Should We Scrap Youth Ministry?
by Matt Rawlings
Years ago, I ran across Thom Rainer’s book The Bridger Generation (B&A Academic 2006), which surveyed the attitudes of various age groups toward Christianity. Rainer’s study claims that two-thirds of those born before the end of World War II proudly call themselves Christian. Only one-third of Baby Boomers, those born between 1945 and 1962, identify themselves as followers of Jesus. Roughly 15% of Generation-X, those born between 1962 and 1980, are willing to call to Jesus Lord and only 3% of Generation-Y will do so. I remember thinking Rainer couldn’t be right until I looked around a few churches and saw that the numbers held up.What happened?
If time and money were the answer then the churches should be packed with people 30 and under. After all, most churches have invested a small fortune into youth ministry but the numbers continue to hold. One recent study claimed two-thirds of teenagers raised in the church will leave during their twenties. Barna claims the fault isn’t just with the secular atmosphere of most universities (although they admit it is a factor) for most of the twentysomethings they surveyed claimed they had given up on the faith in their teens even while still attending youth ministry events.
Some within the church claim this has always been the way things are and that people return to the church once they get married and have kids. Today, many wait until they are in their thirties to start families so they caution against being “Chicken Little” and advise everyone to just calm down and wait. But studies seem to indicate that most young couples raised in churches that are now in their thirties have no intention of coming back.
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Barna points out that this phenomenon has not always been the case. In the years leading up to World War II, church attendance was steady across age groups. But after G.I.’s returned from defeating the Axis powers, something interesting happened–teenage culture was born. The word “teenager” wasn’t even commonplace until after World War II.
A major cultural shift occurred in America in the late 1940′s and 1950′s–fathers went to work away from the home. Before World War II most families either worked on farms or in small family businesses. When most kids came home from school they were treated like adults and expected to get to work in the fields or in the store. Families spent a lot of time together. But after World War II, America became the world’s only true industrial giant for most of the rest of the world was still a shell of its former self. The post-war boom led more men away from their families into factories or universities to train to be executives. Their salaries allowed their wives to stay home and a whole industry arose to meet the desires of the average house wife including daytime soap operas on radio and then on TV. Kids had extra income too from their absentee fathers so a whole industry arose to cater to teenagers including films like Rebel Without A Cause and, of course, Rock & Roll.
For the first time in American history, the average family home housed people who lived very different lives. Capitalists weren’t the only ones who noticed, the churches did as well and as a result youth ministry became a must in every large congregation…