For a long time in our shared calling we’ve made a big deal about being a “youth ministry lifer” – someone who does youth ministry until they’re super old. There certainly was good reason for that when the average stay of a youth worker in a church was less than a year and people recklessly used the position as a stepping stone to become a real pastor.

But here’s what I started thinking this morning: we need more youth workers in other parts of the church, too. We need more youth workers to become senior pastors. We need more leaders of businesses, organizations and non-profits to think like and care like youth workers. Why do we guilt people into staying when God is calling them on? Maybe it is a good thing that many don’t stay in youth ministry their whole life – I just want them to still think, serve and love like a youth pastor when they move on.

I’m not planning on going anywhere – so you’re hearing this from the heart of a youth ministry lifer: if you’re dropping out of youth ministry, always be a youth pastor, even if you’re title changes a little bit.

JG

“Studies indicate that the average youth director lasts only 18 months.” So says George Gallup, the granddaddy of Christian pollsters. I’ve heard the same factoid quoted by esteemed youth ministry speakers, authors, academics, and average-Josephine youth leaders hundreds of times. So it’s gotta be true, right?

Here’s the trouble: I’ve attempted to trace this now-infamous truism back to a specific source, and I can’t find one anywhere. Gallup doesn’t cite a particular study. Neither does Barna. It’s a ghost vampire not even Buffy can kill. The 18-Month Myth is now part of youth ministry lore. It’s been used over and over to describe youth ministers as easily scared gypsies who bolt at the first sign of trouble.

Well, I’m here to tell you it’s all a bunch of bunk.

For years I’ve challenged people who reel off this 18-month statistic to cite their sources. I’ve disputed its authenticity for two reasons: (1) The average GROUP Magazine reader has five years of paid youth ministry experience and has stayed at the same church—both as a volunteer and paid staffer—for more than six years. (2) At conventions, workshops, and in casual conversations with youth ministers all over the country, I hardly ever meet one who bags it after a year-and-a-half.

So we here at GROUP decided to find out the truth, once and for all. We asked our research staff to complete a scientific survey of North American churches using a representative sampling of denominations. Here’s what we discovered:

• The average paid youth minister in America has just over four years experience (4.2 years, to be exact).
• The average paid youth minister in America has been at the same church for almost four years (3.9 years, to be exact).

So if you’ve been at your church for two years or more, you’re not the lone stable person in a crowd of easily-spooked, under-committed goofballs. And, if you’re a GROUP Magazine subscriber, it’s a good bet you’re even more committed to your profession and your church than those nefarious non-subscribers out there. (Hint: I’m not saying there’s a cause-effect relationship between reading GROUP and finding deeper success in youth ministry, but….)

Now I feel all squishy inside—the good kind of squishy. I hope you do, too. I need your help with a few other youth ministry myths I’m looking into right now, including:

#1—Youth ministry is a meat-grinder that will eat you alive, sooner or later. (I mean that rotten senior pastors, difficult parents, and non-appreciative kids await you at every church).

#2—If I create everything in my ministry from scratch, without using outside resources, I will have a more powerful youth ministry. (I mean using pre-packaged resources is not “purist.”)

#3—The goal of my youth ministry is to build close relationships among our kids, and between kids and adults. (I mean if kids in the group experience close friendships, you’ve already succeeded.)

Here’s how you can help: Please share with me any stories, experiences, or insights you have that refute or undermine any of these myths. Just email me at rlawrence@group.com. Thanks!

Rick Lawrence has been editor of GROUP Magazine for 24 years. He was gracious enough to offer up this guest post after participating in yesterday’s poll about youth workers and resumes.