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Posted by on Apr 15, 2014 in Front Page, Students | 15 comments

What Happens when Parents and Kids see Youth Group as Simply an Elective?

What Happens when Parents and Kids see Youth Group as Simply an Elective?

by Benjamin Kerns

For the past few years, it has been obvious that the culture in which we do ministry has fundamentally changed.

I know that pop culture continues to devolve into twerkfests on MTV, but that is nothing new. What I am seeing that is new, is that the Christian adults within this culture have a totally different worldview and values than those Christians that have gone before them.

There was this time in youth ministry’s heyday where a youth group was made up of the kids of that particular church and their friends. It was important for the kids to be a part of youth group, and if it wasn’t important to the kids, it was at least important to the parents. In fact, much of my early years of student ministry was bemoaning the fact that so many church kids would be forced to come to youth group and cause trouble for me and my leaders. If I only knew how good I had it.

Now, students along with their parents see fellowship, gathered worship, church, and youth group as electives.

Our post-modern, determine-your-own-values-and-reality mindset has finally trickled its way into the local church. Carey Nieuwhof wrote an excellent blog about the 15 characteristics of today’s unchurched person. These 15 characteristics are spot on. But I would actually go further and say that they are not just characteristics of today’s unchurched person, but of every person both in and out of the church. And now church, youth group, and actually any spiritual discipline are firmly on the bottom of the pecking order. This means that if homework, sports, vacation, being tired, practice, fill in the blank, don’t conflict then both students and their parents might consider attending some gathered Christian event like church or youth group.

For adults, this elective version of church involvement doesn’t really have any short-term consequences to their faith. Most Christian adults had some incredible experience in late high school or college and are maintaining that faith as they go through the rest of their life. They can take months or years off of church and fellowship and still have a mostly intact faith. While there is a ton to say about this new cultural expression of Christianity, the parents here are not my concern. My concern is for the faith development of their kids.

These adults have had a significant faith encounter in their youth, but are not helping their own kids participate in the very activities that God used to grab ahold of their hearts when they were younger. And unlike their parents, any significant break in community makes it next to impossible for the adolescent to ever really enter the group later.

Students are relational animals and will only participate in an environment where they have friends and feel welcomed and cared for.  

Even the least clique-y youth groups on the planet still have relationships and those relationships have history. If a group of students spend a year doing youth group together, Bible studies, going to the movies, going roller skating and skiing, and going on a mission trip together, there develops a history. A student who chooses youth group simply as an elective and misses out on these memory-making events will naturally feel on the outs, and once they feel on the outs there is little incentive for them to commit.

Add to this the fact that they culturally don’t feel a need to participate, feel little guilt spiritually and see little need for a gathered experience, these poor students don’t really have a chance!

For the sake of their children, adults need to model that commitment to Christian worship and fellowship is not an elective.  

This goes against every cultural trend. But for the sake of our kids, for the sake of the students we are called to love and care for, may we help the adults in our lives go old school in their Christian understanding. As much as faith in Jesus is about a “personal relationship,” it can only be worked out in community. And community only happens with students through a safe environment that is an authentic, consistent time together, building memories, and spurring one another on toward love and good deeds!

May we, in a loving and gracious way, sound the alarm and make the case that involvement in student ministry is not an elective course in faith development, but vital for the faith formation of our students.


  1. Yes, lets help parents understand we all need to work togethter and give children/students faith building memories that they can always fall back on.
    God, Jesus, Community, Church!
    And pray they have authentic,fun, times that are hard but not lonely, faith inspiring experiences!

  2. It’s all great as long as the youth group is inclusive but if it’s made up of clique-minded youth and and there are ‘different’ youth there as well, forcing your kids to go can become more destructive than spiritually enriching. :( So very thankful that my little church has leaders who are solid, loving people!!

    • Absolutely — the dynamics of the youth group are important to the overall health of the youth group and the benefit to the students involved.

      I would also point out that some ‘youth’ have significant Christian involvement outside the local church and this may be their niche, calling and proper place. Not every student who does not attend ‘youth group’ at their family’s church is neglecting spiritual fellowship, growth or involvement. They are not necessarily caving to post-modern values.

      I would say that what ultimately determines the spiritual growth and outcome for most teens is the spiritual health and pattern of the family, not their participation in youth group.

  3. This is true but each of us still need to search out and build our own faith. The more we get involved in our church, the more we study God’s Word, and the more we fellowship and share what we are learning with each other, that will help us grow a strong faith. We need to have the mindset of “Who can I serve today? Who can I invest in?” instead of “What can you do for me today?” Just a thought.

