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I am stating 5 problems that may be transpiring in the youth ministry world.

5 Problems American Youth Ministry Is Experiencing

I am stating 5 problems that may be transpiring in the youth ministry world.  I am not claiming to have the answers, I am merely laying out my observations.  It is my goal to identify the problems, so I can begin to clarify solutions.

1.  Weak Youth Ministry Ecclesiology

Many youth pastors  have a difficult time connecting, participating, and assimilating into the church body.  Our students dislike the big church feel– for multiple reasons.  The church and youth ministry must be fused together. It is pointless to do youth ministry in isolation of the church. Somehow our youth ministries must play very well with the “big” church.  Value the church and  intentionally work with the church in order to make students fully devoted followers of Jesus.  Our youth ministries must fit the larger vision and mission of the church body.

2.  Limited teaching on other world religions

It is becoming more and more common for students to have friends of different religions.  For example, Islam is rapidly evangelizing the world and it is growing at a fast pace.  Islamic influence is slowly starting to saturate American culture.  Our students need to know how to talk about other religions.  It is unproductive when our students start talking down about other religions.  Especially when they are uninformed.  It is not good when it becomes  “us” vs. “them”.  Focus on the similarities and become more ecumenical.  I see more youth ministries teaching students the fundamentals of other religions while also educating how to respect and admire them.  You may find it odd when you realize that you don’t know much about the other religions.  I found myself having to read a lot of the other holy books.

3.  The Gospel(Sin, Redemption, Jesus, Cross, Freedom, Forgiveness)  is extremely foreign to youth culture

This is a problem, but I think it is a major advantage.  When the gospel becomes normative, it becomes comfortable and popular.  Oscar Wilde stated:  Everything popular is wrong.  Jesus was not popular and didn’t  preach an easy-feel good message.  He actually stated the exact opposite.  The pearly gates are very narrow.  Getting kids to acknowledge they are screwed up and that Jesus restores life; is really an unique message that they will not hear anywhere else in their life.  The difficulty is “persuading” kids why Jesus matters and that He is the only way.  I am finding more and more that students don’t have a basic understanding of who Jesus is and what He is really about.  It is a bummer, but cool at the same time.  I think this is why the gospel right here and now is very powerful and counter-cultural.    

4.  Hurried Evangelism

Youth ministries are excited to get kids saved.  However the transition from evangelism to discipleship is tough.  My good friend Dan Haugh says it well:  It starts with many-many intentional Jesus conversations before the conversion.  What if youth pastors started with discipleship?  What if youth ministry totally skipped evangelism as the 1st step?  I think if we can educate and get our students to experience God before they accept Jesus, they will most likely latch onto their faith in a more deep and real way.  The students will be able to test drive the car and know what they are getting themselves into before they sign on the dotted line.  I am arguing that discipleship is the new evangelism.  Please don’t misinterpret me.  I still strongly believe in evangelism. I think it should appear later in the game.  In the gospels, Jesus never asked His disciples to believe in Him right away as the 1st step.  He only required them to follow Him.  Essentially experiencing and knowing God can possibly produce a student who wants to deeply and fully desire and believe in God.  Granted our youth ministries may be a little bit smaller…but deeper.

5.  Youth pastors are not teaching students how to critical think

It is so easy to teach students what to think and teach them the “principles”.  Coaching students how to think is a difficult task because they need to swing to extremes in order to develop a healthy worldview.  Youth pastors need to feel really encouraged when a well churched student says:  I cannot feel God and I don’t believe in Him anymore.  Youth pastors should not freak out, but rather help the student ask the right questions.  There is not a better time to provide a support and structure than in mid to late teenage years.  If youth pastors can build a supportive structure in their youth ministry programming, then students will open up and feel safe to say what nobody else is willing to share.  The sooner we can get students to doubt and question their faith, the more sustainable their faith will be.

What other problems are youth ministries experiencing? I want to hear what other struggles youth pastors are encountering….

About Jeremy Zach

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

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  1. JZ. Good thoughts.

    Here’s my rant:

    Churches, in general, have embraced the cultural separation of teenager and adult instead of dominating it. Sure teenagers are different and developing social interaction with peers is incredibly crucial at that age, but come on…

    Is discipling teenagers really that different than discipling adults? Do we really need an entirely seperate paradigm?

