A Brief History of Youth Ministry

Editors’ Note: Everyone has an opinion about youth ministry. Parents, pastors, and the youth themselves have expectations and demands that don’t always overlap. But the rash of dire statistics about the ineffectiveness of youth ministry has prompted rethinking in these ranks. So we devote one day per week this month to exploring several issues in youth ministry, including its history, problems, and biblical mandate. The Gospel Coalition thanks Cameron Cole and the leadership team of Rooted: A Theology Conference for Student Ministry for their help in compiling this series. Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama, will host their 2012 conference from August 9 to 11. Speakers Ray Ortlund, Timothy George, and Mary Willson will expound on the conference theme, “Adopted: The Beauty of Grace.”


To read books on youth ministry these days, it is hard not to get the sense that this experiment we call youth ministry in the local church has failed. This perspective is not shocking or new. Mike Yaconelli, founder of Youth Specialties, stated this rather boldly in Youthworker Journalin 2003. According to Lifeway Research, 70 percent of young people will drop out of church after high school, and only 35 percent will return to regular attendance. Christian Smith’s National Study of Youth and Religion found that most American teenagers have a positive view of religion but otherwise do not give it much thought. Kenda Creasy Dean, in her book Almost Christian asserts, “American young people are, theoretically, fine with religious faith—but it does not concern them very much, and it is not durable enough to survive long after they graduate from high school.” This result is far from the intention of most youth ministries. Smith describes the religious outlook of teenagers as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” a far cry from the gospel of Jesus.

To get an idea of where we have come from, let’s turn back the clock more than a half century. Space here only allows the broadest overview, so bear with the generalizations. Back in the 1940s Jim Rayburn began a ministry to reach teens at the local high school, which became Young Life (YL). Their mission—to introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ and to help them grow in their faith—remains to this day. The strategy was and is for caring adults to build genuine friendships with teens and earn the right to be heard with their young friends. At the same time, Youth for Christ (YFC), was holding large rallies in Canada, England, and the United States. YFC also quickly organized a national movement that turned to Bible clubs in the late 50s and 60s, shifting the focus from rallies that emphasized proclamation evangelism to relevant, relational evangelism to unchurched youth.

By the early 70s, churches began to realize the need for specialized ministries to teenagers and began hiring youth pastors. Some of these were former staff members from YL and YFC. With this the church imported the relational strategy of the parachurch movement. During the 70s, youth pastors seeking to reach large numbers of youth for the gospel began to employ a more attractional model. Gatherings with food and live music could draw enormous crowds. Churches found that large, vibrant youth groups drew more families to the church, and, therefore, encouraged more attraction-oriented programs. Later in the decade, this writer watched leaders swallowing live goldfish in both the church youth group and local Young Life club when we brought enough friends to reach an attendance target.

By the 80s the emergence of MTV and a media-driven generation meant church youth ministry became more entertainment-driven than ever. Youth pastors felt the need to feature live bands, video production, and elaborate sound and lighting in order to reach this audience. No longer could a pile of burgers or pizzas draw a crowd. By the end of the decade the youth group meeting was being creatively inspired by MTV and game shows on Nickelodeon. The message had been simplified and shortened to fit the entertainment-saturated youth culture. By the start of the 21st century, we discovered many youth were no longer interested in the show that we put on or the oversimplified message. Christianity was no different from the world around them. Some youth ministries intensified their effort combining massive hype with strong messages that inspired youth but did not translate to everyday life. We realized we were faced with a generation whose faith was unsustainable.

The Result

What happened in all that? First, we moved from parachurch to church-based ministry (though the parachurch continues). In doing so, we segregated youth from the rest of the congregation. Students in many churches no longer engaged with “adult” church and had no place to go once they graduated from high school. They did not benefit from intergenerational relationships but instead were relegated to the youth room.

Second, we incorporated an attractional model that morphed into entertainment-driven ministry. In doing that we bought into the fallacy of “edu-tainment” as a legitimate means of communicating the gospel. Obscuring the gospel has communicated that we have to dress up Jesus to make him cool.

Third, we lost sight of the Great Commission, deciding instead to make converts of many and disciples of few. We concluded that strong biblical teaching and helping students embrace a robust theology was boring (or only relevant to the exceptionally keen) and proverbially shot ourselves in the foot.

Fourth, we created a consumer mentality amongst a generation that did not expect to be challenged at church in ways similar to what they face at school or on sports teams. The frightening truth is that youth ministry books and training events were teaching us to do the exact methods that have failed us. The major shapers of youth ministry nationally were teaching us the latest games and selling us big events with the assumption that we would work some content in there somewhere. In the midst of all this, church leaders and parents came to expect that successful youth ministry is primarily about having fun and attracting large crowds. Those youth pastors in recent decades who were determined to put the Bible at the center of their work faced an uphill battle not only against the prevailing youth culture but against the leadership of the church as well.

The task before us is enormous. We need to change the way we pass the faith to the next generation. Believing in the sufficiency of Scripture, we must turn to the Bible to teach us how to do ministry (rather than just what to teach). Students need gospel-centered ministries grounded in the Word of God.

  • Ashley D

    Thank you for this. I could write an endless comment but it would only end up restating what has already been said here. We should also think again about our adult ministries – youth aren’t the only ones adversely affected by a lack of depth in the church. Adult ministries seem to be increasingly lacking in depth, maybe because the youth groups of ten years ago are now adults. Without gospel-centered adults in the lives of teenagers, good youth ministry isn’t going to be possible.

    • Angela

      Amen and so true. The need for ear-tickling does not have a timer that runs out when we graduate from high-school or college. I grew up in the “fun” youth group and learned theology on my own–outside of the church. I was always bothered internally because my flesh wanted to continue to go to the “cool” group where teachers had good intentions but little depth, but I saw that the small church with little to no hype was turning out more dedicated believers who were quietly sharing their faith and practicing a more Christ-honoring lifestyle with the good heart to boot. Those kids from the small youth group are some of my close friends today and they have steadily and steadfastly served God and the Church as pastors, missionaries and laymen. The record with the “fun” group…well, it was different. Here in Ch-na, my daughter had only one choice for youth group (through the international church)and it was shallow. She didn’t want to go. I didn’t force her to. Now we are helping to develop a youth group for Ch-nese students and fortunately she likes it and is learning. Praise God!

  • paul cummings

    I also wonder aloud if a majority of the problem also stems (as with any ministry-adult,college,childrens,youth…) that because the churches have a specialized ministry for a certain group, that the family leaves it soley in the churches hands.
    I think you’d have a hard time arguing that youth ministry (even as it has been) was a waste of time if families had thought of it as the “icing on the cake” of Discipleship (which they were firmly invested in) as opposed to the entire cake of discipleship for their kids…?

    • Ben

      As a youth pastor for 6 years, this is an idea I’ve had to battle numerous times. Meeting weekly or bi-weekly for an evening at a time is helpful for the youth to grow in their faith, but their greatest influence begins at the home.

  • Dave W

    Paul, I think you are right about the specialized ministry aspect leading to parents relegating discipleship to the church. I would not argue that it has been a waste of time. Yet, I think part of the problem is that we have indeed been the icing on the cake. We like the sweet stuff cause we found that it attracted numbers (made us successful) but statistically we now see that it does not bear lasting fruit. (and I am generalizing here)

    • paul cummings

      I concur my brother. I think another issue with discipleship is the idea that we hear often which is: “I’ve done my time”. We have people who ‘could’ pour into the lives of Children, Youth and College…but when they are asked the response is often “I’ve done my time…my kids are grown now…isn’t that what we pay that pastor to do?” (I’m generalizing too..) So it’s a fight to constantly come back to humble Christlike service within the church…not the consumerist idea of “what can the church do for ME.” Thanks brother.

  • John Carpenter

    Since most of the “youth groups” I’ve seen meet at other times than during the main church service and exists to supplement that main service for the youth, I don’t accept the suggestion that the youth group “segregated youth from the rest of the congregation”. Perhaps the main reason that the youth don’t make the transition into being an adult member of the church has less to do with a deficiency of the youth ministry and more to do with a deficiency in the church as a whole.

    • Phillip

      John, there is a new phenomenon of having a youth service during the sunday morning worship services (children’s church for teenagers). To me, this is a suicidal practice.

      • John Carpenter

        I agree with you. Some of the mega-churches have niche-marketed services for high-school, college, etc, as the main service for that particular group. But I don’t think that is common. So I don’t agree with the contention in the article that youth groups “segregated the youth from the rest of the congregation.” They didn’t do that to me when I was a kid; youth group was on Wednesday night and we went with the rest of the church for Sunday morning. In fact, if it works well, it can be a bridge to the church as a whole. If many kids don’t make it across that bridge, it may be because they don’t like what they find on the other side.

        • Phillip

          Definitely not common. My only worry with that practice is the “try anything you can church” up the street from the mega-church saying if it works for them, it will work for us. I am like you though, my youth ministry taught me the importance of being part of the church. We had our time as a youth ministry, but we were also encourage and challenged to be a part of the corporate worship and other church programming.

        • Stephen Woodard

          John, I agree that the Sunday/Wednesday model is the norm. But I don’t believe that scheduling is the only factor in this. I have been on staff as the youth pastor at my current church for almost 2 years now and without making a single scheduling change, we are still fighting this. The guy I followed made no effort to articulate the value of “Big Church”. The way he presented leadership and styles of music and teaching painted them as people who didn’t understand you. He never said those exact words, but he never corrected them either.

          • John Carpenter

            Hi Stepehen, You’re probably right. But, in some cases, it maybe that it is precisely true that the “big church” doesn’t understand the youth. Or even care. In some cases the youth group is lively and culturally relevant while still presenting the Word forth-rightly. But the main church is still singing hymns only, over-dressed, and the messages are Biblically shallow and irrelevant. My point is that if youth aren’t making the transition from youth group to the church in general, maybe the problem isn’t with the youth group but with the church.

            • Ashley D

              John, I agree that the “big church” can sometimes be part of the problem. But asking the “big church” to change the way they dress or the songs they sing is missing the point. All of us will end up going to a church that doesn’t *perfectly* fit our picture of what we wish the church was like. Either the pastor’s tie is too bright, or he isnt’t wearing one; the quality of the projected videos isn’t good enough, or we hate the distraction… etc. If we constantly tell kids that it’s everyone’s job to change to suit them, then we are teaching them to be idol-makers, and make God into their own image.

