins of the world – we have also succeeded. (Youth Ministry has an underlying aim of safety, Pete Ward, 1996)

The Question is;

Do young people find the same meaning in youth ministry?

They might not know it, as young people, but as Humans generally we find meaning in things that provide the following:

  1. Purpose – our lives have to have purpose, eg getting a job, raising family, buying a home, being successful
  2. Value and Justification – our lives must be in some way in accordance with a moral standard, and we can present ourselves as a good person, (often we’ll re narrate past events to assert that we have acted morally)
  3. Efficacy – This is where we have the capacity to achieve something, to make something happen, to be in control of that achievement, to contribute to society, a community
  4. Self-Worth – This could be in the achievement of something, the feedback of something, and having a stable sense of self which is evidenced by stories of others and their admiration of us.  (Jocelyn Bryan 2016, p62, based on Baumeister, Wilson)

We might find meaning in youth ministry, but looking at this list- where might young people?  Critically if young people dont find meaning in the practices of the church they are likely to decide to leave.

I wonder, when we plan for activities with young people in churches, residentials, camps, events (if its in that direction) or developing groups, activities, emerging church with young people – it is imperative that these spaces young people find meaning. If at least one of the aspects above isnt there, they’re likely to leave.

We should create practices of ministry with young people that give young people a sense of life meaning, including helping their self worth, their purpose, their ability to ‘do’ things and also their value. It must mean something for young people, mean something more than them turning up and playing games and hearing someone or watching someone. If this isnt possible in the kind of spaces that can be photographed, then maybe the need for photographing young people in these spaces is to be reduced to concentrate on places of healthy meaning making with young people.

Shall we try in youth ministry to create places of welcome, ministries that mean something, churches and organisations that enable young people to have purpose, Value, self worth and also creative space to develop ideas that give them possibility to transform society.

Would that not be a pretty dynamic youth ministry? Might it scare the church, scare society that young persons could be given this kind of space, and opportunity.

Youth Ministry practices have to be places where young people themselves find meaning in it. The danger is that if it is only viewed as a form of entertainment, then an alternative will easily be found that its bigger and better. It has to mean something to them more than this.

Can youth ministry be judged on how it created opportunities for life meaning, where young people felt self worth, where they participated and contributed and where they were valued.

Of course there’s plenty of situations where this happens, but if the life of discipleship doesnt mean something to young people, that they find identity and pluasible faith (Shepherd 2016) that has practices of meaning. Then theyll find it elsewhere, from the football team that makes them captain, or the vlogger who identifies with them. Theyll worship something else that gives them meaning.

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