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The Key To Church Growth: Allow The Youth To Lead The Church

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From Barna Research Group:
4,000 churches will close this year
Only 1,500 churches will successfully launch (that’s an 80% failure rate)
Only 15% of American churches are growing
Of those that are growing, only 2.3% are growing through conversion. The rest is transfer growth.
Just half of the 200,000 viable churches in America added even 1 new member through conversion last year

Youth Ministry is a crystal ball: Wanna see the church in 20 yrs? Look at youth.

–  Kenda Dean

Q:  Is there a relationship between church growth and youth involvement?
A:  Yes.  Sociologists of religion have found a correlation between church growth and youth involvement that is consistent across different types of churches.  In all these churches, the greater the youth involvement, the greater the church’s growth. Specifically, 58 percent of growing churches said the level of youth involvement was high.

As of late I have been talking with some of my EX youth group students who are in college.  I am always compelled to ask:  “As a graduate of church youth group, what do you think youth ministries can do better in order to get a teenager to be a life-long follower of Jesus?”

My graduated teens would comment:  “the faster I got to lead something in the church, the more comfortable and confident I felt putting my faith in God.  I actually got to practice and test my faith.”

I strongly agree that there is a correlation between church growth and youth involvement in the church.  Granted I am biased…. I love advocating for mid to late adolescents in the church context.  I just think it is cool when a church has a youthful energy and really cares about what the youth and youth pastor really think about how to do church.  Today’s student generation is already ready to take the keys to leading the church.  Reggie Joiner in THINK ORANGE talks about the best way to stimulate and sustain faith in a teen is by giving them a personal ministry.  If we don’t start giving teens areas in and outside of the church to lead now, then they will be leading blindly in 10 years.  So why wait 10 more years? Let’s give them the keys to the church now.

Do you agree or disagree with me? Am I off my rocker?  Why or why not?





About Jeremy Zach

Orange XP3 Specialist | Youth Worker | MDIV | Hot Sauce Addict | Dr. Dre Beats Lover

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  1. Great post J Z. A church that does this well more than likely has created margin for organic moments that can neither be tamed or structured. The leaders in the church see themselves as curators of an apprentice factory where students have space and place to get it wrong, find what works, and be situated on a platform rather than under a ceiling. Here’s to the backwards church that says, “looking for where Jesus is at work in your life has unlimited possibilities.”

  2. Totally agree with you! We shouldn’t treat teens like little children. They are full of talent, potential, abilities, and ideas. We have just named a high school senior to chair the Christian education ministry team at our church. She has already attacked the position with more passion than the past three adults who held the position.

  3. Jeremy, I agree with the whole idea. It’s the how that continues to be a challenge for me. I am figuring out how to give parts of the youth ministry over to students. Embedding them well into the rest of the church has been the uphill boulder for me. Our staff is stretched thin on the ability to train/care/support volunteers, and students require a little more of each than a high capacity adult does. If anyone is finding some creative ways to bridge the gap, I’d love to hear and steal them.

    • Personally I always found it easier to train youth to lead than it was adults. Adults had too much baggage, concerns, and presumptions. So this is why I just trained on the go when students entered leading opportunities i.e. preaching in big church, organize food shelters, teachers for elementary kids, arranging tutoring and babysitting for church kids, help produce videos, etc… Granted the students made a lot of mistakes but I was okay with that because they were learning.

  4. great post! I agree totally. This conversation has been going on for the past few years at my church. I have even tried to push membership from 18 to 16. I think that if a church is to grow, it needs to have teenagers involved at every level. The challenge for churches is that it means more than just a teenager who is a volunteer. We need teenagers to feel like the church is as much theirs as it is their parents.

  5. I totally agree with this; one of my favorite things on a Sunday morning is getting to see our students serving in the life of the ministry, whether it be with little kids, running the tech, or up fronton leading worship for our congregation.

  6. Very interesting statistics and certainly thought provoking…the ‘how’ may indeed be a challenge in some churches however. I’ve certainly found that not all adults feel young people can take on responsibilities. I’ve had to quote Paul’s words to Timothy more than once to convince people to let students participate or even lead…

    • Agreed. Getting students to lead consists of two battles. First persuading senior leadership kids can lead and the second battle is cleaning up the mess after kids start leading. I have just found that kids are so much more open to leading and screwing up than adults. Adults have a hard time letting go but the more they witness the power in a student’s personal ministry and gifts no one will be able to argue with the fact kids can lead.

      In 2 Chronicles an 8 year old boy leads a nation, which leads me to believe 12-19 year teenagers are able to somehow lead in a church.

      When we would do our youth Sundays (basically where kids take over the church) I would have adults intentionally not want to come because they knew it would be “loud” “unproductive” and “rookie league”. They didn’t want to hear a 15 year old talk about the Scriptures.

    • I agree with you 100%. the more youth a pastor has, the greater and larger his congregation will eventually become.

  7. I rarely comment these days, but I LOVE this. I have seen this principle transform lives. Just this last week a girl in our middle school ministry was longing to serve in a position she needs to be a sophomore to be allowed to serve in. You better believe that for the next few years that anticipation and desire…the knowing that she WILL be able to and asked to serve will enhance the trajectory of her faith journey. Because serving is part of the culture of our church and a part of the faith stories of so many (and while some might argue “hey, it is easy to say that when it is already in place!” I would say that I haven’t always been a part of churches that do this…and have had to be a part of the fight to get it moving). I agree that it is logical to assume that these students will take more work to train…but putting in a little bit of extra work in the beginning almost always actually saves a little work in the long-run.

  8. Enjoyed the content of the article. Please check out a similar article ===> Could Your Youth Ministry Use a Spark? http://ow.ly/6uoS1

  9. Jeremy,

    Would you ever allow youth who wouldn’t profess to have any faith at all to lead in church as a way of encouraging them to push and test their beliefs, or do you think that would just be ultimately damaging?

    This is a question I’m wrestling with currently…

    • Tom-

      hmm….. great question. I have and still am wrestling with this question. I side with the idea that one needs to belong before they believe. I would give a non-christian students “behind the scenes” leadership and not actually upfront ministry. I have no problems putting nonChristian students to work. The top leadership positions for unchurch students for me was: announcements, production, video and graphic editing, manual labor, and testimonies.

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