              Now, when you start talking “shallow, irrelevant messages,” I don’t care what you’re wearing, that’s always a problem! Amen to that. But the draw into church should be first and foremost the gospel and seeing the gospel lived out amongst the church members – young, old, retired, artsy, hipster, and conservative. It’s the glory of God that can draw such diverse people together, and youth are one of those “diverse” groups. We are told to submit to one another in the church and love one another; we can teach our kids the same by showing them as we include them in the church, thinking of them and their needs while showing them how to think of others needs themselves.

            • John Carpenter

              Hi Ashley,

              I certainly agree with your second paragraph. But don’t you see that if the older generation is really living that out –“thinking of them and their needs” — then that will show in some practical ways. And my point isn’t that they start using a modern translation and singing contemporary songs. But what does their unwillingness to do that suggest about them? Likely that they lack the very mutual submission and love for one another that the younger generation is asked to have. And that lack — not the older music and dress styles, per se — is what puts the younger generation off and so they drop out.

            • Ashley D

              There I think we are in total agreement! The point I was trying to make was that the entire church is called to live Christ-like lives, and youth don’t get a free pass. I think one of the most beautiful things to see is an older person go out of their way to spend time with a teenager. I’ve been a part of a youth ministry where that happened and it was great.

              I would ask, though, why must the changes accommodate only the younger people? The elderly can tend get ignored in these kinds of decisions. I guess the accommodating I have seen only goes one way, to try to attract younger people at the expense of older. I want to be a balancing voice on that issue. :)

              I think the best way to attract younger people to church is to (a) teach the gospel well, (b) let them see their parents or adult friends participating in the life of the church in a constructive way, and (c) not give them the rights at the expense of the responsibilities of being a participant. I.e., change the music if that helps, but challenge them to serve, not just be consumers. It’s the consumer mentality that troubles me, it cheapens the gospel and hurts the very people who “benefit” from it.

              For context – I am 25 and married (no kids). I am in the coveted “youngish-hipster” crowd that everyone seems to want to attract nowadays. I grow tired of churches trying too hard and coming across as being fake, with the ubiquitously trendy websites or pastors with tattoos and horn-rimmed glasses and starbucks coffee. I can deal with hymns and an organ if it means a real church family; I’m not interested in a church that “brands” itself a certain way to bring in one group of people. I want to participate in the family of God, and families are weird. They aren’t trendy. Sometimes they smell and say embarrassing things. But yes, they submit to one another and consider each other’s needs.

  • Phillip

    great insight for sure dave :). As to add to the Family Discipleship model discussion, I believe there has to be a balance. We have to get the parents to see the importance of their roles as the lead “Discipler” and we also have to get the church to realize the importance of Next Generation Ministry (Age 35 and below), “So the next Generation may know Him (Psalm 78).” It is unfortunate that we are fighting a “appeal to the senses war.” It is like the dog in the middle of two people. Each person has their way of calling the dog, one might use a name only, hoping loyalty will win over the other person who has the treat in their hands. Ultimately, we all know the one holding the treat is the world and the culture that is trying to corrupt the minds of society. We are the ones hoping that loyalty to Jesus will shine through and overcome the “treats” of the world. I pray that in our Gospel-Centered youth ministries we are encouraging our students and challenging our students with the idea that the treats of the world are temporary external pleasures, and that love of Christ is everlasting and internal. I feel that youth ministers are scared sometimes to use the “tough words.” Students are seeking truth, stability, and identity more than ever before, and we as youth ministers play an very important role in the forming of that identity.

    Great isight dave, as always!

  • Tobe Hester

    I really enjoyed the article and reminded me of a lot of what I have read in Voddie Bauchem’s “Family Driven Faith”.

    Early in the article he mentioned the idea of there being a “biblical mandate” for “youth ministry”….can someone please explain or guide me to where this is in spripture? I really don’t mean this sarcastically but I do not see the biblical mandate for a seperate “youth ministry” set apart from the church (think sub-culture) Hopefully he will include the biblical mandate and support it with scripture is his follow up articles.

    • John Carpenter

      I’d say, Titus 2, where Paul tell Titus to address four age and sex demographics in the church according to their specific needs: the older men, the older women, the young women and the young men.

      I think the article, while helpful, is a bit historically naive to begin it’s history less than a century ago. The church has throughout it’s history had groups aimed at specific categories of people. The monasteries and convents originally began as sincere and serious young people meeting together to seek God together. Jonathan Edwards, during the Great Awakening, had the youth of his church meet for times of special instruction.

      As for Voddie Bauchem, I’ve seen suggestions that he leans toward the “Family Integrated Church Movement” which I believe is problematic. The FICM should be refuted and resisted.

      • Tobe Hester


        Thank you for taking the time to respond to my question! Full disclosure…I attend a family integrated church where everyone brings in their children to the service. We do not have age-segregated Sunday school or “youth ministry”. We encourage Fathers (especially) and Mothers to teach their children diligently (Deut 6). Our Pastor and Elders support this externally at church and encourage us to internally live out Deut 6 in our homes. Titus 2 is a great chapter for biblical discipleship but I don’t see the connection with a set apart “youth ministry”…how are the older women supposed to disciple the younger women (which is the command Paul is giving Titus to oversee, verse 3-5) if the younger women are in the “B” Wing of the chuch and the older women are in the “A” wing (you get the idea)?

        • John Carpenter

          Hi Tobe,

          You’re comment about Titus 2 simply dismisses, not my point, but the Word of God itself. Obviously, the young women were being dealt with as a distinct group. HOW they did it, I don’t know. Likely, Titus ministered to the older women at one time and then the older women discipled the young women at another. (Frankly your “how are the older women supposed to” question is just smart-alecky.) The inspired Apostle tells Titus to use the older women to disciple the younger women. And, by the way, the “older women” are not necessarily the mothers or grandmothers of the young women but mature women in the church. Likewise, the young men were being dealt with distinctly and the older men. This is one of the few passages of the NT telling us how the apostolic church did ministry and it allows for ministry to specific demographic groups in the church, not determined by the family. All ministry was NOT being done with everyone present.

          You asked for a scripture. It has been provided.

          • Tobe Hester


            Thank you again for taking the time to respond. I assure you my comment was not meant to be smart-alecky. I apologize if that’s the way it came off. I believe it to be a legitamate question. I agree that the women in that verse are not just the mothers and grandmothers but are the “older” women within the church as well. I just don’t know how there will be much discipleship across generations if they never spend much time together? (As I believe is the case in age-segregated youth minstry) I don’t believe my point dismiss’s God’s word at all but instead looks for deeper meaning within the text. Titus 2 is not about youth ministry…it’s about biblical discipleship across mulitple generations. It’s not about having 13 year olds disciple other 13 year olds…

            • John Carpenter

              Hi Tobe,

              It’s true that Titus 2 is about discipleship. That’s it’s across generations is not really the point as Titus himself, who was to disciple both the older men and the younger men, likely fit into one of those two groups. That is, if he was an older man himself, he was discipling other men like himself, distinct from the older and younger women and the young men. Ditto, if he were a young man like Timothy. Today, youth ministry is generally done by adults, even if young adults in their 20s and 30s, so I don’t understand your point.

              The question is whether ministry in the church can be done to specific demographic (age and sex) groups, alongside the general assembly of the church. The youth ministry model says “yes”. The FICM says “no.” The Word of God, in Titus 2, says “yes.” Titus 2 is not ONLY about youth ministry but it does allow for age and sex segregation and therefore separate youth ministries.

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  • Cedric L

    One thing that isn’t mentioned in this succint summary (that I concur with) is how many of the youth pastors eventually became Sr. Pastors and implemented the same strategies into the entire church thus creating some of the same problems in the churches as a whole. A lot of the same things could be said of ministry to adults the only difference being that they still attend church.

  • David

    I appreciate the blog and agree with it completely! I do struggle, however, when we tend to shoot many arrows at what the church is doing but offer little if any ideas or guidance as to how to correct the issue. Aside from, “Students need gospel-centered ministries grounded in the Word of God,” there really isn’t any offer of help or encouragement for change. This is something that greatly effects how we respond to such issues… so perhaps we need to to give helpful and valuable resolutions to the problem, as opposed to just stating there is a problem.

  • Zach Dunn

    I have long believed in, and have witnessed the great success of discipleship based ministry for youth vs youth groups. Men discipling young men, and women discipling young women. I have been involved with these ministries since I was a kid, I’m almost thirty now. Discipleship works, entertainment does not. I mean why do we kid ourselves? I think we know it doesn’t work, and yet we keep these large, event based, youth groups around. They don’t work, and they are not even close to what is laid out in scripture.

    By God’s grace, I’m working with a few guys down here in Tennessee to start a discipleship ministry to men and young men. It works, and I know it’ll work here. As Iron sharpens Iron…

    • John Carpenter

      So do all “large, event based” groups not work? Like sermons? Can’t preaching the Word to a group of youth work just as well as preaching it to the church generally?

      • Zach Dunn

        John, thanks for your reply. I think this article is about what happens to the youth in a youth group. Are they being effectively discipled, or not? Are they remaining faithful to Christ or not?

        I believe that no large event, dare I say even a Sunday morning service, produces the results that intimate discipleship does. While an event may result in one coming to salvation, where do they go from there? The Church has long forgotten the art of discipleship, and we have long suffered because of it. We are even about to lose another generation on account of this. It must be small, it must be intimate. We read about this in the Gospels, Christ with the twelve is a great example.

      • Zach Dunn

        Also the idea that you can successfully disciple a large group of both teenage guys and girls together in a youth group is, dare I say it, not very wise.

        I have worked with Youth Groups before and if I am to be honest and not lie, they are one of the biggest deterrents of true Christian living. Whoa did I just say that? Let me explain my belief. You take a bunch of hormonally unbalanced guy and girl teenagers and put them together. You then provide them with a small staff who the leadership of the church believes can “relate” to the teens. Most discipleship is abandoned, because groups are just too big. The focus is on big events, lock ins and stuff like that. To shift our focus to the young man in this scenario, there are too many distractions. The men in the group usually aren’t focused on discipleship but on running the program. There is no initiation as a man, no guidance in how to live the life of a godly man. There is little chance for the young fellow to ‘Be a Guy’. But the biggest nail in the coffin is this for the young fellow…
        There is no sense of great adventure or great urging need for him. He shows up, expects a snack, a light challenge and perhaps he can pick up a date. But where is the great call of forward into battle that every young man craves (unless he’s dead)?
        Youth Pastors also (in my experience) have a very weird knack of seeing a youth group as personal property. In three separate instances I know of youth pastors deliberately denying the start up of a discipleship ministry or getting rid of one after taking up their post. Discipleship has been pushed to wayside, as youth groups become bigger and bigger. But hey if you have a cool worship band, why do you need a little discipleship program?

