For decades now, churches with a heart for young people have strived to build strong youth groups. Chances are, if you grow up in the church between 1970 and today, you can identify many blessings that you received from your experience in youth group. Churches should continue to gather adolescents to give them age-specific training and peer contact.
While many have experienced spiritual growth through their youth groups, the evidence is becoming clear that the youth-group culture that churches have developed is not an overall benefit in the discipleship of young people, but may be a barrier. Youth group, and the effort of youth pastors, has wonderful advantages, but these studies show that many youth experience a ghetto of isolation in their peer groups. This isolation has created many disadvantages to lasting faith and maturing disciples.
A couple weeks ago I wrote about 3 alternatives children have to going to Sunday school. Here are 4 alternatives to the typical youth ministry that will help youth benefit from involvement with the whole church.
1. Run youth groups on an intermittent schedule.
Rather than expecting youth group to be every week, 52 weeks per year, hold 3 or 4 series for four to six weeks. These series can be built around specific topics or activities. By making youth group intermittent, you can alternate youth involvement in peer specific group and cross generational activities: out reaches, small groups meetings, prayer meeting, visiting shut-ins, etc. This will demand that the whole church also work on an alternative schedule.
2. Introduce youth to adult ministries.
Holly Allen, a professor at John Brown University, has demonstrated that cross generational small groups benefit all. This step takes time and training. It’s a culture shift, but as churches work through the change, many find it beneficial for all ages.
3. Create pathways and encouragement for youth to serve others in the church.
Youth can serve in just about every way that adults serve. Give them encouragement, opportunity and training, and the youth will benefit greatly.
4. Welcome youth as junior members of leadership and ministry teams.
Should the church trust youth to be mature enough to run the church? No. But can youth learn and be helpful in leadership teams? Absolutely. Think of this as an apprenticeship. There’s really no leadership or ministry team that couldn’t welcome a youth or two. The idea would be that you don’t flood teams with adolescents, but that each team has room for one or two to join the discussion. Demonstrate in these groups that they are valuable team members, but also provide training and guidance.
A church wouldn’t need to implement all four of these alternatives to strengthen its discipleship of youth, but as churches find ways to do two or three of them, they will find that their young people will have a stronger connection to the church as a whole. This will lead to young people who are more committed to being disciples of Jesus Christ, even when they leave their childhood homes behind.