The church congregation is the larger Christian community, while the students in the youth ministry are barely connected to the overall church.
I call these types of ministries "church tumors." It's a bit of a gruesome image, but the concept is theologically-based. If the church is a body of believers, church tumors are those smaller, symbiotic clusters of people that have attached themselves to the larger body, using its resources but never fully integrating or connecting. Examples: a rogue small group of adults, an ingrown Sunday school class of retirees, or a thriving youth ministry program.
I was reading this post I wrote a few years ago. The principles still feel fresh:
I think youth ministry can unintentionally turn youth groups into church tumors. The church is a body of believers building one another up. But the youth group can often be a disconnected-yet-attached growth on the church body, having its own youth leadership, youth services, youth small groups, youth worship team, etc. It exists in the context of the overall church, but never fully contributes to the greater community. When a high school senior graduates from the tumor, all of the habits and comforts of the tumor are gone as they attempt to integrate into the body. The tumor-graduate can't integrate very well; he or she has always been part of the tumor, and this new body has vastly different expectations and values.
How can we prevent church tumors in youth ministry? It requires a paradigm shift in how we view adolescents. Tumor-ministry views them as a distraction needing to be in a spiritual holding-tank until they can finally be disciples as an adult ("let's give the youth their own service so the adults can worship in peace"). Healthy-body-ministry views adolescents as active, participating disciples with enormous potential and leaders within the church ("let's graciously invite students to participate with the body, recognizing their value to church community").
There is a movement in the youth ministry world towards intergenerational ministry, integrating both younger and older in worship together as a common community of believers. It requires buy-in from parents, students, and fellow pastors, but this kind of ministry truly needs the ownership of the youth ministry leaders.
Let's not grow church tumors. Let's lead the way in building healthy local bodies of believers.
Question: what are some practical ways to foster body-ministry instead of tumor-ministry?