        • paul cummings

          Someone’s read “Wild at heart” ;-)bless you bro!

          • Zach Dunn

            You bet I have! And with all my heart, I know Eldredge nailed it on that one.

            Discipleship, Adventure, Service. Those are building blocks of manhood…

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  • Dave Wright

    Perhaps a few clarifications might sharpen the conversation (which is really good by the way). First, the limit of 1000 words does not allow for unpacking the details and implications. Despite the title, the goal was not a complete history of youth ministry but a specific look at a trajectory over the past half century. Which leads to the second clarification… this is the first in a series that is heading into understanding why the stats and research are pointing to a real problem. We think the solutions are getting overlooked by many in the field because they are frankly too evangelical (the solutions that is) and the researchers, writers, etc are not so much. Third, I was not pointing to the whole Family integrated model but that is a great conversation and if you want to read about a conversation I had with Voddie Baucham on youth ministry, you can read that here ( My experience (25 years) is that the majority (more than 50%) of youth ministries in churches that have paid youth pastors experience some degree of segregation and alienation from the body of the church and it generally is both the youth pastor and church that contributes to this. And finally, the editor referred to a Biblical mandate… I did not.

    • Tobe Hester


      Thanks so much for the clarification! I defintley mis-read the opening as coming from you and not the Editor…and thank you for sharing the link to the conversation you had with Dr. Baucham!

    • John Carpenter

      A good case can be made for youth ministry from Titus 2. I believe the FIC movement is problematic and needs to be corrected. In other words, the FIC is far more questionable than a youth ministry.

      • Tobe Hester


        Where in Titus 2 does it say to age segregate our children from the Church as a whole and put someone in their 20’s or 30’s in charge of them? How will the “older women” disciple the “younger women” if they are in different buildings? Since there is no biblical mandate for youth ministry, how can it be reformed? Why is it not working John? You continue to say that the FIC is far more problematic than youth ministry but have not back that up yet? Youth ministry (as described above) spilts up families instead of bringing them together. It also enables parents to feel as if they are indeed teaching their children God’s word just because they allowed their kids to sit in room for an hour with other kids their age…even if the gospel was preached (which I do not belive is happening…in the majority 51% of youth minstries). This responsibility rest soley with parents…yes church’s should equip and encourage but they should not be the primary shepherd of the children.

        • Stephen Woodard

          “Problematic” may be too strong a word but there may very well be areas that it could be described as “shortsighted” or “incomplete”. Surely, no one would argue that the church works best when it serves as an equipper of parents to train children in godliness. We need devoted effort to that end. But what is our answer when you have few parents in your community that are interested in the gospel but their children are?

          Should we simply throw them into a new members class and see what happens? Or is there a biblically permitted opportunity to unpack the scriptures in a way that makes sense to them? I know that many (probably most) youth programs fail even in this but why must the pendulum swing in the completely opposite direction?

          Yes- equip parents to lead
          Yes- take advantage of other opportunities to teach the gospel
          Yes- make it a little fun while we’re doing it

          • John Carpenter

            Hi Stephen, I most agree with you. But . . . you wrote, “Surely, no one would argue that the church works best when it serves as an equipper of parents to train children in godliness.” I argue with that. In the NT, it is not parents who are called to make disciples but the church (Mt. 28:18ff). In fact, parents can only be useful in helping their children be disciples if the parents are, first, part of the church. And so, in that case, they are not operating as parents training their kids in the family religion, but as older members of the church training or evangelizing new (potential) members of the church. The FIC confuses this, creates a family religion, undermines the unique role of the church and the authority of the offices Christ has ordained to be spiritual leaders, namely pastors.

            • Stephen Woodard

              I apologize John, I thought we were saying the same thing. I certainly don’t believe that the family is the ONLY stream through which discipleship flows. I do believe that, when available, it is a means that God seems to bless richly. As far as FIC creating family religion? I cannot speak to that. I am simply not familiar enough with it. I can tell you that our church does not use this model, nor would it work in our context.


            • John Carpenter

              I think we mostly agree. I’m just asking for more precision in how parents can be instrumental in their children’s discipleship. Ideally, they will be. But they can only be so if they are Christians themselves and thus, part of the church. Hence, when they are discipling their children, they are doing so as church members, not as parents per se. It’s the call of the church to make disciples, not of the family. Christian parents should make disciples of their children, insofar as they are given the grace to do so. But they do that as church members. The FIC confuses the church and the family.

          • Tobe Hester

            Thanks for your response…you raise some very good points. To answer your question, I believe that godly families should come along side of the ones you refer to…those kids don’t need to go into a youth program in order to hear and understand the gospel. We have families in our church that bring children of unbelieving families with them to Sunday morning worship. Also, godly families should reach out to the parents of the other family and share God’s word and love with them. Enabling the unbelieving family is not the answer IMO but urging them to repentance and sharing the gospel is…

        • John Carpenter

          Hi Tobe,

          As above, in Titus 2 the church is dealt with in four distinct (age and sex) segregated groups. I realize that the FIC says not to do that. That’s part of the reason it is problematic. It ignores scripture. You’ve asked “where does it say” even after, twice, I’ve shown you where.

          I answered the smart-alecky different building question before. That you repeat that nonsensical question again suggests that you may not be interested in an honest answer. There’s no suggestion that they were “in different buildings.” YOu’ve inserted that into the text so that you can continue to ignore the text of scripture.

          To suggest that discipleship rest “soley” (sic) with the parents is completely unbiblical, undermining the purpose of the church and Christ’s call on the offices of the church. That the FIC keeps making these kind of unbiblical claims and organizes whole churches on the basis of them, even dividing with other churches so that they can maintain their novelty, is a part of what makes the FIC so problematic.

          • Tobe Hester


            I’m not sure that the spirit of anger I hear in your posts is helpful…I believe you may have posted so many times that you are unfamaliar with where we are at in the conversation. If I have read you wrong or misinterpreted your demeanor please let me know. Here is an attempt to help clarify my postion on Titus 2…most youth ministry happens in seperate rooms or buildings of the church. So if the charge to older women in Titus Chapter 2 refers to them discipling the younger women…how will this happen if the older women are at regular church and the younger women are most likely being discipled by a 25 year old in a sperate part of the church? I think it’s a big leap to look at Titus 2 and say, “yep, that’s our mandate for youthg ministry”. I believe the primary responsibility rest with parents but I love that there are other voices within my church that speak into the lives of my children. I just do not put my kids in a seperate part of the church to hear those voices…

            My church is a family intergrated church, meaning children are welcome in our service and we do not have a nursery or youth minsitry but there is no talk of family religion but there is an emphasis on family disicplship within our homes as we are on mission together (church and family) to share the love of Christ within our sphere of influence. We catcheize our kids, do family devotions a few times a week, memorize scripture and spend time in prayer. But we realize it is only by God’s grace that any of our kids will come to faith but we do this because we believe we are being obedient to a scriptual mandate (Deut 6 et al)

            • John Carpenter

              Again, you’re problem isn’t with me but with scripture. Paul tells Titus (and I believe this is the fourth or fifth time I’ve written this) to address four distinct groups in the church in distinct ways. (He tells Titus to delegate the task of training the younger women.) You’re entire “different buildings”, “separate rooms”, etc., is a red herring and irrelevant. The FIC says that all ministry should be done with the whole church gathered, a “family of families”. The inspired Apostle, speaking for the Lord Jesus Himself, says address separate groups. The Bible doesn’t tell parents to disciple their children but it tells the church to do so.

              The FIC confuses the family with the church and undermines the unique authority of the church and the offices Christ ordained for spiritual leadership. I suggest you find another church.

            • Tobe Hester

              Not sure why I don’t get the “reply” link under your posts John…either you don’t want me to respond or perhaps God wants me to shut up and get back to work!

              I am not a card carrying membor of the FIC but I do attend a family intergrated chuch…I will echo the sentiments of Dave Ax towards the bottom of these posts. I’m not sure what is unbiblical about the church I attend? Pretty harsh words really…I decribed my chuch in the above post, not sure where the problem rests? Anyway, I do not believe that your church, as a whole, is unbibilical because you segregate out your youth. God can certainly work through it and call many unto Himself. I just don’t see it as being ideal and I don’t believe it is grounded in scripture. As you say it is “problematic”.

              My last question of you today…when and where does Titus 2 get lived out in your church? As I read the first 6 verses that reference Older Men, Older Women, Younger Women and Younger Men I don’t see where Paul is calling Titus to meet with them seprate or to set up seperate minstries for them? The only seperate subsection I see within these verses (ESV) is the charge to Titus to charge the older women to train the younger women. And my point again is when do the older women in your church teach the younger women? When do the older women (verse 3) , “so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled”? Titus hasn’t been given the charge over 4 disctinct age groups at 4 different times. In fact Paul instructs him in regards to only 3 groups (older men, older women and young men). I just don’t see how this is a call to youth minstry? This is a call for a pastor to shepherd His flock not a Pastor to shepherd 11-13 year olds seperatley apart from the rest of church with their own disctinct sub-culture.

            • Brett

              John Carpenter,

              I keep seeing you referring to Titus 2 as a rebuttal of the FIC movement. I do not pastor a FIC nor am I sold on the idea, but it seems you are suggesting that Titus 2 mandates the church to segregate gender and ages/seasons of life. You write: “Paul tells Titus (and I believe this is the fourth or fifth time I’ve written this) to address four distinct groups in the church in distinct ways. (He tells Titus to delegate the task of training the younger women.)” In another place in the thread you write…”He told Titus to address four age and sex segregated groups. So, having groups of similar ages and of the same sex is Biblical.”

              What you overlook or fail to mention is a fifth group…Paul also advises Titus to give special instruction to slaves/bondservants. May I ask if you segregate employees from employers in your church? Or if you think verses 9 and 10 are not applicable to a modern society free of slavery? If you do believe that, do you believe Paul wanted to segregate slaves from masters in the local church discipleship program of that day?

              The FIC movement is known to suggest that their way of doing church (age-integrated) was the norm for 1,800 years of church history and that our current age-segregated approach is based novel and foreign to Scripture.

              Can you provide evidence to the contrary? And please don’t refer to Titus 2. So far your arguments from Titus 2 are at best supported by implications of the text and not anything explicit. I think we can all agree that Titus had special instructions for five different subgroups within the church in that chapter; we may disagree what they looked like in the context of Paul’s day. I think Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5&6 actually give a stronger warrant to the FIC position of interpreting Titus 2 than your argument from implication.

