Is youth ministry sabotaging kids’ faith?

By Julie Roys
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A new study by the Fuller Youth Institutes (FYI) indicates it is. As part of Fuller’s “College Transition Project,” researchers followed 384 youth group seniors during their first three years in college. The results are eye-opening. Dr. Kara Powell, director of the FYI, talks about the study’s findings in the six-minute audio clip below. I found especially informative Dr. Powell’s information about the importance of inter-generational relationships – and the unintended consequences of “segregating” our youth (at about 2:30). Every Christian parent and person in children’s and youth ministries should hear this!

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What do you think? Should churches eliminate youth groups? Or, do we just need to modify the way they operate?


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4 thoughts on “Is youth ministry sabotaging kids’ faith?”

  1. Youth ministry can/should be just be one of the aspects of training up a child in the faith. It should not replace going to church as a family, or worshiping and studying at home, etc. When done well, which I am so glad it is done well at my church, it is a fabulous thing. I kind of thought it was funny how surprised she seemed that kids who stray from the faith often return to it when they get older. Shouldn’t be any surprise there…Proverbs 22:6 says that this is EXACTLY what will happen. This verse seems to indicate that even way back when (not sure what “youth ministry” looked like in the time of Proverbs), children experienced a time of moving away from “the church”. There is nothing new under the sun!!! Children leave the home and try on all sorts of new things. Seems like they always have. And I believe they always will, whether or not they attend a youth group, or if that youth group has failings.

    Another thing to consider is youth ministry as an outreach to the unchurched kid from an unchurched family. It might be the only church they will get.

    (I’m thinking that the youth ministry at my church must be some sort of anomaly…)


  2. Certainly, there’s an age-old pattern that kids often stray during adolescence and then return. However, I remember interviewing Drew Dyck who wrote “Generation Ex-Christian.” He said his research shows that an alarming number of young adults who leave the church during their late teens/20s are not ever returning to the church.

    I agree that youth ministry is necessary to reach unchurched kids. I’m all for peer-targeted evangelistic ministry. What I’m beginning to challenge, though, is the way we disciple kids. Why aren’t parents, especially when they’re church members, integrally involved in the process? Why doesn’t the church sponsor more events where the families with teen kids gather as families?

    Our church doesn’t have a youth group, but my kids have attended one at a nearby church. Recently, though, my son said he didn’t want to go anymore because it’s full of cliques. His dad and I said that’s fine and invited him to join our housegroup, which he’s really open to doing. He loves the adults in our group and they’re a great influence. Plus, the younger kids of the adults in our group love my son, so it gives him a ministry opportunity with them. And, as a bonus, he’s experiencing life in the church — not just the youth sub-group.

    That being said, I think some youth groups do better than others — and many promote adult relationships with the kids, which is crucial.

  3. I guess you would have to ask parents that very question. Perhaps they’re turning that responsibility over to the church when they shouldn’t be. As you know, I’m not a parent, so I don’t have personal knowledge of how it is to disciple a kid of my own. Our middle and high school small groups are lead by ministry partner adults and parents. The high schoolers are encouraged to be involved in middle school and grade school ministries. Intergenerational ministry is one of the goals. It’s pretty awesome. Would be nice if more churches did the same. I don’t know if it’s any more effective or not, however. I hope so!

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