Churches Overdue on Youth Ministry Change

A new study on urban youth workers addressed the question to understand youth needs other than the spiritual.
( [email protected] ) Jan 16, 2007 12:47 PM EST

Do youth only need Jesus?

A new study on urban youth workers addressed the question to understand youth needs other than the spiritual. While Jesus is the most important part of a kid's life, Fuller Seminary’s Center for Youth and Family Ministry recognizes the relevance of holistic ministry. That means, not ignoring the health, friendship, and family support that kids need.

Kara Powell, executive director of the Center for Youth and Family Ministry, recently encountered a youth worker whose 30 high school kids raised $7,000 for an overseas community development ministry. But unexpectedly, "the senior pastor belittled their efforts, criticizing them for not being focused on 'the gospel,'" she said.

Powell felt disturbed.

In partnership with the Louisville Institute, the Center for Youth and Family Ministry conducted the Urban Youth Workers in America study on 94 urban youth workers who were selected for their exemplary holistic approach to ministering to kids. Holistic ministry, defined by the study, is ministry that acknowledges and tries to develop the whole potential of kids.

The participating youth workers listed assets that promote healthy development and help kids thrive.

The study showed that 91 percent of them listed spiritual and religious development; 77 percent named adults mentors; 77 percent listed activity participation; 65 percent mentioned empowerment; 55 percent said school engagement; and 53 percent said risk avoidance.

Participants were less likely to mention connection to school, parent education, parent involvement, contextual safety, cultural diversity and connection to family.

Ranking the importance of individual assets, 99 percent said personal values were "somewhat" or "very" important to their organization. Second was spiritual and religious development with 93 percent endorsing it as important. The next highly ranked asset was empowerment.

The least important assets were school connection (58 percent), rules and boundaries (60 percent), and parent involvement (63 percent).

"Our findings suggest that urban youth ministry, at least as depicted by these exemplary youth workers, tends to be fairly holistic in its approach to serving kids," the report stated. "Both individual and ecological assets are being nurtured in the ministries represented by these well-respected leaders."

The study suggested that youth workers begin to explore holistic ministry to meet the social, physical, mental and emotional needs of youth and not just the spiritual.

On another note, the study found a discrepancy between what the youth workers claimed and the reality of their youth programs.

According to the survey, 88 percent of the youth workers claimed that nurturing a positive identity was “somewhat” or “very” important to their organization, but only 23 percent mentioned that they actually intentionally promote identity among their youth.

Also, 63 percent reported that parent involvement was important for their youth and programs, whereas only 11 percent said they promote it. And while 99 percent of participants claimed that nurturing personal values was “somewhat” to “very” important, only 41 percent actually mentioned that their program involved nurturing values.

"Embracing a more holistic approach to youth ministry means we should all look for ways to engage in greater networking with community-based service providers, the school system, and especially kids’ own families," the study suggested.

Calling churches to create new forms of holistic ministry, Mark Maines of NewSong Church in San Dimas, Calif., said the Church today is at a time when it must acknowledge that it has tried to perfect and replicate a "tired form of student ministry that is no longer effective."

"What we are feeling today is the slow, and at times painful, recognition that our current ministry efforts were designed and built for an era that has long since past," he said, according to the Center for Youth and Family Ministry.

Maines believes “all students are at risk." Ultimately, "the Church must revisit and re-engineer its ministry forms in order to help all students move towards Christ."