    Can teens totally fit into the discipleship process of the larger church?
    If they can’t, isn’t one of the processes broken?
    Can’t teens be part of an adult small group?
    Any of the points listed above for youth ministry are equally true for the adults in today’s society, so why not just “fix” them both at the same time?

    • @Adam-
      I like your rant. I think you are on to something.
      Why the compartmentalization between adult and student discipleship?

      I am curious about comparing and contrasting how each generation views/does discipleship? What are the generational distinctive? It seems to me students are beginning to feel more comfortable living in “tension” than their parents.
      It seems like there are generational patterns of how certain generations embrace, disown, and forget ideology:

      the 1st generation Learns the idea
      the 2nd generation Applies the idea
      the 3rd generation Forgets the idea
      the 4th generation Rejects the idea

      To me it seems like there is a mix message between generations. The baby boomers are evangelism focused while this student generation has forgotten about it and focusing on serving/questioning/doubting.
      If we mixed the student and parent generation, I wonder if it would be helpful? or counter-productive?

      In all honesty, I think it would be very helpful and really help the adults see where their kids are at and the kids see where the adults are at. They each have an unique idea on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. These perspectives are not right or wrong, but different.

      • there is also the difference in experiences between a teen and a an adult. not many teens experience what adults experience

  2. I’m going to keep this short.
    As a teenager, I like this alot.
    I especially like 4 & 5.

  3. I totally agree with your points. Things I’ve noticed myself from being a volunteer in youth ministry and watching youth ministry from the outsider perspective.

    To Josh: While short, it’s great you comment. I think the best source and perspective on youth ministry comes from you guys (teens). You guys are living it, us “old guys” (I’m only 26… still young right?) can observe, pray, seek and remember when… but you guys are living it here and now.

  4. Jeremy.

    Great thoughts here man.

    @Adam, I like the direction you are going. However, I think the answer to your question “is there any difference between discipling students and adults?” – I would answer absolutely. We have to keep in mind the limited ability that younger students (particularly 10-14 yr olds) have to process things. They do not have the capacity to think in abstract terms about the world around them – everything is concrete and first person. So, we have to find ways of communicating mystery, tension, responsibility and inability, etc. to them. We are translating a gospel and a God in their language so that they might understand it. So, I think that we do need somewhat distinct paradigms.

    Now, I think we definitely, as you have so well put, embraced the separation between adults and students. We need to work better at created more space for intergenerational worship and discipleship. Great thoughts. Are you doing this? Any tips on how my ministry might do it better?


    this is a solid list of things I would LOVE to collaboratively work at. I’m stoked to see where you go with it. thanks for putting it out there.

  5. Some good thoughts here. Some of mine:

    1. I agree with what you’re saying under the ecclessiology heading, but just to be a little nit picky: I don’t think it’s a problem of having a weak ecclessiology as much as it is about having trouble implementing or executing it and figuring out how it works best in our context/culture. I agree that the way most churches are doing it is weak.

    4. Would you agree that evangelism is the first step of discipleship? Kinda the same way of saying what you’re saying just with a different twist.

  6. @Jon
    I would love to hear your thoughts/observations.

    1. I would agree with that. What should be a priority– Ecclessiology? or contextualization?

    4. Yeah I think evangelism is the 1st step to discipleship. Make a student talk about Jesus causes him/her to ask the question of: do i really believe this?

  7. Ecclessiology should be prioirty. The stronger our understanding, maybe the more accuriately we can carry it out?

  8. I like this a lot. Number 1 is right on and I can see what @Tim is saying as well.

    A benefit I have currently at my church is that my Sr. Pastor has had and currently has teenagers in our youth program. So he is passionate about integrating the generations just as I am which makes #1 a little easier for me.

    The problem is when your Sr. Pastor is an older person who doesn’t remember what it means it be a teenager or even parent one. I’ve been in a church setting like that before and it definitely makes integrating more of a challenge.

    I think another answer could be having a “Youth Guy” play a role in the college/young adult ministry. I have involvement in this and it makes the transition easier for students as they move into “big church”.