              I am not trying to be contrary. I really would like to see if there is evidence of age-segregation from church history pre-1800s. I personally have not studied this subject sufficiently to know. But the way in which you seem to interpret Titus 2, if the FIC movement is correct about age-integration in church history, then I suppose you believe that the age-segregated Sunday School movement of the 1800s was more than a novelty or breakthrough, but was an actual return to the New Testament that the church had neglected for centuries. But my guess is that you reject the FIC movement’s viewpoint of church history on this matter? Again, if so, please provide historical evidence.

  • luken

    Interested in helping youth ministry make mature christians, also interested in anglicianism. In my first youth job, i am overseas. Would love to here what you have for resources and maybe get in touch with your conferences once I’m back in the states. I think this is totally doable I just have been looking for a youth movement that is… theolgoically grounded… to join with and not go it alone. I would like to be a lifer in youth ministry, hit me up or send me info if you have time.
    grace and Peace

    • luken

      p.s. Especially since, though I have an MA in Chritian formation from Wheaton, I am looking at getting more training, have applied to some distance programs at seminaries. Need to know how to tailor it to be specific to youth. Got turned down a few jobs and told I was too intelligent for youth minsitry… what made me want to be a lifer (:
      Again, very interested in talking with you. I’m probably the rare youth pastor who is too theological… but would love to talk about systems with you and what system you have for your diocese.

    • Dave Wright

      Luken – What’s the best way to get in contact with you personally? Where overseas are you serving?

  • Jennifer

    Dear Dave,
    Loved the article. I am a mother and take seriously my responsibility to teach the Word of God to my children. My husband and I are blessed with our two children knowing and loving the Lord and knowing their Bible well. My daughter, an adult, is now employed by her church and a worship leader there. My teenage son spends his Friday nights discipling 4-5-6 graders at church. The church is quite large and takes seriously the lives in their hands. Interestingly, they refer to my son as pastor Kyle. It is an indearing moniker because they are continually astonished by his love and devotion to the Lord and His whole Word. I say go back to the basics, teach the Word of God, study the Word of God and expect children and youth alike to do so. I know that the Lord will do His part when we do ours. It is His Word that has the power to save. There will be fruit and they will be able to weather the storms of life.

  • CJ Nissen

    I’m sorry, Dave, but I have to object. This type of article is a dime a dozen, the only thing that changes is the statistic (is it 35%,70% or 85%, it keeps changing).

    Where is the statistic that describes how many of those wayward teens come back to the church after college? Ask any young family in your church if they were involved in a youth ministry and a majority of them would admit to going off to college and making mistakes, but that they learned the value of a Christ community as a teenager. They now want that for their own families and our church is full of them.

    Secondly, there is a massive over-generalization that an attractional youth ministry can’t go deep as well. Jesus preached to 5000+ and fed them, yet He invested in a small group of disciplemakers. Effective youth pastors mentor small group leaders who mentor groups of students. Most youth ministries also preach the Gospel to students Sunday morning and Wednesday night, while their parents usually only make it to one church service. All while having concerts and special events.

    Student ministry casts the net far wider than any adult ministry that in any church I’ve ever seen. It just seems like a better strategy to encourage large and growing youth ministries to go deeper than to cast disparity on the whole institution. There is no warring duality between “fun youth ministry” and “deep youth ministry.”

    • Stephen Woodard

      “There [should be] no warring duality between “fun youth ministry” and “deep youth ministry”

      Sadly, that is not always the case. I think you’re exactly right though. When did discipleship and contextualized gospel presentations become enemies? If it’s not both/and, I don’t know if you can claim you’re doing youth ministry right.

      • paul cummings

        @Stephen and CJ, I agree. Thanks.

  • luken

    Let me clarify a few things, hopefully Dave, you can correct me if I’m wrong.
    It’s not that there shouldn’t be things the youth do seperately. There are two extremes, one is to say that youth ministry should be a totally seperate ministry, the other is to say it shouldn’t exists, that everything shoudl be done across age lines.
    Now, part of this is the problem that we have too many age specif groups. Young adults, new parents, seniors. These SHOUDL NOT be seperate. There life situations are different, but there are all adults.
    However, biblically speaking, youth are still under a special category in that they are “still being rasied up in the way they should go.” The difference between adolescents and adults isn’t just one of situation, it is one of development. Thus there is biblical warran, since this is the last stage of childhood, to have a special FOCUS within the overall ministry on youth.

    The question then needs to be settled, what is that special role? and what parts of minisry (thinking of fellowship, service, preaching, teaching/training, worship) happen mostly in the larger church body (or can) and which ones should the youth ministry focus on doing on its own? AND how can it reinforce the ones done with the church body as awhole?
    For example, since I work overseas, almost all the students are hearig a sermon each week. I don’t want to give them another, but instead want to get them listeing to the sermon during regular church. THus I try to keep my lesson more of a lesson, not a sermon (interation, discussion, dialouge.) That is just one example. We are a DEPARTMENT in a larger ministry with a special focus. To be make sure obedience happens to the command to raise up a child in the way he should go, in their final stage of growing up (hopefully… but withotu a little push some of these students may never grow up!)
    Hope that helps!

  • luken

    Tobe, please see what I wrote. If we think of youth as still children, than the Bible would tend to say we still have a specific repsonsibility to raise them.
    I could go more in depth but that’s all I got while I’m getting ready to go out.. if you really want more I can send you a page long summary I did later

    • Tobe Hester


      I appreciate your heart for this subject and can tell you earnestly want to serve the Lord. I would say that the scripture that you are referring to, Prov 22:6 is speaking to parents not a local church body. Other scripture that speaks to this same idea…Deut 6:4-9, Ephesians 6:4, Deut 4:s9, Deut 11:19 and others are always speaking to parents (please correct me if I’m wrong). Church’s should be equipping parents to do the things expressed in the above scriptures…parents should not not be giving over their responsibility to a 25 year old with really good intentions. It’s so easy, especially as men, to let others do what should righlty be done by us…To sheperd the next generation and to teach them diligently. We inherit this passivity from Adam…but we must reject it! I am far better positioned to reach my children for Christ and teach them His ways than any youth Pastor. I am fine with Sunday school as long as my 5 kids don’t end up in 5 different rooms. Age segregated youth ministry spilts up families instead of bringing them together.

      In Christ,

      • luken

        sorry this is long

        Many would read the commands in deut. and other places as given both to parents and the convennant community, since no distinct audience is given it is more natural to assume Moses doesnt switch the audience for these commands and then go back to the whole community afterwords. Unless one is dispensational, this would still be applicable to the people of God today (and, if a dispensational really believes the OT commandments aren’t applicable at all, then they don’t apply to family either). I don’t think the church should take students away from the family, but I do think an overemphasis on the family, where the church only serves them, is not part of biblical christianity. The church is as much the center of community life in chrsitianity as the family is (one could argue for either way.. point being family isn’t more important than church. The church ordained by Chrsit has roles not only of helping the family, but that the family was not been asked to fulfill.) It is possible to overreact to the empasis away from the family and to make the church superflous, or merely a resource for the family. The family is not the only community responsbile for the spiritual growth of individuals, in fact in scriptrue the Church seems to be the organization given this command mroe than any other
        The Deut 6 passage talks about training children. Ther is no indication that it is only for families, though admititaly that may be a natural sense. But the command is given to Isreal as a whole to rasie their children, an equally valid way of interpreting it, and in the context of a lack of indication that it is only to parents about only children, I would say the reading of it as the whole beliving communities children is preferred.
        This is true in the other Deutoronmy texts and in proverbs as well, that the references to traingin and teachign a child seem to be merely a command to raise children in the way of God. I’m not saying your reading is for sure wrong, I’m saying that the sense I’ve always taken it in is that God through Moses was speakign to all Isreal aboutthe communities children. Likewise, the came concern is posssible in proverbs, that this nugget of truth is meant for all isreal to think abouthow they are training about children.
        I don’t speak hebrew, but to debate this we might need to look back at how the command was interpreted, if the Isreal seemed to take these commands only applying to hwo individual families raised their own children or more broadly to the raising of them by the whole community.
        But, in difference, I don’t not see anything in these texts that would specify the command to the family alone. The proverbs passage may seem that way… but again this may be, as the other that may be only becaue we hear the word “raisng” “trainign” and “child” to always refer to family… since our communities aren’t as strong as they once were.
        Ephesians 6:4, based both on the clear address to Fathers and the section it is in, would almost without doubt not be about the church and children, but strictly the family.
        I do think the church has responsibilities in this regard. That does not mean that some parents to not ask the church to do their job for them. But a good youth pastor who cared about students growth would rebuke a parent who is neglecting their spiritual duties. (in the situation that the parent is around and is a believer.)
        There are positions that believe the father is the pastor of his family. In a sense this is true… but these people often neglect church authority over their family, adminiser communion, etc. I don’t want to call the family an idol, but in many cultures it is. I do think it would be hard to read the new testament without preset prejuduice that family is all important and not leave thining the church is the central community.
        Hope that makes sense. In sum, the Old Testament passages do not indicate that they are only for parents, but could be taken (and I think more naturally are) to be addresssing the whole community. There is a balaance between the church’s role and familes in spriutal development, and though isn’t really a clear NT command about the church training children, the development of souls seems to be the responsibility of and the central community in the NT seems to be the Church, though family is not overlooked.
        as far as beign seperate or not… There woudl seem to be core foundational truths of the faith that we are obligated to teach to those who are growing up. And it would seem the repsonsiblity of passing on the faith once delivered to the saints is belongs to the church.
        To be fair, this may not be the backing at all that the book referred to is using.

        • Tobe Hester


          Thanks for your reply! I appreciate the time you put forth to respond! I truley love your heart to serve and lead…

          I agree that the commands could be for the community as a whole and I think there is beauty in that. As a father of 5 I do not want my voice to be the only one my children hear as it relates to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I want many godly men and women (within the chruch) speaking into the lives of my children. I just do not believe the best way to acomplish that is to put my kids in a set apart youth ministry (for all the reasons I have mentioned earlier).

