The End of the Weekly Youth Meeting?

Originally published November 2002.

Back in 1992, Mark Senter wrote a revolutionary book called The Coming Revolution in Youth Ministry.  In the book, Senter discovered a 50-year cycle of youth ministry.  In the 1990s the latest 50-year cycle came to an end.  This is the Young Life/Youth For Christ movement that began in the 1940s and revolutionized how churches viewed youth ministry.  Because of this revolution, we now have the youth ministry jobs we do have as well as the youth ministry sub-subculture we live in.


In 1994, Mark Senter wrote an article for Youthworker Journal calling for the end of the “trickle-down strategies.”  In short, that strategy is that if leaders of a student body could be reached for Christ they would become the instruments for reaching an entire high school population with the gospel. 

Senter wrote in that article, “Yet after 50 years of model-oriented youth ministries (trickle-down theory), para-church agencies have a presence in less than 6,600 of the 22,000 public high schools in the United States.  Church-based ministries increase this number only slightly...The trickle-down theory of youth evangelism from a single high school elite to the entire high school population is not working.  Perhaps it never did.  The new paradigm of ministry to youth has begun to replace the model strategy.  Youth ministers are using their creative energies to develop and empower adults who can identify, establish contact with, and evangelize a wide variety of subpopulations within the adolescent world.  The day of the stereotypical youth minister may have come to an end.  In its place is emerging a new breed of visionaries whose leadership gifts enable people around them to evangelize and disciple groups as diverse as hairstyles in a mall.”  (Youthworker, Summer 1994)

So now that we are well into this next 50-year cycle, what emerging youth ministry models have emerged? 

Family-Based Youth Ministry - Who would have guessed twenty years ago that parents would be a central part of youth ministry?  Who would have guessed that parents would be more than van drivers and cookie providers?  But the realization that parents are the number one influencer in a teen’s life have caused many youth ministries to become ministers to the entire family and “raise” youth in the entire church family. 

Christian Clubs/Youth Centers - These places are far from looking like a traditional church with the loud music (if you can call all of it music), wild hairstyles, wild clothes and other types of teens who would not normally be found in a traditional church.  Yet they are experiencing and finding God at these places.  What is happening at these ministries is very similar to what happened during the Jesus Movement where those radical and hungry new Christians were not accepted into the traditional churches due to their attire and radicalness.  Will out of today’s Christian clubs and youth centers grow tomorrow’s Calvary Chapel movement?  Some may be worried that these youth are being raised while not being surrounded by a church family but there are too many aging Jesus Movement folks who love this stuff.  Training for Rockettown in Nashville specifically calls for volunteers to provide the family-type of relationships of which these youth are lacking.

Extra-Curricular Ministry - Many public schools are canceling extra-curricular activities as cost cutting measures.  The church, even a small church, can pick up this slack with starting their own drama program, band program etc.  We have the facilities and the sound systems.  We have the budget if we see the value of providing a safe place after school for wannabe thespians or musicians or whoever.   What a blessing that group can be to your church.  What a blessing your church can be to the entire community.  I know my school superintendent is asking churches (near begging) for them to open up between the hours of 3 and 6.  Perhaps we need to call for the end of the evening youth meeting?  Furthermore according to Senter in The Coming Revolution in Youth Ministry, most of the new cycles began when something changed with the public education system.  Hmmm...

Entrepreneurial Youth Ministry - This is an even farther cry from traditional youth ministry.  Para-church ministries and church ministries are starting programs to teach entrepreneurial ways to teenagers.  While teaching them life skills to break family cycles, the gospel is brought alongside as the base tool to change someone’s future--both spiritual and physical.  There are no weekly night youth meetings but daily contact with mentors that have active involvement with the youth in church, in their work and with their school (more than being a “campus missionary”).  This is drawing the circle of academic stress, future monetary stress and life after stress into one clear circle.  Who would have thought of that twenty years ago?

Tomorrow’s Leaders Today - George Barna is at a crossroads with his ministry.  He believes he was called “to serve as a catalyst for moral and spiritual revolution in America.  He had hoped to push church leaders to revitalize the church, to make it a beautiful and powerful as God meant it to be.”  Barna feels that his ten-year campaign has failed because “The strategy was flawed because it had an assumption.  The assumption was that the people in leadership are actually leaders.  (I thought) all I need to do is give them the right information and they can draw the right conclusions...Most people who are in positions of leadership in local churches aren’t leaders.  They’re great people, but they’re not leaders.” (George Barna) This has the semblence of Mark Senter asking for the end of the “trickle-down strategy” for youth ministry.  (Christianity Today, August 5, 2002)

Barna has set two goals with the long run goal of hoping to cultivate a new generation of leaders, locating them as early as high school and challenging them to participate in strategic development of their capacities to lead for Christ.  Twenty or thirty years from now, he hopes to see the result in a healthy, dynamic church.  Wow!  This is what we as youth ministers truly believe.  How can we shape our ministries to bring out these leaders?  Are we currently raising youths to give America a healthy and dynamic church for tomorrow?

All of these new possible models are so different and varied but all must be viewed as viable.  A youth minister running a youth center may find it hard to comprehend a ministry with parents involved.  But both are very effective and both need to be respected. 

Personally I’m finding that ten years into this new 50-year cycle, it has become an exciting time to be a part of youth ministry and this new movement.