Mountain Dew And Donuts For Communion, Or How Youth Groups Are Terrible For The Church

I was already planning a post about why we need to question how youth ministry is done when I saw Matthew Paul Turner’s link to a documentary called Divided, which wonders if youth ministry is actually hurting the church and why so many kids are ditching the faith. (Note, the documentary isn’t that great but the question it asks is worth exploring). I hope you’re willing to read my thoughts on this, despite my lack of experience in youth ministry other than being apart of one when I was a teenager (and trying to weasel my way out of it every chance I got).

Most adults, not just Christians, are freaked out by teenagers. They make impulsive decisions informed by defiance and reckless peer input. They’re at a formable time in their lives that often sets the precedent for their future, and if they leave the faith now they may never come back. I can name several of my peers who are prodigal sons/daughters who have no eye looking back home.

We pay someone to do this ministry (though truth be told they earn their money, your teenager is a nightmare)

And so we preventively we throw these kids into youth groups where mountain dew is more readily available than communion juice (there’s a metaphor there somewhere), and where sword drills are replaced by water balloon launching drills. Much of youth ministry is comprised of simply entertaining the kids and doing enough ridiculous activities to keep them coming back and maybe even thinking church is cool (and teenagers, more than anyone, are concerned about what’s cool). My own youth group definitely had this element.

It’s very telling to listen to the songs that youth groups latch onto from Christian rock bands. From what I’ve observed youth groups are so worried about losing the kids that they tend to heavily emphasize a Christianity where God is lifts you up and gives you many blessings and the like (almost prosperity-gospel-eque).  Much of the mystery and complexity and even servanthood is left out, likely out of fear it’ll take away from the attractiveness of the message.

So are youth ministries any good? This provocative article about how “youth groups destroy children’s lives,” says no, and the critiques are pretty spot-on.

A larger question I’ve been asking is why we separate youth from the rest of church. Of course I know some reasons as I slept through many sermons as a kid, and I can understand why we tuck kids away with their respective age groups as soon as they no longer clingy to mommy and daddy’s leg every second of the day. However I think we undeniably lose an opportunity for children and adolescents to see our faith in action, through it’s ups and downs, through fire season and drought. It likely takes away from discipling them. You could even argue that the segregation only further separates the divide between parents and teenagers.

To me it’s a complicated issue. I’ve already wondered aloud about how to raise a child in a faith that is based upon a dramatic and transformative encounter with God. It only gets more complicated when teenagers actually need to rebel a little bit and flex their independent muscles. I could blab on about other issues with youth groups – such as how in their attempt to keep teens from drinking and pre-marital sex they can easily force them into a form of legalism, but I’d rather not complain. Instead, I’d rather hear from you – what you think about youth groups? Do you see some issues too? What good ones have you seen? In your opinion, how on earth do we minister to teenagers?

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15 Responses to Mountain Dew And Donuts For Communion, Or How Youth Groups Are Terrible For The Church

  1. I am a strong opponent of “children’s church” and “youth church”.

    However, our church has new “people” who have taken it upon themselves to occupy our children on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights, in the name of “working with the kids” in a completely uncontrolled fashion that I do not approve.

    However, to deal with this is to cause trouble at the church, and this makes me hesitant.

    It does make my kids enjoy church a little more, but is that the point?

    I don’t like either option.

    • that’s where I’m stuck – I’m not sure what good option there is. You raise a great point – the kids like church more, and certainly some thing that warms them up to our message, but we need to question how we do it and what we are teaching.

  2. David says:

    Dead, powerless religion ruins people lives. It has been happening since the time of the Pharisees. You dump kids in a place and feed them pop culture and you expect them to get a hold of Jesus?

    We send the into the world with a weekly “talkin’ at” (same with adults), and expect that some how God will shake them? LOL

    I can only speak for myself. I taught the kids to teach, prophesy, care for one another, and pray fr sick people. The meeting became so popular that their parents were coming to receive ministry they couldn’t get anywhere else. We let God do his thing (1 Cor 14) and most of the kids made huge leaps of growth. I tried to have the church integrate them, and that’s when it failed.

    Religion sucks!

    • so just let them be apart of what’s going on rather than segregate?

      I could go on for hours about the weekly “talkin’ at”

      • David says:

        Yes sir. If the teaching is anointed, it can reach both children and adults. We listened to David Walters some years ago, and he kept adults and children as young as 4 interested and engaged for 3 1 hour meetings on a Saturday. My kids are still talking about it 13 years later. And the best part, he had them all praying for the sick, and all sorts of other stuff.

        How people can sit through blah, blah, blah each week amazes me.

      • it’s because they feel guilty if they don’t, they feel like they haven’t met their obligation.

  3. Larry Hughes says:

    The teen age years are the most impulsive times of their lives and are easily influenced by peer pressure (either good or bad). As a teenager, I always tried to get in with adults in groups at church but was always escorted into certain age groups where things were made to be fun as the adults thought.

    However even in my youthfull rebellious years, I still seeked out adult mentor ship as I felt it was a better way of learning about life and the right way to grow. Perhaps I was the exception, I don’t know.

    In my old age, I try to spend additional time with my grand kids to give them a seasoned view of life. At my age, they always seem to be several steps ahead of me in every thing. Getting them to slow down to my speed is a monumental task.

    • i love your idea of mentorship – amazing you sought one out and not vice versa. I think having that connection to a person is so key – I mean it’s so key that God chose to send his son so were weren’t worshipping some ambiguous unseen personality.

  4. jeff says:

    Youth Groups are terrible for the Church? Often times the Church is terrible for Youth Groups. Some Churches indoctrinate with such nonsense it takes a lifetime to undo the damage.

  5. I think it IS dangerous when we separate youth from the “main service”. We really don’t. Some of my best volunteers are youth. The youth band is largely a part of the worship service Sunday mornings. I think as much as possible it’s good to integrate the youth with the main service.

    There will always be casualties from “graduating” from youth group. Just like there are casualties when a small group shuts down. They go to a particular group because they relate to the people. I think it ultimately comes down to the youth pastor’s willingness to laud the church and get the youth involved in the other activities the church is doing.

    If they’re their own church…then they definitely won’t want to go to “big church” when they outgrow youth group. They have no connection with the “big church” people so they’re basically sitting alone on the fringes.

    • I agree – if they’re not connected to big church why would they ever want to leave to go hang out with out-of-touch cheesy adults? There in their own paradise. Teenagers tend to isolate themselves and think the only people on the planet who understand them are fellow teenagers – and so they have no incentive to leave the little shelter they’ve constructed.

  6. Paleoprof says:

    A friend of mine linked to post on facebook I thought my comment there might also be appropriate here:
    I think this is a universal problem not unique to youth groups. How do we get and keep kids and teens interested in _____________ without watering it down to the point where it looses its meaning. I struggle with this daily it’s just science not religion. But I think you could insert just about anything in that blank.

    • teenagers just aren’t interested in much of anything that doesn’t have to do with music it seems. I think the struggle in particular with youth groups is that teens are asserting themselves as separate from the adults, and so they don’t want to associate with the religion of their childhood and their parents. Truth be told I think the only way to get teens interested in something is that the thing has to naturally be interesting. Teens pick up on cheesy tactics with a very broad, yet precise radar.

      • David says:

        I think it needs to be a REAL part of the parents life. What kids wants to sit around listening dry old Bible teaching and all that? But when God was doing something, it was far more interesting because then it is a REAL relationship, not a theoretical one.

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