          Your Brother in Christ,

          • luken

            Oh, I see that. Well, the “youth group” is kind of just part of the job, and a the youth focus of a church wouldn’t nescarrily need a seperate group, though I’d still be okay with it. The expertise in the unique stage of adolescence might be very appropriate for the counseling side of youth ministry.
            Yeah, I also agree with you that a ministry not mentioned in the bible is more important than equipment not mentioned. But, er, you know, I think there are lot of specialized ministries not mentioned in NT, the church didn’t really have any. I think of disability minisries, divorce care, groups for those struggling with porn or drug addictions… I would, however, argue that these grous work best when they are not seperate ministries but partof the church ministry.

          • John Carpenter

            In Titus 2, the young men are dealt with distinctly.

        • John Carpenter

          Hi luken,

          I mostly agree with you. However, I disagree with, “The church is as much the center of community life in chrsitianity as the family is.” In scripture the church is MORE important than the family. The family is a creation institution, temporary, for this life (the old earth) alone. The church is an eternal institution, which has a mission on the earth of making disciples and with offices ordained by Christ Himself for that purpose. If anyone makes their family interfere with that, they have made the family an idol.

  • Paul Tanner

    It seems to me that the statistics are a bit skewed because we don’t have all the information. What’s the percentage of students who either start attending church or continue to attend church after graduation, who haven’t been involved in youth ministry?

    That’s not to say that we shouldn’t evaluate and improve. Whether we like or not.

    I agree with comments above that discipleship and big group meetings are not at odds, and to assume that a church has one means that can’t or won’t have the other is false. Is it happening everywhere? Probably not. But I think it would be wrong and offensive to think that the majority of youth ministers aren’t trying their hardest to reach kids and impact their lives for Christ. Or to dismiss the work they have done and the lives that have been touched.

    I think more than anything we are suffering from the idea that God is just a part of life, not the very essence of life. Parents are so busy, their kids are so busy, and when something has to go — it’s not sports or extracurricular activities its church. And kids, even teens, learn by watching and develop similar attitudes. Is it no wonder that when they graduate, and have to go out on their that they follow suit and take it to a new level. (this is over-generalized of course, there are some parents who don’t do this, and others who go ever further beyond this)

    I would say that discipleship is often a church wide issue. Youth ministries don’t have discipleship, because there is no adult discipleship. The thought behind discipleship is that a disciple is both being discipled and discipling. Yet very few churches that I have been involved in helped to intentionally facilitate the area of discipleship amongst all generations of the church.

  • Michael

    I’m a youth pastor with 15 years experience, and I often view my job as a necessary evil. I nearly burst from my skin with excitement as I read Baucham’s “Family Driven Faith” because he put into words what I felt for years, but the end was a real let-down with no help for a guy like me. Although I do believe it should be the role of the family to disciple and live on mission, and families should in a spiritual sense adopt and raise a kid whose family does not love God, the hard truth is (aside from a few wonderful exceptions) they don’t. Even those who do love God are usually not very interested. So we continue plowing this rocky field, yet at the same time, do not give up on challenging our parents.

    • Tobe Hester


      I appreciate your years of service. I assume you are my elder and welcome your wisdom on the subject. Do you believe you have a biblical mandate from scripture as a youth pastor? I do not mean any disrespect whatsoever…Titus 2 has been mentioned but I believe that to be a model of biblical discipleship between older and younger (think mulitple older discipling mulitple younger or even one on one) not a model for age segregated youth ministry with one or two leaders teaching God’s word to similar aged kids, that meet seperately from the rest of the church.

      • paul cummings

        Tobe, thank you for your measured and passionate responses…I would say Let’s be careful about the “Biblical Mandate” part. I am NOT devaluing scripture but Organs, Church Buses, Nurseries, PowerPoint, Electric guitars…etc…none have a “Biblical mandate”. But we wouldn’t throw them out because we don’t have a specific Bible verse for them.
        I tend to agree with John Carpenter and Michael, that the FIC stuff leaves me saying “On which planet does this style of church work?”.

        • Tobe Hester


          Thanks for your response. It sounds like you are saying that Youth Ministry does not have a biblical mandate but that’s okay because there is no biblical mandate for buses, organs, nurseries, power points, electric guitars, etc? Are you saying a bus is to ministry as a Youth Minister is to ministry?

          On your other point, I’m not sure what your definition is of “FIC stuff”? I worship (weekly) at a church where we bring all of our children in to the same worship service. We do not seperate out into age segregated units. During the week, my wife and I teach our children God’s word through catechisms, bible stories, bible memorization and prayer. We do not belive the family to be more important than the Church nor am I a Pastor in my home…nor do I give out communion in my home. We are just a church without age segregated youth ministries who encourage parents (especially Fathers) to diligently teach their children. We have men and womens bible study and will have teenagers present in these meetings so that they can be disciplied by the older generation (Titus 2).

          • paul cummings

            See Philip’s comment at the bottom…great redirect and clarifier. God bless you bro! And thank you for your passion for the Gospel within your church, I know they are blessed by your leadership!

      • Michael

        No, I don’t believe I have a biblical mandate as a youth pastor, but I also don’t have a biblical mandate to be a part of a denomination, tithe online, or use air conditioning and indoor plumbing. What I mean to say is, my mandate is the Great Commission, but I believe God allows for creativity and flexibility in how that is carried out. I am a father of 6 children, one of which has special needs, and I am not opposed to age appropriate(segregated) learning or specialized learning. I wouldn’t use Titus 2 as an example of a biblical mandate for how most student ministries operate, but I would use Titus 2 to support/encourage/challenge our adults who lead our students in their small discipleship groups. I would love if student small groups simply happened in the home every day by way of parents leading their children as my wife and I lead ours, but that does not usually happen. So we plug faithful adults in with students, encourage a bond of accountability between students (since most are practically left to raise themselves in public school each day), and pray that God draws their hearts to himself.

        • Tobe Hester

          Thanks for your response Michael…I can certainly see you have a heart for these kiddos!

          Thanks for your service to the Body!

  • Bob

    Students also need youth leaders who are willing to spend time and energy on each kid rather than coordinating the entertainment and relying on the entertainment to do their job. My daughter had a youth pastor who told her where to sit at her first meeting. Thereafter, he completely ignored her. It wasn’t very long before she left the youth group to attend the adult Sunday School. Her long term interest in church is very questionable.

    • Michael

      Just curious, did you sit with your daughter? Attend with her? Worship with her? I don’t doubt your account, but I would also be careful about throwing the youth leader under the bus. It is very difficult for one leader to share a personal connection with 100 students. Or even 15.

  • Dave Wright

    CJ, I agree that the bleak stats based articles are a dime a dozen. Often they are used to deconstruct youth programs and offer some alternative. In writing this, I was seeking to offer a theory as to how we got to the moralistic therapeutic deism that Christian Smith describes. Its a general trend and trends are not universal. As for the 70% stat, I also mentioned that the same study shows 35% return. I am skeptical about the 70% – though I think that it reflects a general truth about where things are heading both in youth ministry and the church at large. Speaking of which, I agree that youth ministry often does better to reach out than other ministries in the church (very evangelistic churches being the exception). I don’t think deep and fun are at odds with each other. If our ministries are not fun in a joyful sense, we are not being fully human. Yet, fun is not the goal – it’s the byproduct of people being together (especially youth who are more fun than other age groups IMO). However, Jesus preaching to massive crowds is not the same as attractional youth ministry. In Jesus’ situations, what was the attraction? It was not a BMX stunt team or Christian skateboarder or athlete or band or… I hope you get the point.

    • CJ Nissen

      I do, thanks Dave! I’m not blind to the shortcomings of youth ministry, but I do believe that there is so much to be excited about. I know it wasn’t your intention, but Christians more than any other group I’ve met have a tendency to curse the darkness rather than bask in the Light. My brothers and sisters in youth ministry are grunting it out, youth ministry is hard, and I want them empowered and encouraged to do great things for the Kingdom! Thank you for loving students enough to submit this article.

  • Dave Wright

    Michael, I deeply appreciate what Voddie offers the church and love to hear him preach even though I don’t go down the integrated model that far. Take a look at what Steve Wright (no relation to me) has written in his book called “Rethink” ( Or look to Rob Rienow and visionary parenting stuff. Rob was a youth pastor for a great many years and has thought much on how family and youth ministry interact. (

    • Michael

      Was this for me? If so, thanks. I also appreciate Baucham and listen to him, even if we differ on some points. I’ve got Wright’s book on my desk, it’s next on the reading list. I am very thankful to serve with a church staff that shares the same vision for parenting and family discipleship that I do, so we are very visible and vocal about what we do in our homes. We also share stories of other families in our body who are leading their children in a biblical way. We have a saying, “You can lead a horse to water, and you can’t make him drink, but you can make him thirsty.” We are trying to make parents thirsty for a change in their home!

  • luken

    I’m in Amman, Jordan
    I am appling to RTS online, it is my top pick. But i’ve also looked at BOTH trinities, and have looked quite a bit at Denver… I looked at trinity deerfield and denver only because RTS has no Youth ministry emphasis. Trinity pittsburgh I don’t know about… I know there more conservative but I know many conservative anglicans who are pseudo-catholic… however, I can explain my reasons more.

  • Cedric L


    Have you read “You Lost Me” by David Kinnaman? I highly recommend it as it delves deeper into what exactly is going on with the 70% on the strength of the Barna Group’s research.

  • Emily

    For what it’s worth, I became a Christian in high school. People often say to me, “wow! And you are still a Christian?” Yes, I still am. First of all, you all probably know this already…it was not a bunch of people strategizing over youth ministry that kept me going in the faith, but the Holy Spirit. He gave me a natural inclination to grow deeper in the Lord. Second, there were 3 adults that had a significant impact on my early faith. Two were women who spent individual time with me. The third was the leader of FCA and faithfully gave a gospel-centered message every meeting. I would never have gone if FCA wasn’t fun, but the fun would have certainly become just another activity without the Gospel. I am so thankful for the leader’s commitment to God’s word. I also had great Christian friends who held me accountable and taught me how to live out my faith as a teen. Finally, I was given the opportunity to share the Gospel with others. I was a junior counselor at a camp for inner-city kids.

    I learned at an FCA Leadership camp that we all need a Paul (or mentor), a Barnabas (friend, or accountability partner), and a Timothy (someone to mentor). It’s probably something you all know already and I am not sure how it can be practically applied to youth ministry, but as a “success story” I thought I should share my perspective. I am also 32 now and feel pretty far remove from the youth culture of today, so this all be meaningless.

