Youth Groups: A Good Idea or a Bad Idea?

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josh p's picture

Thanks for this one John and Jim for posting it. I think I had an unusually good youth group in my teen years and this has been my observation as well. From my perspective the biggest concern is what you alluded to about the infantization of teens. It seems crazy that a 17 year old young man cannot sit in an adult service but a year or two later he may be married and expected to lead a home. Likewise for girls who will also have tremendous responsibility. We should be expecting more from Christian youth, not less. Good article. 

Ron Bean's picture

I remember the first time I read "The Trellis and the Vine" and youth groups were one of the first potential empty trellises that I thought of. I'd like to think that are some good and spiritually profitable youth groups but I still think that the whole church and the home are the best ones.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

If you got rid of the moralism and "gross out games" and the like, would the concept be redeemable?  I just had a bit of "fun" with youth group last night and I have to wonder, to be honest.  

One big step that we ought to take is to make sure whoever is interacting with teens have some real training--I dare suggest that Bible college grads tend very strongly to that therapeutic moralism, sad to say. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

John E.'s picture

No doubt, there are examples of "youth group" done well. Even then, I think, I would have my suspicions that not having a youth group would be still be better. I'm not sure how churches can structure youth groups in a way that doesn't create a para-church-type organization within the church. Like you'd, I'd be interested in hearing how it's been done, if it's been done.

Bert Perry's picture

....when discussing one of the harder "anti-youth-group" theologies, the family centered church, it occurred to me that there is a clear example of a Biblical group that is sex-and-age-segregated from others, and it worked out pretty well: the Disciples.  No?  Not just within 4-5 years like youth group, of course, but worth noting.  Jesus also never really spoke out against the synagogue system--against the theology of the Pharisees that they taught, yes, but against the "shul" itself, I can't say that He did.  (maybe I'm wrong, but interesting if I'm right, no?)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Andrew K's picture

I remember hearing a critique from Mike Horton that resonated with me. He pointed out something to the effect of the hard transition youth groups can create between the young and adult members.

They hit their 20s and suddenly it's, "Hey! Where'd my games, movies, and pizza parties go? I thought church was supposed to be fun!" And most of them don't stick around.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Still working on a more pithy way to express it, but this is one of my personal core principles: Never dismiss as a bad idea what is actually poor implementation of good idea.

What youth groups did for me:

  • Gave me my first opportunities to open the word to my fellow believers
  • Gave me my first opportunities to encounter first hand, and think critically about, differences of interpretation
  • Gave me my first opportunities to experience non-familial Christian fellowship with people my own age
  • Gave me my first opportunities to see the difference, experience the difference, between the power of expositional ministry and the fleeting drama of revivalism
John E.'s picture

Aaron, that's good advice. However, speaking of youth groups, I've yet to hear a compelling argument for why youth groups are a good idea. I fail to see the need to begin with. I'm sure that I've haven't heard all the arguments for why youth groups are a good idea, though. 

John E.'s picture

I posted while you were editing, Aaron. I've got to get to the church building, but I'll read and respond later, maybe in agreement.  

Bert Perry's picture

Fatherless children.  It's a less threatening way to reach out to them because they get to interact with their peers, and then they can interact with (theoretically) mature adults.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ron Bean's picture

I don't want to downplay the problem of children without a father in the home but if children are getting more Bible teaching at church and youth group than they are at home, they may indeed be "fatherless".

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

John E.'s picture

No doubt, many could give similar bullet points of the ways in which their youth group was profitable. In fact, I could do so with even my mostly dysfunctional youth group. The thing is, as I read your list, there's nothing there that can't be (and shouldn't be) done by churches that are intentional about training within the larger body the teens and youth that God has given them. It's not that I don't believe that youth groups can be profitable, it's that I am unaware of any profit that requires a youth group. Why intentionally place obstacles requiring energy and effort to circumvent if the good can be accomplished without the obstacles? Youth groups tend to create problems in order to do good that could've been done without the youth group to begin with. 

 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Quote:
Why intentionally place obstacles requiring energy and effort to circumvent if the good can be accomplished without the obstacles?

Makes sense to me. But I don't think there is any obstacle-free approach, and the few additional hassles involved in having a YG bring some additional opportunities as well.

I get the impression that we are not defining "youth group" the same way. What you described as an alternative to YG looks to me like pretty much the description of a YG....just not necessarily executed the same way as some churches do it.

SarahN's picture

For me personally, youth group was a very good idea. My family moved from Texas to Georgia right before I entered 7th grade, and the good solid preaching and doctrine I learned from our youth leaders still affect how I think and operate today. Interaction with the ladies on the youth staff changed me for the better in more ways than I can recount in one paragraph, and that's interaction that would not have happened in just a regular church setting. We also had frequent small group meetings for prayer, accountability, and Bible study, that made it hard to disappear. My personality (and life circumstances) as a teenager would have made it easy for me to fall between the cracks without things set up the way they were. I have observed in other places youth group being done the wrong way, but for me, it was one of the biggest influences in my spiritual life.

