People often ask me what I think about the future of youth ministry. My response usually surprises them. I am VERY excited about the future of youth ministry. As a matter of fact 2013 could be youth ministry's break out year. This may be the year that...
1. A lack of budget triggers a more mature approach to youth ministry. The value of a strained US economy is that smaller church offerings can lead to tighter youth ministry budgets. Before you call me crazy remember that a smaller youth ministry budget can lead to less goofiness and more seriousness when it comes to youth ministry programming. And that's a good thing.
God has blessed me with the privilege of leading a ministry called Dare 2 Share for the last twenty years. We train teenagers to share their faith all across the country. Because much of our income is donor related when "The Great Recession" hit in 2008 we had to cut staff, slash programs and sharpen our focus. While these were challenging times God has used it in powerful ways to make us more serious and strategic about a much more singular mission. The same can happen for youth ministries that get their budget slashed. Sometimes a "fiscal cliff" becomes a bridge to a more mature approach to youth ministry. Less sizzle, more steak.
2. A growing number of youth leader networks become gospel-driven. Having seen a gospel-driven youth ministry up close and personal I'm hopeful that this model can be multiplied across the country. When I hung out with the network in Kenosha, Wisconsin I was blown away by what I saw and heard. I witnessed youth leaders who had each other's backs, who prayed for each other and supported each other. This was no chewy, gooey ecumenical kumbaya-fest. It was real youth leaders from differing denominations who united together around the one thing they all agreed on...the gospel.Their mission is to collectively fill each others youth groups with new teen converts and recruit more churches to do the same until every teen in Kenosha hears the gospel. To read more about "The Kenosha Allies" and discover the 5 characteristics of a kingdom-advancing network check this article out.
3. Prayer becomes the driving strategic force behind more youth ministry efforts. When prayer stops being the "holy water" we sprinkle on our whiteboard-written strategies and starts being our primary strategy, revival may actually happen. I believe more and more youth leaders are realizing this. Every major spiritual awakening has had prayer on the leading edge of it. Prayer is the engine, not the caboose, on the revival train. And, oftentimes, it's the young people who are sitting with the Conductor leading the way through intercessory prayer.
According to one eyewitness report of The Great Welsh Revival in 1859, “one of the most striking characteristics of the movement was its effect on young people and even on children. The youth of our congregations are nearly all the subjects of deep religious impressions. Very young people … children from 10 to 14 years of age, gather together to hold prayer meetings, and pray very fervently. In many places, the young people hold a prayer meeting of their own, and these sometimes proved instrumental in bringing the powerful influences of the revival to that particular locality. The majority of all converts of the revival … were young people!”
Let's stop reading these revival accounts and start experiencing it ourselves!
4. Youth ministry and family integrated ministry find their groove...together!
There is a battle in many churches over the role of the traditional youth ministry model and the family integrated model (moms and dads discipling their own children.) It seems to me that there is a "best of both worlds" solution that some youth ministries are starting to tap into. The power of parents leaning into the spiritual development of their own children combined with a setting where teenagers can relate to other teenagers spiritually could be the model that catapults youth ministry to the next level. The more spiritually mature adults who are willing to mentor their children/teens and other children/teens the better! This should happen at home and church! The youth leaders who are seeing the power of Titus 2 (older women mentoring young women/older men mentoring young men) should do nothing more than accelerate the mission of the youth leader and godly parents. Sure, there will still be the "our way is the only way" people, but, most youth leaders should be able to merge the power of both approaches into their youth ministry models.
5. Evangelism combines with social justice to advance the gospel like never before. Most youth leaders have progressed past the either/or dichotomy of social justice or evangelism. Let's send "or" to his room without breakfast. Let's give "and" the best seat at the table instead. Enough of "either/or" let's opt for "both/and" as leaders of the next generation!
For decades verbal evangelism was all the rage. But many youth leaders got bored with just giving the gospel and wanted to express it in deeds as well. As the social justice movement gained momentum in youth ministry circles the pendulum swung hard the other way. But this hard swing also began to leave spiritually mature youth leaders wanting. More and more youth leaders are realizing that there is a precious middle ground of helping teens to express the gospel with their lives (aka "social justice") and with their lips (aka "evangelism.") They are realizing that this middle ground is not built on compromise but conviction. It's combining nitrogen with glycerin, peanut butter with chocolate and, in light of the New Year, egg with nog.
If you are a youth leader be excited for 2013. Tight budgets shouldn't scare you. Instead they should drive you to your knees in prayer, trigger an approach youth ministry that is more mature and encourage you to equip your teenagers to live and give the gospel. All the while you can be networking together with youth leaders of like mind and heart to advance THE Cause of Christ!
This is the stuff revival is made of. Bring on the new year!