    • larry Williams

      Emily, thanks for sharing your experience with FCA and how being “given the opportunity to share the Gospel with others” was a significant part of your spiritual development. I have been in Para-church youth ministry (YFC) for 37 years, both in the USA and overseas. I am surprised that there has been so little discussion about the role of “service” in the discussion of the shallowness of youth ministry. Certainly, “fun” can be a draw to get young people to a place where they can hear the Gospel. After a young person comes to faith in Christ, they need to be mobilized to engage in the Great Commission as they are being “discipled”. Young people (and all of us) need a cause greater than ourselves to live for. There is no greater cause than the advancement of God’s Kingdom. Engaging Christian young people in doing ministry is far more effective in developing them spiritually than entertaining them, or even “teaching them” a solid curriculum.

  • David Axberg

    Hello all,
    I am Christian husband, father, disciple, Baptist church member, ex youth leader, former family integrated church member before we moved. I am sorry to say this but the church in a whole has been duped that youth groups are a good thing. Youth group for the most part are a product of $$ Seminaries found a new revenue stream and publishers also. Our youth pastor is doing a study right now on the early church from Pentecost on. The way the church disciple the new converts and children was through catechisms and family worship. Quite frankly the Gospel is all about Christ and others first. If parents are not willing to disciple their children then they need to check their hearts. If we take the youth group out of the church would the church be hurt? I do not think so if the Gospel is the center. If we ever think a program should not disappear because the church will falter then I ask what the foundation of that church is. A lot of sacred cows need to be removed for the health of the Gospel. Catechisms and family Worship has grown me in the scriptures more than any program I have ever been a part of.
    Just my 2 cents God Bless Now,
    David Ax

    • John Carpenter

      The Apostle Paul, in Titus 2, gives specific directions about how to do ministry in the church, for training believers. He told Titus to address four age and sex segregated groups. So, having groups of similar ages and of the same sex is Biblical. The FIC is NOT Biblical but an usurpation of the role and authority of the church by the family.

      • David Axberg

        I think you believe we were abunch of families sitting around a campfire singing “cumbya”. We had elders and leaders with many ministry oportunities but we usually did them as families but not always. We believed much in the church as an intitution that we all loved and still do. That is why was so willing to go back to a Converge Baptist church that I grew up in. I do not need to be seperated out from everyone else because I do not agree with the institution of church as a whole(however that can happen especially amoungst homescholled families) We often times are quickly willing to toss out the institutions such as public school, government, church, but not us. We are maybe the exception but I doubt it. We love the Lord with all our hearts, minds, and souls and long to live for him in whatever story He has placed us. Has it been difficult going back into the church I grew up in? No for I know the foundation is Christ it is written all over the hearts of the Saints. Does our church have a youth pastor and youth program? Yes and we love him and all those in it. My children do not usually attend but they have. We do not think those who do are wrong and much good can come out of it. Shoot my youngest son is entering his Shap N Race car in the derby in a week or so. We all need to be careful what we call unbiblical for in doing so we are calling someone caught in sin. Be very careful my brother I know it is a different thought process than we were used to also but I would not change my years in an FIC church for anything. The love expressed to us and the world was overwhelming while there and still. God Bless Now!

  • Phillip

    To comment or not to comment has been my debate for the last 10 minutes.

    I think the comments have spawned a great dialogue, but I feel it has redirected the whole idea of the article and what will soon be a series of articles to begin wrestling with the idea that Gospel-centered youth ministries are declining, therefore, as students graduate high school and go from youth ministry to “big church,” we see a drop off of an average of 85%. What many statistics tend to leave out, is the number, which in personal research is around 50% of the 85% that tend to migrate back towards church when they get married and have children. However, their migration tends to be towards the opposite spectrum of what they experienced growing up (why you see more church plants and less church resurgences).

    I think getting stuck in the idea of “the need and Biblical mandate” for youth ministry is a distraction. This has to be a church to church and family to family decision. What works for you? What works for your culture. Voddie is an amazing person, with amazing philopsohy and ideology, but his culture is different then the culture I serve and I minister too. Too often, church leaders look for the fastest growing church or the best selling book for the 40 days of ____________ and believe that will reverse the statistics on day 41, when in reality, we tend to to return to the place in our offices we bang our head on repeatedly (I know you have one).

    Dave’s point in my opinion is not searching for a Biblical mandate to youth ministry, but to find a Bibilcal mandate in all ministry to preach the gospel, to make disciples, and to uplift the church. If we focus strictly on the family model of relying on parents to do all the work, we will miss students and the opportunity to share the gospel with students whose parents are absent from their lives (I know this because my parents were absent from my faith development, and I thank God daily for my youth pastor). We have to be present in the lives of students ready to speak and live out truth.

    Relational ministry is a very important aspect of youth ministry, but I feel we too often rely on the youth pastor to do all of the relational work and do not rely on volunteers, parents, etc to build the relationships. (Scroll through the comments to find the feeding of the 5,000 remark, that hit right on). Youth pastors need to be focuses on equipping leaders to reach a generation for Christ, through gospel centered teaching and relationships. As a professional youth pastor, with a degree in youth ministry, I take my job to equip others to come along side of me to reach students very important. I see the need of growing leaders to make my net bigger, but instead of giving you leaders the next best 40 days gimmick, and instead of using the next best youth ministry ploy to reach students, open the word, get personal, be real, and start sharing the Gospel. We have a Biblical mandate to share the gospel. that is all we need. We do not need to argue the silos of ministry, we need to get to work in sharing the Gospel to a dark and dying world.

    • John Carpenter

      Our church has a “youth group” of about 30 (and another ministry to younger children of about the same age) in which nearly every participant (except my son) has NO relative in the church. It is entirely an evangelistic ministry. And I think that contrasts with the assumption of many posts here that “youth ministry” is baby sitting for the children of members. The FIC insistence that “families worship together” makes no sense at all almost all the youth who come have no family there. But there is so little evangelism being done, we think it’s normal that nearly all our “youth group” are children of members.

      • chuck harper

        great perspective. I’ve been thinking the same thing. I work with Native American Youth. Without Youth Ministry – there would be a void for anything Christian for them.

        Apart from Native America however, I support the traditional youth ministry model. I came to Christ through it, and I know many others who did as well. I think the statistics are skewed… look at the unbelievable pressures high school graduates face; they leave home, go to a strange new school, face social challenges, meet all new people, dont know any churches, Christian groups, etc… They more than not, fall into a sinful act, live with incredible guilt- and in shame “quit” their faith… within days or weeks of attending college.

      • chuck harper

        There is some great work being done regarding the transition of youth from High School to College…

        see the Youth Transition Network:

  • Richard Moore

    We have to be careful to not blame “Youth Ministry” for churches loosing students who are in college or who have graduated from High School. Maybe we might be able to put our heads together better if there was not blame giving in this, and putting the onus completely on youth pastors. This only can hurt the body of Christ. Youth pastors are for the most part (just like pastors) gospel loving, Christ following people who are also deeply disturbed by the trend. Maybe we need to have a look at the church as a whole and see what paradigm shifts need to take place within our gospel centrality to welcome back with grace those students who have left the church and eventually find their way back after the world has let them down. There is a idea floating around in youth ministry of rumspringa ( for us as churches to let youth go and in the end if they are truly saved and Christ is truly sanctifying then they will find their way back to the Church. I make my youth ministry gospel focused and if there is gospel focus there will be students being WON to the Lord, BUILT up in the faith, and SENT out for Christ to the world! We just have to be people of the book and not people of statistics. Who has God given you now to disciple not chasing those who have come and gone.

  • Matt Marino

    I’m coming in a bit late to this party. I am in diocesan level youth ministry, but our church’s youth group (an evangelistic effort that works through great discipleship) meets in my living room on Wednesday nights. I agree in spirit with what Dave writes…I agree that the wheels fall off for our kids after high school. I agree that segregating kids is profoundly unhelpful…I agree that youth directors eating goldfish dishonors kid’s time…but the experience of this data for me has been far different.

    I will share how I experienced the church as a staff member of a parachurch…

    I met Christ because YL leaders befriended me. I DIDN’T go to YL club for 3 1/2 years of HS because I heard about the games and thought they sounded dumb. I went to the last club of my senior year. What blew me away was how interesting the talk about Jesus healing the leper was. The leader talked me into going to camp when I was drunk-we were playing hoops at a local basketball court. He was in my world. I got to camp and was blown away again by the articulate message-read straight from the gospels-that God that would love the sinners who had betrayed him in every possible manner. I wept at the cross talk and spent hours with leaders discussing the resurrection and it’s ramifications. I became a volunteer leader in college rather than go out for the basketball team because nothing in the world was more important to me than telling someone the Good News of God’s salvation. My friends and I were discipled with intentionality and at personal expense by our leaders and the leaders of several churches.

    The frustrating thing for me as I went on YL staff was the way the relevant movement had fundamentally changed the church. All of a sudden kids were segregated away from the adults…the same adults that I wanted in relationship with students new to the faith who were in desperate need of examples of the Christian life. The youth pastors were doing “what not to do” talks when I wanted them to be taught the Bible. They were playing games when I wanted them to be memorizing God’s Word. They were playing glow in the dark 4square when I wanted them to be learning to serve the least, last and lost. I was quietly frustrated. We had all bought into the idea that we should take students to “seeker” churches because it would be easier for students to bring lost friends. Students began to say to me, “Why do I have to go to church? We are doing far more in-depth stuff in our small group Bible study…and we actually share our lives and pray for one another.” I defended them for years, but didn’t have a good answer.

    The month before I went to work for the Episcopal Church, we took nearly a hundred brand new Christians to a large church in the neighborhood’s youth program. It was led by a friend. The night was a “meet and greet” for new Christians to be introduced to the church. They played Dodgeball and had a band (led by a person who had met the Lord in our ministry). I said, “Ok, play Dodgeball and have a band if you must…but please play real, actual worship songs and when you stand up, pull out your Bible and preach your best, most challenging ‘walk with Jesus’ talk.” That night my friend stood up without a Bible and said, “The name of our group is _________. ________is a place where Jesus made hard choices. If you need a group to help you make hard choices, then __________ group is a place for you. Needless to say, not a single kid joined. The bar was just too low. It was infinitely frustrating to spend 20 years encouraging leaders to knock themselves out plugging kids into churches and then have the church under challenge them. I could share two-dozen other stories like this. My friend’s training and pastoral leadership encouraged this sort of ministry. He was evaluated on attendance numbers and not turning off the big donor’s children. The church needs to take seriously its call to make disciples. It will have to start by changing the hearts of senior pastors. They are the one’s determining career trajectories for people. We become what we count. And senior pastors are the ones doing the counting.

    • Cameron Cole

      Thanks for taking the time to share that Matt. Very insightful story. God bless.

