Imagining a New Theology of Youth Ministry for the Church

Written by Kara Powell & Brad Griffin from the Fuller Youth Institute:

Manny’s church was really proud of him. As a youth pastor, not only had he developed a top-notch youth ministry program, but he had also recruited a stellar team of adult volunteers. As a result, a number of kids from the community had become involved in Manny’s youth group—enough of a number that the church was noticing. The elders even approached Manny about expanding the youth facilities to better accommodate the burgeoning ministry, and within a few years, they had their own youth center across the church property from the main building. Manny loved it, the kids loved it, and the whole church seemed pretty happy with the arrangement. The problems began surfacing when students graduated from high school and had to figure out how to “graduate” from the only church they had known: Manny’s youth ministry.

Desiree’s church was proud of her, too. A parent of two teenagers, Desiree was charged with the role of volunteer youth director for her congregation. The handful of kids began meeting in Desiree’s home once a month, and she invited (okay, sometimes pleaded with) other adults in the congregation to become mentors for students. Desiree also worked to get youth more involved in Sunday morning worship services and to serve in the ministry teams of the church. Before long, the church developed a new awareness of the teenagers in their midst as kids began to sing alongside adults in the choir, serve alongside them in the kitchen and community, and even teach Sunday School classes for younger children. The problems began surfacing when so many other parents and adults got involved in their lives that the students began feeling like they were constantly being “watched”. Students expressed frustration that they didn’t feel like they had their own time and space to be with each other and to talk about their doubts, fears, and struggles.

While you may not identify directly with either Manny or Desiree, most youth ministries tend to fall somewhere on a continuum between these two extremes.

Youth are rarely either completely isolated from the rest of the church or totally immersed in the congregation; instead, churches often lean towards one side of this continuum or another.

Somewhere in the middle of the continuum is what our colleague Chap Clark often refers to as “assimilation”—weaving students into the intergenerational life of the church as they grow to be mature disciples of Jesus Christ. Chap asserts that the new goal of youth ministry should be “to assimilate authentic disciples into full participation in the life of the community of faith and the church.” While you may or may not have thought much about where your church’s ministry might stand on this continuum, we don’t think you can really address this question without wrestling with your ecclesiology.  “Ecclesiology” is simply how we think about “church”, centered in how we perceive God to be unveiling and developing God’s kingdom through God’s people.


Fuller Youth Institute