Tuesday, April 22, 2014

6 Predictions for the Future of Youth Ministry

First, a disclaimer: I really have no idea what I'm talking about here. I haven't done any official research, worked on a PhD for these predictions, or examined data. This post is entirely anecdotal and from personal observation, experience, and conversations from leading and learning in youth ministry for a decade in American and Canadian contexts. I'm going to throw these six predictions out there and just see what the youth ministry tribe thinks:

Here's my forecast for what North American youth ministry will look like in ten (10) years...

1. The range for a youth ministry will be from age 8 to age 35. With puberty starting earlier and extended adolescence becoming ubiquitous, a youth pastor will be responsible for shepherding third graders going through puberty as well as 32-year-olds who are still struggling with their sense of identity and autonomy. I still believe the church can become a micro-culture where young people are viewed as potential-filled adults and treated as such, but I think the greater culture may go this route if it continues on the same trajectory, and the church (and youth workers!) will need to find a way to respond accordingly.

2. The drastic decrease of the full-time youth pastor position in churches. The only churches able to afford a full-time youth pastor will be the large suburban megachurches, mostly in evangelical circles in the United States. The vast majority of youth workers will be part-time or volunteer-based youth ministry, and the primary youth workers (apart from parents) will be teachers/professors, coaches, and counselors. Churches will have to become more innovative and collaborative in their youth ministry practices, potentially having more regional youth ministries and partnerships between churches to love the teens in the surrounding neighbourhoods. I wonder what this shift could mean for colleges and seminaries with youth ministry degrees and professorial staff.

3. Youth ministry resourcing organizations will become entirely online and regional. With the advent of the Internet and blogging/tweeting/Facebooking world, the age of the huge youth ministry convention will be over, and the one-size-fits-all curriculum and training that comes from many organizations will go by the wayside. What works in a Catholic setting in Seattle simply doesn't work the same for a Baptist in Nashville. This regional emphasis will clear the way for smaller contextual gatherings and giving voice to a wider variety of youth workers. It will also mean having to discern and sort through the mass of content being created--anyone can create their own website, start a consulting/coaching program, or publish their own book and curriculum, meaning there will simply be more resources (good and not-so-good) to choose from.

4. The traditional family structure of "two married parents with biological children" will be the vast minority. Single-parent homes, divorced parents, blended families, gay parents raising kids, foster and adopted children, and grandparents or other family members raising children will be more of a norm. As the culture is redefining family, this will radically change the entire concept of "family ministry" for churches, as well as increase the need for individualized familial care and counsel. As the family system becomes more complex, so do many of the issues for adolescent identity formation.

5. Families--Christian and non-Christian--will have little to zero Biblical knowledge. As the North American culture becomes increasingly post-Christian, expecting that parents and teens will be familiar with common Bible stories taught in Sunday school will be unrealistic (because Sunday school programs won't exist). Young people will be more familiar with the filmic versions of Jesus or Bible characters (Moses, Noah, etc.) than the characters in the Biblical accounts, and with apps/electronic devices becoming more normative for reading habits, having a Bible or a daily devotion--aka "quiet time"--will be quite different. People read and learn differently in the Internet age; the Bible as literature will be understood and interpreted in new ways by the next generation of readers, requiring a shift in how we teach the Bible and theology.

6. Relationships marked by grace and truth will still matter. It's always been this way. Whatever the future holds, a long obedience in the same direction with a few close Jesus-following friends and mentors will always endure. Beyond programming, culture, demographics, or trends, fostering authentic relationships between adults and youth will continue to be the mark of healthy youth ministry, no matter the age.

What do you think? Which predictions do you think could be accurate, and which sound absurd? Share your thoughts and forecasts in the comments.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting thoughts, Joel.

    The range for youth ministry aging 8 to 32 ... I hope not :) ... I'm not sure if the eligible age will stretch much further than it already is but no question that our "nanny state era" (people increasingly requiring basic physical, emotional and spiritual support outside of a traditional family structure) plus "the internet of everything" (ubiquitous access to adulthood culture) is indeed accelerating pubsecent adolesence but on the other also stunting maturity and a timely ascension into adulthood.

    I am reminded of an article I read a few years ago regarding Disney's predicament in which its target market was increasingly being compressed because it was losing its relevance to younger teens with each passing decade.

    Another datapoint that your column triggers is Mark Driscoll's autobiography I heard a few months ago on audiobook ... while appreciating that Mark has been a polarizing figure, I highly recommend listening to or reading about some of the amusing experiences and "tough love" interactions he had with a few 20-something guys in his church who he felt needed to grow up.

    Finally, your sociological musings also reminded me of easily one of the most interesting books I have read in the past few years, entitled "Coming Apart - The State of White America, 1960-2010" by Charles Murray it explores and reinforces many of the themes you are touching on.

    To your last point, fortunately, the need and desire for relationships rooted in God's grace will never go out of style.

    Ken Redekop