Last summer, in order to prepare for some of the transitions of church planting, I started to do a lot of reading and listening about the church youth group landscape in our context. It was hard to hear criticisms of the dominant models because I was raised in them! I met my wife at our high school youth group, and started to lead worship there. There very first time I led worship was in college, behind an upright piano so that no one could see me in the congregation :). That was preceded by years of being the drummer in our high school worship team. I was a student leader in high school and college, and I grew a great deal in my faith during those times. (perhaps a new blog series is in order. "Aaron's stories from Youth Group") What I've come to realize though, is that my overwhelmingly positive experience was not normal. And, the reason why so many of the truths I held onto after graduating from student ministry stuck with me, was because of intentional mentoring and community AFTER I was out of our youth group.
Many of my friends from church youth group have wondered away from the faith. Some friends who met there are now divorced. Many of the things that I think are a "given" in how we do youth groups are not so anymore. So, I have to put my experience on the shelf, a bit, . . and look at what our church youth group culture has wrought (since those high schoolers in the 90's are now the pastors and leaders of churches).
As with most things in our current church context, we have over-complicated the issue. The article below does a great job at breaking down what actually "works" for your kids to hold on to their faith. There's no magic bullet or guarantees (well, except the first suggestion in the article. . because God keeps us) . . . . .but there are things that help a great deal.
I'm praying that my kids, though they've gone through a lot of upheaval, will see Christ in simpler ways and will be challenged and encouraged by GLC in their faith.
Youth group is great (we have student gatherings at GLC!), and I'll always be grateful for my youth pastors. But, we need some corrections in our current church context. Here are two great resources:
The "White Horse Inn" had a great series last year on this