Faith in the Home: Reinventing Youth Ministry (and Christian Education) Again

Families are God’s foundation for a healthy society–and our foundation for a healthy church community!  Below is the nitty-gritty of why families are so important.

At a Youth Specialties’ National Youth Workers Convention (NWYC) in 2010, I spent time with Wayne Rice, who co-founded Youth Specialties in 1968; he helped shape professional youth ministry as we know it in America. He and co-founder Mike Yaconelli set out to change the church, convincing American pastors of the importance of youth groups.  Wayne and Mike were successful!  But after 40 years inventing and doing youth ministry, Wayne Rice wrote a book called Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again).  What he shared in that book and with a group of us at NYWC was surprising.

Wayne Rice said that in the last 40 years they and American churches had created a tremendous infrastructure in youth ministry that instead of helping us has in significant ways hindered us.  Why? For one, youth ministry had become too professionalized, giving parents an easy out of taking full responsibility of their children’s spiritual development.  Wayne suggested that we need to go back to youth ministry models of 50-60 years ago.  50 or 60 years ago was in the 1940’s and 50’s.

In the early 1940s, during World War II, many young men, mostly ministers and evangelists, were holding large rallies in Canada, England and the United States. As the hunger for God’s Word grew it became evident that there needed to be someone to coordinate this movement.  In 1944, Youth for Christ (YFC) was born.  Beginning in dozens of cities at the end of World War II, YFC quickly organized into a national movement. The first full-time staff member was Billy Graham.

Starting with Saturday night youth rallies in the late 1940s and early 1950s, YFC’s ministry methodology turned to Bible Clubs in the late 50s and 60s. It was in this period of ministry that the concept of teen to teen evangelism was birthed.

Wayne Rice became a YFC director in 1963 in Ventura, CA.  Folk music was getting real popular about that time, like Bob Dylan’s music, so Wayne formed his own folk groups as a way to be “relevant” with teenagers.

During that time Mike Yaconelli and Wayne Rice set out to change the church—essentially to bring YFC into the local church.  Mike and Wayne set out to convince senior pastors and church boards that youth ministry was absolutely vital if the church was to remain strong. They determined there was a need for relevant, fun, truth-telling youth ministry resources—and that youth workers needed help connecting with teens in a real and relevant way.  All this was well intended and has produced many good results.  But it went overboard and left out the most important ingredient—families.

Wayne Rice said that instead of more and more programming that take kids away from families, we need to find better ways of giving families ownership of spiritual leadership in the home.  Instead of totally separate youth groups with their own youth services, we need to go back to inter-generational services.  Wayne was willing to make a courageous confession that what really today are many times the same old ways we thought weren’t relevant anymore.  More than this confession, Wayne was willing to change paradigms and take action.

I think of people from long ago connected to my christian denomination, like Ellen G. White, who had a lot of powerful things to say about youth education.  She wrote youth ministry books like Education and Counsels to Parents, Teachers and Students.  She lays out a biblical blueprint for youth education that we have for too long brushed off as irrelevant.  We need to go back to these documents and truly understand them, so that we can implement their principles in our 21st century culture.

Proverbs 22:28 says “Do not move the ancient boundary which your fathers (and mothers) have set.  What boundaries do we need to put back in place?  What are we doing now that isn’t working?  Like Wayne Rice confessed, most of what we’ve done, according to research results, has not been beneficial in retaining kids in the church.  Are we honest enough to look at the facts and make the changes we need to make?

As of this writing, Wayne Rice now is Pastor of Generations for a church in San Diego.  He cancelled the junior high program.  He cancelled the Sunday morning youth church because they needed to go back to intergenerational church.  For him, regular youth church services are now a thing of the past.  How about for you and me?

William Hurtado