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The overthrow of youth ministry as we know it

Picture of Greg Stier
Greg Stier

Revolution:       “A sudden or momentous change in a situation; to overthrow the current system for something radical and fresh”

Youth ministry needs a revolution. It needs to be overthrown, retooled and reborn. The majority of what passes as youth ministry is organized babysitting: songs, games, a short devo and pizza afterward…yippee! 
Mark Senter III wrote in The Coming Revolution in Youth Ministry that there is no way which the programs and youth ministry tactics currently being used will ever stem the moral tidal wave of corruption that has encompassed our teenagers. In his book Mr. Senter emphasizes again and again the urgent need for a fundamental transformation of the way that youth ministry is done in America.

Not much has chaned in the decade or so since Mark Senter wrote those words.

If you disagree with his radical assertion (that our overall approach to youth ministry is a failed experiment) stop and think about three startling realities:

Grim statistics 

  • According to Dr. Gary Railsback up to 50% of evangelical college freshman will forsake their Christian beliefs by their senior year of college.
  • According to George Barna (in Third Millenium Teens) 2 out of 3 Christian teens will evacuate the church after they graduate from high school. In addition 63% of our teens don’t believe Jesus is the Son of the one true God, 58% believe all faiths teach equally valid truths, 51% don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead and 70% don’t believe an absolute moral truth exists.

Not only are we failing to reach the non Christian teens in our culture we are failing to reach the “Christian” teens in our own youth groups for the most part.

Oopsy poopsy (how did we miss that one?)

Sad stories      

We all have bad, sad stories of teens who have forsaken their Christian roots for the forbidden fruit that this world slithers to offer them as high school and college students. We are not alone. Jesus had Judas. Paul had Demas. Who do you have?

Who is your Demas, your Judas? Think of that one student (or two or three or four or more) in your youth group who turned on Jesus. As I think of the teens in my youth group who became sad stories I have to ask myself if there was anything I could have done to have prevented them from going AWOL. Ask yourself the same thing.

Instrospection stinks doesn’t it?

Weak answers

I believe that, for the most part, the answers that typical 21st youth ministry thinking has proposed for these problematic stats and stories are weak. Most curriculum factories churn out dummied down tidbits of truth that barely challenge the thinking of the average Christian teen. Of course, there are exceptions to this (praise God!) But the average curriculum taught at the average youth group is producing average Christianity. And “average Christianity” is an oxymoron that ranks right up there with “jumbo shrimp” and “military intelligence.” Average Christianity is not enough to give our teens the moral fiber they are going to need to serve Christ with passion in the temptation trap called the college life.

The same Christian teens going to your youth group every week are taking Calculus, Trig and economics at school. Their minds are being pushed by ambitious teachers, trying to expand the thinking of their students. Meanwhile we are giving them five reasons not to have sex before they get married. I’m all for abstinence. But what about the character of God, the deity of Jesus, the doctrine of justification, sanctification and glorification? Plunge a teen headfirst into who God is, what salvation is and all the good stuff of theology then abstinence, holiness, and practical Christianity (including abstinence) is a no-brainer.

Spurgeon (a preacher who lived a long time ago that every youth leader should know and quote) said that “The key to great preaching is great subjects.” Many curriculums on the market today have taken the greatest subjects, hidden them behind the counter of coolness and offered us and our kids a fastfood diet of “relevant issues” instead.

The problem is that we have forgotten that God’s truth, all of it, is immensely relevant. But, instead of working hard to show how God’s great truths apply to the lives of  our teenagers we have bowed before the altar of convenience instead and capitulated to the pop god of relevant hippness (I’m not sure what that means but it sounds pretty good!)

Is there hope?

YES! I am thrilled at what God is beginning to do in the world of youth ministry. God has placed many key youth ministry leaders in my path who are being awakened to this reality (not by me but by God) and rolling up their sleeves to do something about it. A movement is bubbling uder the surface and about to boil over the top. I definitely believe that God is going to do something that is going to make our hearts burn and truly revolutionize our youth ministry paradigms.

In the meantime what can you do?

Push your teens. Push their thinking. Expand their minds through the amazing truths in the Word of God. Help them stop and meditate on the mystical, mind-blowing truths of God. Get a good old fashioned debate going over key theological truths. The fireworks will trigger spiritual endorphins in your teens’ minds and souls that will help them to know and own the truth for themselves instead of living off borrowed faith. (By the way are you signed up for the free youth leader curriculum on It’s called Soul Fuel and every edition deals with one of the 30 core truths of Christianity. It comes out the beginning of every week and it’s free. Did I tell you it’s FREE?)

It’s time we believe in teens, motivate them to go for it and unleash them in real and viable ways to change the world. In so doing they themselves will be changed and youth ministry will be revolutionized.

Don’t wait for the curriculum or the conference or the whitepaper. Revolution begins with a simple, radical idea. These radical ideas are often simple to understand yet hard to execute. Why? Because, as one sage put it, “Every significant break through started as a break with.” If you join the revolution you will be breaking with mainstream youth ministry thought.

The real revolution begins with you. If you are willing to live a revolutionary life then God will use you in powerful ways to launch the revolution in your teens. Revolution ultimately finds its epicenter, not in a revolutionized curriculum or youth ministry model, but a revolutionized life.

And did I mention to pray? Nothing of spiritual significance will ever happen apart from unrelenting, pure-hearted, passionate prayer.

Let the revolution begin in you and me.


Unlikely Fighter

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The story of how a fatherless street kid overcame violence, chaos, and confusion to become a radical Christ follower.

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