  4. As a Youth Pastor I see this first hand week after week! This article is spot on with the source of the issue. More and more things today are becoming about “self help” rather than about the church. The bible says that Jesus is coming back for “The Church” and for me that stresses the importance of being involved in The Church. For my Student Ministry I started with the students we DO have. I helped them understand this very idea of how important church is and How important their role is to the students that come into our group. In order for this to change they have to be welcomed, given the Word, and challenged to go tell their friends and peers about it.

    Great article!

  5. You nailed it Benjamin! This is a trend that is becoming more and more common in the church and it will take us as leaders finding ways to create/clarify value in student ministry to see change. I’m releasing a parent survey after Easter to hopefully help answer the “value” question.

  6. Through six years of student ministry, it is my constant frustration to deal time and again with the parent who places such an emphasis on school and school-related events that they allow those school-related things to occupy every waking hour of their students’ lives. But when their kid inevitably flakes out on The Faith, or on life in general, they come to me and tell me I must “fix” their student, in 45 minute increments, once every 3-4 weeks, in a room of dozens of other students, most of whose parents have demanded the same thing. It’s past the point of becoming absurd. Please, parents: If you don’t put a priority on your faith, why, oh, why, do you expect your children will?

  7. Many years serving and participating as a leader in church from a young age to adult I find many things have changed in youth groups. Youth groups seem to be more dynamic in the sense of capturing the attention of our young people by using fog machines, lights, high intense games etc., but a loss of spirituality. As a parent I teach my kids the word of God, I also teach my kids that God and family come first and everything else is secondary, but my wife and I give our kids the chance to have responsibility within reason to decide what they want to do either youth, play sports ,co-coach or tutoring. The involvement they chose is their decision as long as it does not interfere or disrupt our family. My wife and I both work crazy hours so the time we get is something very valuable. I believe that we live a very different time in which everything is right know and fast pace and my kids need to learn how to juggle time, commitment, and responsibilities. I believe that we need to disciple our OWN kids, not depend on our pastors, teachers and other professionals. Leave those resources for children that need them, because mine do not. Leave them for children who do not have two parent families and four grandparents, and the awesome support system that my children have. I am a pk and I wished I had more choices growing up instead being told I had to go. The truth is youth group is not an elective or “have to”, for our family it’s a choice. I have great kids they love God and I remind them constantly to remember God first. Sometimes I have to reroute them but I’m very proud of them.

    • I agree with you so much. Youth ministry is certainly needful and useful in our communities, however, for some families, it really is an elective.

      I am, as the mother (along with my children), the primary disciple of my children. I believe the Lord delegated that responsibility to parents, not youth leaders. If a parent chooses to have youth group as a priority that is certainly great. But for other families youth group itself is quite optional, and I find it a bit over-reaching to chastise parents who choose not to use it.

      We have used youth group and it has been very valuable for most of my children. But I do not find it mandatory.

      • Correction: I am, as the mother (along with my HUSBAND) :-)

  8. i think youth group can be a great experience, and I agree that community is important. However, I really think that the most important community that our kids need spiritual guidance, instruction and support from is the family. All others should be secondary to this. The mandatory participation should be in a larger community of attending church. I had wonderful relationships with my youth group leaders in high school, but what I wouldn’t give to have had that interest in me and my relationship with Jesus come from my parents. I wish the church would put more time and interest in training the parents how to relate to their own kids – these are the relationships that are going to last a life time. And maybe encouragement to “adopt” kids that might not have parents that are interested or able.

    • Rachel,

      I totally agree with most of what you are saying. Unfortunately many of the parents I interact with say similar things but don’t really have an intentional plan for the spiritual formation of their kids.

      Where I would like to offer a little bit of push back, is that students need to separate from their parents and learn how to be in community with people who are different from them. Unless students build those muscles, the chances for them to be able to do that from scratch in an adult church situation become less and less.

      Students need to develop their own faith, and develop their own community, and student ministry is an ideal place to accomplish this. :)

      ~Benjamin Kerns

  9. Hey Benjamin, thanks for the awesome read! I think you’ve hit a real issue head on here and that you are spot on in your approach. I hope God will use this article to impact the hearts of parents in churches around the world!

  10. Regarding adults taking time away from church you state: “They can take months or years off of church and fellowship and still have a mostly intact faith.” In 20 years of ministry, I rarely encounter individuals who have purposely separated themselves from the body of Christ for “years” who have a healthy faith that is “mostly intact.” Just an observation!

    • Thanks for your comments, Drew! I appreciate you sharing your experience and insight with us. ~jw


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