There is something about teenagers that every youth worker needs to realize. This is going to happen to 100% of the students in every ministry. It is never a major surprise when it happens but often times it is tragic.
They get to old to attend youth programs.
The typical youth ministry does a pretty bad job of preparing teenagers for this, which is one of the major contributing factors to one of the most embarrassing statistics attached to youth ministry; the percentage of graduates that remain in the church. (I believe there are several contributing factors to this, not just this one)
What has been the typical response when this inevitable event occurs? If your church counts weekend attendance using more than 3 zeros you transition them on to the 18-24 year old program. If not, we either send them off to “big church” not expecting to ever see them again or we make them a volunteer leader in the youth ministry. Any of these, especially in smaller churches, have minimal rates of success (typically) and sometimes produce more problems.
I have been working with teenagers for 15 years, and my personal track record does not beat the average of how many of those former youth group members are actively living for and serving God. Here are a few hard questions we need to ask ourselves:
Does relationship end at the same time as their program attendance?
The core message of the Bible is relationship; with God, with other Christians, and with the world. Even guys I have personally discipled for years I hardly ever (or never) talk to after graduation. Yes, there is a list of excuses, not to mention the list of new students that come in as the old ones graduate, but I am embarrassed to admit how bad I am at keeping in touch.
Ultimately it is not MY relationship with them that matters most, but their relationship with God. If all we have done in our four to six years with them is attaching their faith to our programs we are setting them up for failure. They need to know how to grow in their faith on their own, not just at church.
What is my real goal for them?
Is the goal of youth ministry behavior modification? For a lot of parents, church boards, and even youth workers it is. I realize how bad that sounds, but if we feel successful based on how many students are in the church’s graduating class, and how many of those are still virgins and/or don’t have a criminal record then it probably is.
Our goal for them needs to be spiritual transformation. Programs can certainly aid in that goal, but they are just a means to this goal, not the goal itself. A lot of what I see in the youth ministry world is program ideas. I need some more spiritual transformation ideas. I know how to entertain students, I am still trying to figure out more ways I can aid God in transforming them from His creation to His child. How can I help them move God from just savior to actually being their Lord? From trying so hard to blend into the world to sharing God’s heart and wanting to change the world?
Every student that I meet is going to get too old to attend our youth ministry. I don’t want to be a part of setting them up for failure any longer. Are you with me? What are some of your “spiritual transformation” ideas?