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  • Nick Watts

    After serving as a full-time Youth Pastor for 24 years, I’ve got to say “GREAT article, Dave!” I LOVED working with students, and had the privilege of getting to know Mike Yaconelli on a personal level. I looked at a few of the comments above. Great dialogue….”as iron sharpens iron.” I never swallowed a goldfish. But, I will confess, I have dressed up like Batman, and rode a 1200 lb bull at a rodeo solely because the students dared me to (these were separate occasions – I was not dressed as Batman as I rode the bull). Anyway, having begun my first church staff position in 1983 (when “break-dancing” was king :), I’ve seen – and done my best to swim upstream against – the whole downward, consumer-mentality methodological spiral you cite. It kills me that the average church-going student can quote the lyrics to countless songs on their Mp3 player, but can’t quote 3 Scripture from memory. That said, the oft-quoted stats you cite regarding the exit of students post-high school graduation say, in my opinion, fare more about the failure of their parents’ role in “training them in the way they should go” than the failure of Youth Pastors who have these students MAYBE 2 or 3 hours a week. Lastly Dave, thanks for posting the picture of that guy behind the Youth for Christ sign. I firmly believe that if I tried to strike that “as if I just released a bowling ball” pose I’d, without question, pull a hamstring.

  • Ryan

    Discipleship is the real work of ministry, and it is by far the hardest. Putting on a big event that attracts kids is easy (relatively), getting them to stay and connect with the other kids and leaders is incredibly difficult. Even with an enthusiastic, young team of volunteer leaders, it’s no small feat to accomplish.

    To echo what I saw in several other comments; discipleship truly has to start in the home. Communicating to parents the need to be teaching and modeling at home is CRUCIAL.

    Having kids wander in Sunday morning “cold” (so to speak) means you will need to warm them up before being able to pour into them, and then somehow keep that fire stoked throughout the week.

    “It takes a village” to disciple a child. They need a solid family showing Christ in their love and unity, they need a body of believers their own age sharpening and honing them, and they need leaders actively participating in their lives and speaking truth in love. It has to be a holistic approach.

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  • Chris

    Wow… such a big topic, and such little space. Thank you David for attempting to tackle such a project, but… still, so much is left wanting. I would love to make it out to your conference, but I serve as a Youth/Associate Pastor overseas in the UK and it will be difficult for me to make it out there. But, I just now, through this article, stumbled upon the Rooted website (funny – that is the name of my YM) and will be a regular on your website checking for updates.

    I have been encouraged by many of the commenters, so thank you all for your input.

    Thank you John Carpenter for pointing out the glaring Elephant in the room, the unchurced who come to know Christ in Youth Ministry. In the short few months that I have been at this new position overseas, I have seen 5 kids come to know Christ, who have no church affiliation and would have no reason for being there if I (the youth pastor) hadn’t spent extra time seeking, loving, and discipling them, and teaching them directly during our youth services.

    Secondly, I would like to point out that David mentioned the book ‘Almost Christian’. I would highly recommend anyone working in youth ministry to read this book. In fact, everyone in the church, senior pastors included, who care about the next generation. This book points out the overall Major problem, which is overlooked and lacking in this article (sorry David) and in many (most) of these comments. Yes, Youth Ministry has problems. Yes, Youth Ministry has, in some ways, fostered isolationism in the church. Yes, many Youth Ministries are oftentimes run by young, inexperienced 20’somethings who are over-weighted on event style evangelism, and lacking in disciplship. But… there is a much BIGGER problem than Youth Ministry and the inexperienced youth worker. The problem goes beyond the pizza parties and the goldfish challenges.
    It is the plague of luke-warm Christianity that pervades the ENTIRE church.
    ‘To quote Dean in ‘Almost Christian’ (seriously… get this book!) She writes, ‘Why do teenagers practice Moralistic Therapeutic Deism? Not because they have misunderstood what we have taught them in church. (in context, she is speaking of the large church) They practice it because this is what we have taught in church. In fact, American Teenagers are barometers of a major theological shift taking place in the United States.’
    And then she writes… (man, this is Good!) ‘ What if the blasé religiousity of most American teenagers is not the result of poor communication but the result of excellent communication of a watered-down gospel so devoid of God’s self-giving love in Jesus Christ, so immune to the sending love of the Holy Spirit that it might not be Christianity at all?
    The point is: we all need to take responsibility for the lack of Gospel Centered Teaching in the churches and the homes. The HOMES especially. There has been a lot of talk about getting the kids to get their spiritual education from home (which – let me be clear, I believe is the most biblical and Effective way to teach children. I have 4 kids of my own, and I practice this vigorously.) But we are FOOLISH if we think it IS happening in our homes at church. And we all need to take responsibility .
    Let me put a little experience and perspective in. In 10 years of volunteer, part-time, and full-time youth work. In healthy Mega Churches and small denominational churches. In Gospel Centered Calvinistic Churches, and in Seeker Friendly Churches… I have NOT found many families to ‘hang my hat on’. I have NOT found healthy, Gospel Centered families, passing on a faith with vigour and passion. I have NOT seen dads and mums teaching their children in the way that they should go. At least not often. I have strived to find those I could model my own life after, as a young husband and father. In 10 years, I have only found a few.
    Let’s get real with ourselves. Our churches, and our families, are struggling. In the Western World, the US and the UK, we have reduced our Christianity to a luke-warm, easy going, buffet style faith, and it is Not Directly Correlated to Youth Ministry.
    In fact, in my humble opinion, many (God only knows how many) youth pastors, with zealous hearts for the LORD, have helped set a passion in a young person’s heart, when that passion was not flamed at home.
    Like I said, I believe in the Gospel being preached at home. I believe in the Bible’s mandate for parents to raise their children in the way that they should go. But the faith community that exists outside the home can, and should be, a source for help. The zany Youth Ministries, goldfish and all, help to bring in outsiders, fringe kids, and church kids, and bring them to a place where they feel safe and included.
    Youth ministries are good. And youth ministries can be bad…
    But let’s be real about the faith of our entire generation, young and old, and realise that we need to go after the Satanic plague in our churches and not go after the wrong thing. Satan would love for us to divert our attention, placing the blame on youth ministries and those pool little youth pastors, and forget all about the easy going, watered down Gospel being preached right in our churches and homes.
    Love you all. God bless you in your ministry.

    • Dave Wright

      Chris, Thanks for jumping in. Yes, the 1000 word limit and the assignment of giving some historical overview created a challenge that left much to be explored and explained. In a post on the rooted blog I talked more about how Kenda points out that kids have taken on the faith passed down to them at home and suggested that if youth ministries were presenting something radically different, we might be in a different place. I also will try to post more on to explore these ideas and alternatives. I strongly believe that how people start is how they continue, so goldfish attraction is not disciple making… but there are ways to create an attractive youth ministry without dumbing down.

      I spent five years doing youth ministry in Cheshire… would be curious as to where you are serving in the UK…

  • gwen bliss

    This is exactly what has been eating away at me for years as a person whose passion is to disciple young people. We need to integrate our young people into the adult assembly, and disciple them to gradually take on roles of service and leadership long before they are thrown out into the adult world. However, I do think it is beneficial for young people with the gift for the fine arts to be mentored to use those skills to serve God. With no outlet in the church, they are left with secular venues and music that could lead them astray instead of make them into an arrow for Christ to use. Thank you Pastor Gordon-you are a brave godly man, and a blessing!!!!

  • Matt

    The picture on this article caught my eye because I have recently begun ministering with YFC’s Juvenile Justice Ministry. This article does great at pointing out the problem and identifying how it should be, but how do you get to that point? Having just graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I almost immediately recognized that their training material for volunteers leaves much to be desired in the way of “Gospel-saturated” teaching. Our goal is to get these kids connected with a local church where they can really begin the discipleship- and hopefully that church will include the kids in on the adult lessons- but in the meantime, how do you get them interested? Most of the kids see “Gospel saturated preaching” and have no idea what that means, let alone find most of it boring and often irrelevant to them and their situation. We want to get them to that point where they can seek out Christ on their own initiative and hunger, but I think we have to start by just building that relationship and trust with them. Walk with them through life and apply the Gospel to the situations that arise. Sometimes sharing in their interests allows them to be comfortable around us where they know they are accepted as they are rather than being lectured on what they need to do or believe.

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  • Tobe Hester

    A wonderful (in my opinion) reponse to Doub Brown’s critique of the FIC by Dr. Bauchem. This one’s for your John Carpenter : )

  • JD

    Just wanted to pass along a big THANK YOU to Dave Wright for this article and those involved with TGC in compiling this series. Much needed. Very timely.

    I think that many of us have been noticing some of the unintended results of the movement that created a youth church subculture from within the larger body of Christ. As a youth pastor myself for the past ten (or so) years, and as someone who majored in youth ministry, I agree entirely that when a student’s primary place of identity from within the local church is the youth ministry and not the local church itself, we are setting ourselves up to see that student leave the church after he/she graduates high school. We obviously can’t set up something that looks so different from the rest of the church as the primary place where students become invested and expect most of them to continue into something so different after graduation. I’m not an FIC only guy at all, although I think the FIC movement has a solid contribution to make to this discussion. I’m also not against every form of attractional ministry, but the real question seems to be to whom and with what we attract students. For too long they’ve been attracted to a funny personality and with entertainment. I’m excited to continue to think about and work toward what it looks like to attract students to Jesus with the gospel.

    And I do find encouragement in knowing that we can work toward a gospel-centered approach that effectively creates a third way of youth ministry: Becoming less programmatic and doing less as a separate youth ministry in order to foster a deeper commitment to and identity with the larger body of Christ and create a love for the local church; centering our ministries on the gospel instead of the ‘edu-tainment’ that has brought us moralistic, therapeutic deism; giving students strong biblical teaching and helping them to embrace a robust theology in their junior high and high school years; generate an approach to church that is not about me and my preferences but Christ and his mission; etc. None of this is easy–the article does well to point out that throughout the history of youth ministry, “church leaders and parents came to expect that successful youth ministry is primarily about having fun and attracting large crowds.” This of course makes any change in the larger DNA of youth ministry in the United States incredibly difficult. I’m blessed to be at a church where the leadership does not determine the health of youth ministry by these unhealthy categories. I love the way that Wright ends the article: “The task before us is enormous. We need to change the way we pass the faith to the next generation. Believing in the sufficiency of Scripture, we must turn to the Bible to teach us how to do ministry (rather than just what to teach). Students need gospel-centered ministries grounded in the Word of God.” This is a challenge worth taking up.

