Like most youth workers I have been wrestling with the reality that too many of the students who are highly involved in the church as teenagers fade away after high school or college graduation. I’ve been completely turned off by the hyperbole and rhetoric surrounding the issue. I often wonder if some of the voices in this conversation are more interested in being edgy and controversial than they are about realistically trying to help churches navigate the issue. I say “realistically”, because that is what is missing in so much of the pontificating; realistic approaches.
“Quit doing things the old way…it’s okay to get fired from your church” Say people not employed by a church.
“Tell your 65 year old Pastor that his way of measuring success is outdated!” Say the people who don’t work for a 65 year old pastor.
And the un-realistic advice goes on and on and on and on and on……mostly proposed by folks who don’t have a ton to lose when some 24-year old youth worker actually tries one of their ideas in a real-life church scenario.
That’s a long introduction to a blog post! And a long introduction to why I’m so thankful to Kara Powell and the folks at the Fuller Youth Institute for their Sticky Faith research and resources! Kara, as somebody not employed by a church and somebody with a platform to build and resources to sell, could very easily have gone the “The Youth Ministry Sky Is Falling….Run For Your Lives!” route, but she didn’t. Instead, F.Y.I. took a healthy, research-driven approach to a problem that all of us are vitally concerned about.
This weekend Saddleback took a massive step in the right direction…an attempt to begin to break down the silo between our youth ministry and the rest of the church…an attempt to get some sort of multi-generational shoulder rubbing happening. It wasn’t revolutionary, and it will certainly get a few yawns and eye-rolls from those who think we are in some sort of Youth Ministry Armageddon, but it was a big deal to us; and one I’m actually quite proud of and excited about.
Saddleback has always been a “one hour” church in which everybody goes to church for one service or program….the adults go to big church, the kids go to kids church and the teenagers go to youth church. Then everybody meets in the car and goes to lunch together. Obviously, especially in light of knowing what we have all come to know in the past couple of years, this completely segregated approach to church isn’t the healthiest of models.
But what do you do when that paradigm is a primary reason the church grew to 20,000 people?
What do you do when it is one of the reasons the youth ministry has grown to over 2,000 teenagers?
What do you do when your church just built a $20 million youth facility…a bigger, better “silo”?
What do you do when your worship center is so packed there isn’t room for teenagers?
Seriously. I’m wondering what the voices calling for “radical change” would really do if they were in this scenario?
Here’s what I did:
- About a year ago, I started really digging into the Sticky Faith research and asking myself some tough questions.
- About 10 months ago, I started using my allotted “report back” time in our executive meetings to share some of my learnings, to let the senior leadership of my church know that I saw some changes on the horizon.
- About 6 months ago, I suggested the radical idea (radical in our setting) of taking tangible steps to get our teenagers more involved in the overall life of the church. These ideas included combined missions trips, ministry teams, discipleship classes, etc.
- At the same time, I suggested the idea of creating a monthly “Worship Together Weekend”. I pitched the idea that on the first full weekend of every month we cancel our JH and HS church services, completely shut down our youth building and encourage families to go to “big church” together. In essence I proposed that we spend 25% of our time NOT doing the type of ministry that our church has been built upon.
Our executive team…and more importantly, Pastor Rick Warren…bit on the idea. And as a result, this past weekend was our first “Worship Together Weekend”. This weekend everybody CRAMMED into the worship center together…and it was awesome! We had teenagers sprinkled into the adult worship team, our youth staff was roaming around meeting parents who had never stepped foot into our youth building, Pastor Rick wrote a message that somehow managed to be perfect for everybody in the room, and asked me and our college Pastor to help deliver it.
I think this is my longest post ever. But that’s because it’s the result of over a year’s worth of reading, praying, dreaming, debating and wondering.
Contrary to what the folks typing away on blogs, writing in magazines or creating fake documentaries say, those of you neck-deep in the trenches of local church youth ministry don’t have to do anything radical or risk your job to influence healthy change in your church. Keep doing what your doing, and prayerfully ask God if there might be some things that need to be adjusted in order to be more effective in bearing long-term fruit (which is what this is all about). Be aware of your church culture, and boldly move forward in the direction you feel God is nudging you!
And if that results in your firing….so be it. Just don’t get fired doing something some dude(s) you’ve never met, who has no idea of your church context and culture, and has nothing to lose when you lose your position or paycheck wants you to do!