One widespread fictional fabrication in youth ministry and churches is that droves of students leave the church after they graduate from the youth group. Many youth pastors have been hurt and threatened by these various dubious statistics. These erroneous figures often report that 80% to 90% of students leave church after they leave youth group. As a youth (and family) pastor of 25 years at my church (yes, one church for 25 years), I have cringed when guest preachers have visited our church promoting these erroneous statistics, leaving me with worried parents, an upset session, and a very concerned senior pastor.
Studies related to youth ministry have shown that the statistic of students leaving churches after youth group is portrayed as way too high. Two seminal studies have shown that actually about 45% of youth group students leave the church after youth group. This is still not great, and the fact remains that students are leaving the church after graduating from youth group. Youth ministry operates within its organizational context, its ecclesiastical context known as the church. In the PCA, we also embrace covenant theology, which should promote the covenant family and church, with our youth groups having a deeper connection with our church body, and, subsequently, fewer students leaving the church after youth group. However, many PCA pastors and churches also struggle with teenagers leaving the church after youth group.
Intergenerational ministry is emerging as a promising paradigm for youth ministry in the local church. Moreover, its practices and paradigms most align with covenant theology. Generally speaking, intergenerational ministry can be defined as ministry that involves and incorporates the entire church, from each individual to the church community, so to nurture the spiritual growth and maturity mutually. This terminology resonates deeply with us in the PCA as people of the covenant who subsequently seek to nurture covenant relationships among Christ’s people and church. In terms of intergenerational ministry more generally speaking, numerous churches and youth pastors have implemented intergenerational ministry to intentionally nurture and make more fluid the transition for youth group students to continue in their faith and church life after youth group. While this has been the main impetus, the history of youth ministry and recent sociological developments related to teenage spirituality have also shown the need for youth ministries to consider intergenerational ministry. Hence, intergenerational ministry is gaining momentum as a new paradigm for youth ministry.
Numerous and important studies have also shown the importance of a new paradigm for youth ministry in the local church. Moreover, they have specifically pointed to how impactful intergenerational ministry can be as this new paradigm. One example is Mark Senter’s When God Shows Up: A History of Protestant Youth Ministry in America (Baker, 2010), which provided an important, foundational understanding of the concern and need for a new paradigm of local church youth ministry. Senter traced the youth ministry movement in various contexts in American history, ultimately concluding that youth ministry today is at a crossroads and that the “evangelistic inroads to the current generation [have] produced a negative growth factor.” One of these factors is students leaving the church after they graduate from their youth ministry years in church. As a result, Senter states, the church and youth ministry in general need to consider how to counter this negative phenomenon.
Related research has demonstrated the specific importance of intergenerational ministry in the lives of youth group students and its impact in their faith and church lives after youth group. For example, in conjunction with a large evangelical denomination, Lifeway Research noted the importance of relationships with the church body and parents as an important factor for teenagers remaining in the church after youth group. Similarly, the Orange Group addressed the importance of churches in making long-term impact in children and youth. Ultimately, the need to restructure local church youth ministry is evident. The church and youth ministries need to address the sociological and historical issues of youth ministry and udents leaving the church after youth group in relation to the deficiencies of present-day youth ministry paradigms.
Danny Mitchell and I (“the two Danny’s”) are excited to offer a course in intergenerational ministry at Covenant Seminary this October. We hope to convey a framework for intergenerational ministry, best practices for implementation of it, and to consider ways to assess and practice intergenerational ministry for the next generation in the context of the local church. Ultimately, The National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR), conducted from 2001 to 2005, provides a foundational underpinning and hope for this class. While the primary aim of this study was to understand the character of teenage religion and the extent of spirituality among adolescents, it was to also assess institutional practices that may better serve and help care for teenagers. And as the authors of this study state, congregations that prioritize youth ministry and make serious efforts to engage and teach adolescents are more likely to draw youth into their religious lives and foster religious maturity.
Intergenerational ministry as a new paradigm for youth ministry is seeking to do just that. We look forward this fall to beginning the discussion with those in our class as we consider this paradigm for the sake of the next generation. Whether you are a parent, senior pastor, youth worker, volunteer, or just love the next generation, we invite you to join us for this class.
Dr. Danny Kwon is pastor of youth and families at Yuong Sang Presbyterian Church in Horsham, Pennsylvania.
Intergenerational Ministry Course
Covenant Theological Seminary in partnership with Mission to the World’s NEXT Institute
Friday, October 26, 6 – 9 p.m.
Saturday, October 27. 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Founders Hall, Room 341