When I was in High School, I did not have any interest in church. I thought there were too many rules, too much judgement, it was too formal for my liking. There were a lot of things which I had thought about church based on my past and even to a degree, the way which culture talked about church. Somewhere along the way, however, I was brought to youth group and everything changed for me. Youth group very quickly became a place where I felt I could authentically be myself, where I felt I was truly seen and truly heard. As a teenager, it took me going to youth group to change my posture towards church.
Now, being a Youth Pastor, I can definitely say that Youth Ministry matters in the lives of teenagers and I want to share some of the reasons why this is true.
Welcoming people into the church is always a priority for most if not all church leaders. Everyone has their tactics of inviting people into the church and getting them to return but Youth Ministry, in and of itself, creates a massive door to welcome not only youth into the church, but families. One thing I have found to be true across my experience in youth ministry is that when the child of a family wants to go to church more than the parents, that family quickly becomes a consistent part of the membership at that church. Youth Ministry is an avenue to get youth excited about church. While it is not a substitute for church, it is a great way to get youth introduced to the church body and build connections in an intergenerational space.
The coolest thing about Youth Ministry is that when youth come into the youth group, they are coming in at such a pivotal time in their lives. The habits that teenagers form are habits that will last a lifetime. There are still things today that I do that I learned to do in youth group when I was 16. Developing habits in the teenage years is crucial for the spiritual growth of youth today. Youth Ministry gets the opportunity to help shape and form those habits in the youth. Some of the most important decisions in life are made during the teenage years. A survey from 2004 showed that a substantial majority of people who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching their 18th birthday. I think the same statistic reigns true for today. These years are precious and so important for our youth to develop solid spiritual habits such as: daily devotionals, prayer, worship, engagement with Sunday mornings, etc.
If there is anything I remember from my time as a student in Youth Ministry it was never the program, it was never the lights or the games. It was always the experiences and memories that I created with my peers as well as Christ. Youth Ministry is, in my opinion, one of the best places for teenagers to create experiences. Like I mentioned in my last point, a substantial majority of people who accept Jesus Christ as their savior did so before their 18th birthday. I think that this goes hand in hand with creating experiences. The Sunday church experience is fantastic and is designed to supplement a person’s faith development. However, I think Youth Ministry has a special way of creating experiences. The thing that kept me in the church was never how awesome the media was, it was never the lights, it was never the preaching, it was never the music. What kept me in the church was the fact that I had a real experience of encountering the living God in my teen years. I had an experience that I could not just forget, I could not just brush it off. Youth Ministry helped to create that experience for me, and later I experienced that same encounter during a Sunday service. Youth Ministry was the thing that God used to keep me coming back and keep me interested in what He was doing.
I can remember very vividly these very pivotal moments in my faith journey, and majority of them happened when I was between 16-19 years old. I did not grow up around church and I grew up with preconceived notions about church. Youth Ministry shattered all of it. I remember the moment that God got ahold of my heart. I remember the moment that I encountered the living God. I remember the laughs, the tears, the confusion, the joy. I remember so much about my time in Youth Ministry. Funny enough, all these memories have shaped me into the person I am today.
Yes, Youth Ministry is a blast and is a great way to meet friends and develop and grow. Youth Ministry matters because it comes in the most formational years of a person’s life. It matters because the relationships built in Youth Ministry are generally relationships that last a lifetime. Youth Ministry matters because God is alive and well, and it is a space that directly targets the spiritual growth of teenagers.