John E.'s picture

You're probably right, Aaron. Based on the comments, I've realized that I'm not necessarily speaking about the same thing as some. For me, youth group conjures up images of an almost separate entity from the church that is very program driven. Most often, the interaction between the teens and the adults of the church are limited and infrequent. 

We have separate Sunday school classes for middle schoolers and high schoolers at my church. And we encourage parents to help foster friendships between the teens. Other than that, as a church, our energy and budget is geared towards fostering discipleship in ways that keep the teens near the adults - being reformed Baptists affects our ministry philosophy in this area, too.  

Richard Brunt's picture

My  experience with youth groups was very positive. When I was a teenager there were no Christian Schools (at least not in the northeast) so I went to a public school.  I started going to a Bible believing Baptist Church when I was 15. I got saved there after attending for about a year.  We did have some fun outings but mostly we got together with other like mined youth groups for preaching, food, and fellowship.  I loved it.  Most of my dating experience was at youth groups.  Of course there were some kids who were just there for the fun stuff but I saw a real revival in our church that started in the youth group.  I'm sure there were some kids who faked salvation but it was very real to me.  Our church was very evangelistic but definitely not easy-believism.  A lot of young people got saved through our youth group.

Richard E Brunt

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I've seen the contact with adults thing overdone in both directions....  too much  too little... Or just not good quality interaction regardless of the quantity.

What I like to see now, I really didn't adequately prioritize back when I was "doing youth ministry" -- teens and adults serving together.

Nobody does youth discipleship perfectly. 

@Sarah, thanks for sharing that. My own experience growing up in church wasn't that good  but overall was still very positive . 

One thing a distinct "group" can provide is opportunities for leadership while still too young to lead in adult ministry. 

 

John E.'s picture

"Nobody does youth discipleship perfectly."

That's a statement I'm in 100% agreement with. Because of that, I thank God for brothers and sisters in Christ who strive to disciple teens well, even if we disagree on some of the specifics. 

CAWatson's picture

I was a youth minister - but the situation was quite a bit different than the typical American youth group. I was in a Chinese speaking church where the young people spoke English and their parents spoke Chinese (with some broken English). So if you want to observe problems between parents and children, that was the place to do it. 

I did what I knew - teaching the Bible, meeting with people, practicing hospitality and getting close in the lives of the people. I have never been big on games and activities. I never was that kind of guy. And I agree with you that youth ministry (with few exceptions) does more to separate people out of churches than it does to bring churches together. 

I did it out of linguistic necessity. And out of that small group, as far as I can tell (I haven't kept track of all of them) - only one openly practices anything similar to biblical Christianity. But the one was worth it. 

Mark_Smith's picture

I was surprised by something that was missing from John Ellis's initial post. I was saved at 19, so I missed youth groups. My oldest is 12, and is one year from "youth" activities. So, I have no direct experience with them. My wife however experienced "hell on earth" not being in the "in group." I have witnessed this with the youth groups of churches I have attended (the ones that had them) as well. If you are "cool" like John Ellis apparently was, you experienced what he wrote. What about the youth that didn't act like that? The ones he did love God. Who did obey their parents. Who did listen to the sermon. I have seen them, and they are often rejected by the "in crowd."

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The "in crowd" problem is something exists with or without youth groups. The same thing happens at school or anywhere else youth (or adults,  for that matter, though less frequently) gather.

In my experience, an organized youth group with godly leadership has the opportunity to confront this problem far more directly than is possible in a less structured setting. You can literally break up the cliques and team cool people up with not-cool people  etc. The key to a healthy youth culture though, is godly student leaders. When you have a few strong teens who respect everyone, that tends to spread.

I've seen it happen more than once (and saw it fall apart later after the student leadership graduated or moved away.) 

John E.'s picture

Most of the non "cool" kids, the ones who listened to the sermons and didn't rebel, are either progressive "Christians" or they no longer identity as Christians. 

John E.'s picture

The "cool" kids (I wouldn't describe my junior and senior high self as cool) didn't really ostracize the non "cool" kids. Frankly, there weren't very many of them, to begin with. My youth group, the youth groups we partnered with for activities like skate nights, my Christian school, and the Christian camp I worked at were mostly populated by kids who rarely listened to the sermons, secretly listened to rock music, and basically lived for themselves (the majority would be pulled in and out of overt rebellion, and they were often conflicted).

The non "cool" kids couldn't be trusted with certain information about our activities, of course, but we considered them our friends, too. Interestingly, the group that has proven the most faithful to God over the years as a group were the majority middle - the kids who listened to the sermons some time, felt conflicted about things like the music they liked, and believed that there was a behavioral line they shouldn't cross even if they crossed it from time to time. All of that would be interesting to explore further, I think. 

Don Johnson's picture

A lot of the discussion in this thread is merely anecdotal. I've been involved in very small churches pretty well all my life, except for a brief sojourn in Mecca. It's really hard to generalize from individual experiences to come up with wise advice for anyone in leadership.

For our part, we work at encouraging disciple-making in the Sunday school and home, and we try to provide ways for Christian kids to have fun as kids in a Christian context. We've lost some over the years, and kept probably the majority. But we aren't talking big numbers either way.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3