    #3 is also right on. You said, “The difficulty is persuading kids why Jesus matters and that He is the only way”. That is so true and when we get into the mindset (not that you are) that we have to persuade students, then that is when I think we all water down the gospel so it is more appealing to them and they will buy in. We have to tell more jokes and dance around wildly or show a cool video clip. While these can be good at times, getting too creative can minimize the power of Christ.

    In some ways, we need to present the Truth to them, but not be boring either. Have the scripture come alive and speak passionately about it. If the Lord moves them to accept it, great.

    Sorry for the longer comment – just my thoughts. Again, great thoughts here.

  9. great comments so far from all… but i would straddle it between time and expectations… we are often asking a lot of young students (thanks @jonwasson) in a short amount of time… think about it for many of us that labored under certain ideals and procedures as youth (if you grew up in or out of the church) and compare that to the explosive tendency of your last 5-6 years… i know personally that the last 5 years have been as nearly formative as the first 20 but the foundation to “launch from” was necessary for the recent excursion ad dialogue… great thoughts jeremy and co. let’s keep this going!

  10. Love this. Great thoughts

  11. Jeremy – Really cool post. I’m gonna tweet a link to it. I really like all your points but #2 and #5 really resonate with me. I think those are both really important aspects for a student ministry to have so that it can have a “lasting” affect on our students.

  12. Chap said he loved it so what do you need me to do. :) I think your thought about the limit teaching about other religions is huge. I’m tired of the argument about counterfit money where they say you don’t need to recognize fake money but just to know real money so well you can tell when something isn’t real. I guess my hope is that we would be able to expose them to what many of their friends believe and do it in a way that allows them to affirm their friends and love them while somehow being able to relate to where they are at. The days of teaching students to “argue” someone to heaven are over. I’m done with any Evidence that Demands a Verdict. I just want to teach about how to Love people. (I also want to do it and not just say it)

  13. I am not a youth pastor, but a long time youth worker and bible teacher. I am 58 yrs young and have been involved in youth ministry since my teens. (campus life – campus crusade, etc.) What I have observed over the years is cutural differences and not doctrinal differences. The older church generations have become afraid of what they see in youth ministries today. The music and vidio generation, reminds them of my generation (early fifties) and the rebelion that came along with those changes. What has been lost (at least to me) is the memory that every generation that comes along will bring with it it’s own brand of culture. What I have found over the years (that has worked) is to get inside that generation’s ideals and patiently but purposely redirect them toward Christ and His Gospel (biblical ideals) and bring them to real life thinking about the consequences of their thoughts and actions. Just remember – sin is sin and no matter how it is packaged, it will still have the same result if left unchallenged. Just remember how Jesus approached the woman at the well – He challenged her life style and offered her something better!

  14. Jeremy,
    Excellent post, I can definitely concur. I think it all begins with #1. When up to 85% of Christian teens leave their faith by 2nd yr in college, that tells me by separating the youth from the rest of the church we are in fact setting them up for failure. If all we do is cater a program around what will keep them coming back it’s no wonder they grow weary of “church”. They’ve never learned how to function in a local church.

    Rather than entertaining teens, we should be engaging them in real life discussions and placing the same expectation to “be the church” that we place on the adults. God never seemed to care how old someone was, and there are plenty of examples in Scripture of young people responding to the call of God and changing the world. There is no Jr Holy Spirit, only our jr standards and expectations.

    I wonder what would happen if we were more intentional about not only getting students involved in small groups but actually training and releasing them to be small group leaders before going off to college.

    Oh wait, I know a few of them and guess what? They’re still in love with Jesus and leading small groups in college=)

  15. Hey Jeremy,
    I’m greatly enjoying learning from your posts. As a new youth minister beginning a new ministry, I have found them to be very helpful.

    In reference to your 5th point: how do you best encourage kids to critically think for themselves. I’m still learning how to do this myself (growing up in church and accepting everything at face value without digging deeper). Many of the kids God has put in my path are un-churched, so I feel like this is a great opportunity to teach them to be critically thinking Christians….I just need guidance of how to best do that.

  16. Hi Jeremy,
    I really like this post, thank you. I had a question about how can I deal with one of my youth who is having a hard time with his walk.. No matter what I or anyone else in the ministry do to help encourage him, he is always negative, always plays the victim
    And isolates himself from
    Everyone in our youth ministry… I want to call a

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