I am not new to youth ministry nor have I been around forever (a brief disclaimer to my upcoming observation) I may be on to something or super off base. I realize the responses in this blog are skewed by region, church size, city, church affiliation and so on. Yet, I think I see a growing trend and I want to see if you make similar observations.
Mark Oestreicher of the Youth Cartel, April Diaz of Newsong Church in Irvine and Steve Argue of Mars Hill in Grand Rapids will be answering my question on this “all skate” blog.
So here is my somewhat current observation of youth ministry…
Large group gatherings with the great speaker and band are no longer drawing the numbers they once did while recruiting volunteers who serve for over two years or more is much harder than it was 10 years ago.
I asked MarkO, April and Steve to Agree, Agreeish, Disagree or Disagreeish with each statement I made.
1. Large Group Gatherings-
MarkO weighs in…Agree-ish : in general, i think these sorts of gatherings are, across the board, not getting the numbers they used to get. shoot, just look at Planet Wisdom or Acquire the Fire or Dare 2 Share, or any number of the large denominational events. they are fairly universally smaller than they were 10 – 15 years ago. my contention would be that while there are many reasons for this (including the economy, increased parental pressure for academic and sports achievement, and what i perceive as a general rise in skepticism, cynicism, and organizational mistrust amongst youth workers) is that the splintering of youth culture has resulted in a super-heightened need for belonging above the previously elevated need of autonomy. people don’t really experience belonging in large groups. so the youth ministry that focuses on a large group show is much more challenged these days, i believe, in connecting with the desires of teenagers.
There’s something incredibly refreshing about the large crowds being decentralized into smaller tribes of people. I think the days of the “big show” in youth ministry (and the American church for that matter) are quickly ending. They’ve probably been dead for longer but the crowds are catching up with that reality. There’s something so powerful to how Jesus did ministry with his 3 then 12 then 30 then 120 then the crowds. Far too long we’ve focused on the crowds without considering the unique ways people grow in Christ (their discipleship). We’ve traded customized spiritual formation for one-size-fits-all processes.
Steve on large groups… Agree-ish : …but not sure if we know what we’re seeing actually means. If you are suggesting that the form of big group/speaker/band is less effective, I’d say that’s probably so but we have to assess this through multiple lenses. Sociologically, we are an increasingly more diversified culture (in some ways not, but that’s outside the realm of this argument). Take music or trends- the variety of expressions and groupings have more options than back in the day of mainstream country/rock/pop, three TV networks and the FM radio. Bottom line, large group Youth group gigs aren’t the only options any more (within or outside of church, agreeing with April here). If “ineffective” then means, “we don’t have the corner of the market where kids show up,” I think we better get used to this reality.
2. Difficulty in Recruiting
MarkO on recruiting… Disagree-ish : i suppose organizational allegiance has gone down across the board, so maybe some are experiencing this more; and people are busier (or think they are) than ever. but, really, i haven’t seen a marked shift in this area. volunteers who are treated like props won’t last. volunteers who experience meaningful belonging themselves, who are built up and equipped, who sense god working through them, are likely to stick around.
: As for volunteers, in our setting this is not the case. We have volunteers continually joining the ministry and others who roll off do to college graduations or moving but the core of our teams are people who’ve been around for many years. Perhaps this is because of the thrust toward intergenerational relationships. In some ways we expect more from volunteers because of the connections to the broader church and other generations. But in many ways our volunteers are just normal people embedded into the life of our church. They our “volunteer” pool is increasingly deep and wide. The volunteer focus is centered on relationship building over programatic participation.
: Not-so-sure-about-this-ish. Three thoughts… First, people are really busy and I think the church needs to find ways for volunteers to be successful rather than shaming them into service [e.g. "We still need 3 more teachers for middle school boys! Anyone? Anyone?"].
Would love for our youth ministry community to weigh in on these questions and responses.