A tip of the hat to Rob Martin for posting the link to this article by David Fitch. Fitch is critical of what he considers the typical youth group. He has three main points, which I will summarize here. I’ll also comment on how I feel our youth group at McBIC addresses his concerns.
1.) YOUTH GROUPS FOSTER PEER ORIENTATION. His point is that many youth groups seem to incline kids to hang out with each other, and gain their worth from each other. They are separated from the larger church body, and grow their own ideas of what Christianity is without the community influence of the adults in the church. While this may be true in many churches, this is not the case at McBIC. First, while we do segregate ages (senior high and middle school meet different nights, and small groups are based on grade and gender), we have a large group of adults that work with our teens. The youth are encouraged to connect with their leaders, and look to them for guidance and help. Also, youth are encouraged to serve on Sunday mornings, rather than attend youth “Sunday School”. Either way, they are constantly told that we expect them to attend one of the main morning worship services. If they serve in the kids ministry, or as a usher or greeter, first service, they should go to main service second service. If they serve second, they should go to first service, not Sunday School. We recognize the value of service. Several of our teens serve on worship teams in our main services. Once a year the teens run the whole thing: worship team, ushers, greeters, etc. The youth in our church are not the Church of tomorrow, they are a part of the Church today!
2.) YOUTH GROUPS UNDERCUT WHOLISTIC COMMUNITY FROM WHICH A CHILD CAN LEARN FAITH IN CHRIST AS A WAY OF LIFE/RELATIONSHIP, NOT JUST INFORMATION SLICKLY DELIVERED. This is, in part, a further development of part of the first point. Church is about community, and living life together. Churches that separate out their youth for some things, need to be intentional about maintaining the connections between the youth and the adults in some other way. We may not be perfect at McBIC, but I think the details I laid out above show that we are thinking about community and how to maintain the connection between all of the parts of our church.
3.) YOUTH GROUPS TOO OFTEN TRY TO ATTRACT YOUTH PLAYING TO THEIR WORST INTERESTS. Youth love games. They love to hang out. They love good music. If youth group is all about this, though, we end up with shallow youth whose faith will disappear when they are on their own. We certainly have many kinds of fun activities in our youth group. For the most part, these are intended to make it more comfortable for teens who bring their unchurched friends with them. However, the focus is always on drawing closer to Christ. If something is going to be sacrificed for the sake of time, it is the fun. The service can run a little long. Small groups can keep the discussions going as long as needed. If the Spirit is moving in ministry, even the message can be cut short so that we can follow where God is leaving.
As an example, we had a youth retreat this past weekend. 120 or so youth, plus 25-30 leaders spent Friday night through Sunday afternoon at Camp Hebron in Halifax, PA. Several of the youth were gushing about the retreat on facebook after they returned home. The stuff they were most excited about were the sessions. They were excited about the time spent in God’s Word. They were excited about the worship, and singing praise to God. They were excited about the ministry, the opportunities they were given to be prayed for, to receive physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. They were excited about receiving freedom from the strongholds they have had in their lives. Sure, they said, playing games, including dodgeball, was fun, and all, but it was the sessions that were clearly the best part! That sounds like teens who “get it”. They enjoy the fun breaks, but they really liked the sessions. The Saturday evening session lasted three hours, and the teens kept begging for more worship time. God’s Spirit is moving in these teens, and they are learning to walk with Him. That sounds like the real point of youth group. Reach teens where they are, and help them draw near to Christ, and become committed and connected to His Body, the Church.
Nope. We’re not perfect. Fortunately, we don’t have to be. God can work through us as long as we are willing to listen and learn from Him. Our youth pastor sets a good example of that, and the youth ministry team follows that lead. Our senior pastor and our church supports us, and is emotionally invested in helping and encouraging the youth, and those of us who help lead them. It is a pretty sweet place to be, drawing closer to God, and helping the upcoming generation of Church leaders do the same. I think youth ministry done right is vital to the continued health of the Church. I hope youth leaders will try to avoid the pitfalls that Fitch identifies and not weaken the next generation.