    Thank you.

    • Dave Wright

      JD, thanks. I am considering writing a bunch of follow up stuff on to explore what I could not in the 1000 word limit of this blog post and also look at alternatives to the reality that we typically find.

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  • Big Ben

    the sheep don’t come cos the grass ain’t feeding enough. This is true for anyone of any age. Youth or not, it’s the discipeship ( being grounded in God’s word) , fellowship ( a close supportive relationship with other believers) and challenge ( an unwavering commitment to Christ) that keeps them coming. Youths will come when their deepest spiritual and socio-emotional needs are being met, not their appetite for entertainment and fun. To put it simply, its all about pitching the important things at the right level for them. Going through the stations of the cross with them over the Passion Week? Is that crazy or what? Yep. But done that, and they came away with a better understanding of Christ’s sufferings. The form that it takes, FIC or not. Does it REALLY matter?

    Have they met Christ? Are they following Him? Are they connected with other believers? These are the more important questions to answer for churches.

    Young people are body, soul and spirit too.

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  • Matt

    I’m sure it was brought up in other comments here, but I haven’t taken the time to read every single one yet. I feel like this article does a great job of showing us where Youth Ministry has been and why it is the way it is now. I also agree that it’s a broken model that isn’t very effective in helping students actively live out their faith now, and as they head off into adulthood. What I don’t see in this article is the “so what now” idea. Saying that we need to change what we do and have “gospel-centered ministries” is a great idea that I totally agree with. Can someone explain how this is done, because I didn’t see that in this article? How about a practical way these changes are happening in churches so that we can see what this change looks like and learn from it? That kind of an article would be way more valuable than one that talks once again about how broken all of our Youth Ministries are.

    • Tobe Hester


      This is the first in a series of articles on this subject by this author…I’m quite sure I’m in the minority but I do not believe youth ministry can be reformed. The defintion of biblical reform, as I understand it, is to return something back to it’s biblical or scriptural roots. Since I don’t beleive a set apart youth ministry to be rooted and grounded in scripture, I do not believe it can be reformed.

      • Matt

        I’m glad to hear that more is coming. I’m looking forward to reading more on this topic.

        If Youth Ministry cannot be reformed, I’d love to see what churches are doing differently. I’m confident that it involves a major paradigm shift in a church as a whole, not just a different way to do ministry. My question is, which churches have attacked this problem and are going about things in a more healthy way. I’d love to see some examples of churches that have had established youth ministries in their churches for years and have completely changed in order to more effectively minister to children, teens and families. Seeing what these churches are doing successfully would be a great encouragement to me that there is a better way out there.

        • Dave Wright

          I will try to get some examples of this sort of shift on in the future. Several of the churches I work with have done just that.

    • Dave Wright

      As was mentioned, this was a series opener. I am not sure if the other articles in the series address the alternatives as there are a number of contributors to the series. I do intend to offer some further thoughts on Hopefully I can get some up next week.

  • Mark McLean

    This article is spot on in every point.
    I couldn’t agree more. In my ministry, God lead me to focus on a gospel driven program to create true discipleship, and i did indeed experience the resistance he described. I will not, however let that resistance deter me from the work!

  • Dottie

    Just before I read this article, I was thinking about how the para-church leads the church – at least in the youth ministry area. The church takes what the para-church does – like Young Life – re works it and then it becomes standard fare for the church. Only churches don’t quite do it like Young Life or as well. There are other examples as well, where the para church is cutting edge and the church mimics, but not quite and not quite as well.

    The next place my mind went does that make the para-church the church? Since they lead the way? Oh boy, I think. Another question I can’t ever ask. Please don’t let this fall out of my mouth at the wrong time or place. I will offend everyone if I ask this one.

    I read the article and I wonder, how many YL kids become followers of Jesus? How many of them leave Christ and the Church? Does YL have numbers on that?

    And then I read that the church has taking over youth ministry from the para church. “What happened in all that? First, we moved from parachurch to church-based ministry (though the parachurch continues).”

    Are we in trouble?

  • mark mclean

    Dotted,you ask if we are on trouble, and if you look at the trend of the “church” (quotations used to note the collective church culture), in which there has not only been a steady decline of young people, but now the baby boomers generation due to the aging process, then it cannot be denied that we are in trouble. The church today generally speaking, follows two mindsets regarding its youth. The first is the idea that what they saw success with 30 years ago is still as fresh and relevent today, so why step outside the box. The other mindset is a complete opposite of this, where we feel compelled to continue seeking out the next new thing, and turning away from time tested ideals of presenting the gospel. The first of these extremes fails because today’s youth cannot relate to things from 30 years ago. The second fails because it lacks fundamentals and a solid foundation in the Good News message. So long as we as youth leaders continue this vicious cycle, we will continue watching the church spiral deeper in peril. Youth are not, as some say, the church of tomorrow. They are the church of today. Show me a congregation lacking a quality youth program, and I’ll show you a body slowly dying from spiritual decay.

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  • Jonathan

    I know it’s already been stated – but being an active Youth Minister that disciples, preaches and takes my job as a pastor seriously I must say this. The spiritual failings of Youth are primarily a direct result of the spiritual failure of the family. I’ve been leading youth spiritually for 20 years and have seen the pattern over and over again. This may be a little harsh … If conservative lead pastors would train/disciple the men of the church on how to be a godly father and husband, things would turn around. Don’t make the classic feel good evangelical mistake of expecting the Youth Group to fix the spiritual problems of the home. Youth fail in large part because families fail. Families fail in large part because Church leadership has failed them.

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  • Sean McGever

    I’m so late to the game that it probably is too late!

    I met the Lord through YL and am glad that it is highlighted in this article. I think the real elephant in the room is how this brand of ministry has risen become so popular in the adult church. Recent Christmas and Easter services in my community are the same type of hype with little Bible teaching and discipleship. I live in a city of millions of people, and thousands of churches and I can only name one or two churches that I think actually DO discipleship. When you read Kendra Dean’s Almost Christian, you see that the largest determiner of a young person’s faith is NOT the youth program (YL, YFC, youth group), it is the actual lived-out faith of the parents. This is not a blame-game, but a responsibility check. I would assume everyone reading this blog is an adult. We should ask ourselves, “who is discipling me”, and “who am I discipling” (regardless of our age). If we cannot answer either of those questions then we are perpetuating the problems that are addressed above.

    From a YL perspective… gold fish, pizza, and dodgeball still work if it is in the context of a relationship. But ALL of it must point toward making disciples and not converts as wisely mentioned above.

    • Dave Wright

      Sean… never too late. The elephant you raised is a pretty well documented reality. Kenda’s point is important and yet good youth ministry should either be a contradiction to the lame faith of parents or a compliment to the strong faith of parents.

      Goldfish… really? I have yet to see what gimmicks have to do with the gospel. As to whether those things still work, i think it depends on your context. In mine, kids see the fluff and conclude that there is nothing important here.

  • Sean McGever

    Dave, thank you so much for your interaction, even for a latecomer like me.

    I agree with the contradiction/compliment statement – well put. How do you see this well documented reality being engaged in the church community? I do not see much of that in my circles.

    Yes, I concede that I think the goldfish thing is pretty lame, so is the fake snow falling from the ceiling during Christmas service at one of the largest churches in our state I saw last year, among other odd things which are so easy to notice. I’ve never been to a ministry conference but it seems that there is a entire stream of them which promote being part of some random guiness book of world records attempt, not to mention the latest and greatest popular book author with a great headshot for the ad (maybe this is the adult version of goldfish).

    In actuality, I think one key, as you mention, is context. I am involved in a ministry that is in 76 countries and we use the same principles with youth in all of them, but we change the contextualization quite a bit.

    Loving the posts… can’t wait to read more.

  • David Hill

    One of the most helpful books I’ve ever read on ministry in general – let alone Youth Ministry – is Mark Ashton’s “Christian Youth Work”. If you’re involved in youth ministry and you haven’t read it you need to get hold of a copy.

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  • Dave Wright

    I have posted a series that unpacks the main points of this article at and am posting thoughts on ways forward…

  • Jon Homesley

    1. David, your first application is that by segregating youth, we have cut them off from the rest of the body. Would you make the same argument for children’s ministry, senior adult ministry, and age based Sunday school/small groups? BTW I appreciated your closing statement on Gospel centered student ministries, and agree completely. Youth Ministry has its problems, but I don’t believe that capital “Y” youth ministry is by necessity the problem.

    2. Any youth worker that would deny the ultimate responsibility of discipleship that is incumbent upon parents will most likely operate a theologically weak ministry. Youth workers, of which I am one, must support, come along side, and point to the role of parents as the primary disciplers of students. However, there are plenty of students in our church who don’t come from traditional families who are practicing active discipleship in the home. They desperately need the Titus 2 “older men” to teach the younger. Whether or not youth ministry is the method is irrelevant. What is important is that godly men pour into them. The same goes with ladies.

    3. Much of this debate is over what type of ministry is Biblically commanded. The danger I see in arguing against youth ministry, because it is not practiced/commanded in scripture, is that many of our contemporary contextualizations of the ministry of the Church are not practiced or commanded by the Bible. Sunday school, Worship Ministry (as we know it), the practice of communion using a stale square cracker and grape juice, multi-site simulcasting, and many more are modern contextualizations of the ministry of the church. Though none of these are mentioned in scripture, I believe they have been beneficial to the church. Arguing that only those worship practices witnessed in, and regulated by the scriptures is, I believe, ill-advised. Rather, I believe a normative rule is to be desired, so long as it is in keeping with the gospel.

    • Dave Wright

      Jon, Thanks for your comments. I think you may have misread my article though. First, the point I was making about having segregated youth was not an application but a statement of a reality that exists in churches all over America. It is not true of all churches and less true of conservative evangelical churches than mainline ones. The segregation we have is the result of church leaders and parents who leave the youth to the youth room and intergenerational relationships are rare. The same could be said for children. In stating this reality, I was not arguing against youth ministry. That has been my profession for more than 25 years and I very much believe in youth groups, etc. Second, the rest of your comments are not about the article but about the discussion that took place in the comments. I am not one who believes that just because youth ministry is not stated clearly in the Bible, we should not do it. If that were the case, I would need to change careers. I am also keenly aware that many students do not come from families that are able to disciple their kids.

      • Jon Homesley

        Should have used “conclusion” but I agree with you completely David. The comments certainly moved beyond the scope of your post, and I was adding my point of view. My 2nd & 3rd points were more directed at the thread.

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