Youth ministry swings have been fascinating to watch over the last 10 – 15 years. From big to small, from verbage to ideas, from organizations to people, there has been some flash in the pan concepts that fizzled out and then some that stood the test of time. It’s not always easy to forecast or even suggest opportunities for the coming year, but this is our attempt to share some ideas that could shape youth ministry in the coming year. These ideas may not be revolutionary, but given the complex integration of social, spiritual, and family culture, nothing should really surprise us anymore.
Perhaps this is more fodder for your mind hopper. Maybe it will invite you to reframe an idea. Either way, you can rest assured that the future is on its way, and while there may not be a seismic shift in our conversations from year to year, there can always be emphases.
So here we go…5 youth ministry trends for 2019.
Less Curriculum Is More
I grew up in a church where our youth pastor wrote all of the curriculum. When I say all, I mean individual grade level small group studies (which we called core groups), as well as Sunday morning series. When I interned for that same ministry in college, I had the opportunity to ask my youth pastor why he did the way he did it. He shared that it was because he knew no curriculum writer could ever know his context as well as he could. While true, I do think this went over the top with the QUANTITY of materials, resources, and questions he provided for each of the teaching/facilitating contexts. Especially when it comes to small groups, small group leaders can feel equipped without being overwhelmed. Student leaders can feel empowered and know exactly where to start when it comes to peer conversations. Teaching on a Wednesday doesn’t have to be 10 page manuscript.
If relationships are the true curriculum, then maybe we should get from behind our scripts and empower relationships.
Referrals To Relationships
There’s been quite the wave of conversation around how youth workers should work with students (and families) who need professional counseling, therapy, and even treatment. One of the huge wins in our culture right now is the de-stigmatizing of those who struggle with mental health and need help are generally supported, referred, and receive healing. One thing that can be difficult is to imagine how a youth worker continues to influence and walk with the student on their journey to health. That’s why we should look at how referrals to professionals in youth ministry contexts should also lead to relationships with those students as they walk through their “unhealth” towards hope and wholeness.
Either/Or To Both/And
I love this phrase and some probably are sick of it. What if we did a better job embracing that some matters are simply grey? Sure we have our theological foundations. Sure we have our non-negotiables when it comes to the centrality of Christ in faith + church, but then what about a lot of other stuff like baptism, politics, and even what brand of coffee we prefer. The reason why this is a valuable trend is because it helps us find a third way, and even allow conflict to be navigated between two disagreeing parties to find health in conflict.
A big part of this trend revolves around “who is on our team” when it comes to life, ministry, and Church. More on this later.
Teaching Them How To Care
Is it just me or do kids sometimes seem to care less about anything these days? Well, maybe they care about things but it’s not the stuff we’re convinced and dedicating our lives to communicating the things they should care about in life. We aren’t spending 5 hours a week prepping a message teaching students how to care about how many likes they get on Instagram, or how to convince their parents to get them an iPhone XR. Even kids that grew up in church are sometimes lethargic by middle school/high school when it comes to their spiritual life and life with Jesus.
So what can we do more of? Teach them how to care about what we are talking about in life + ministry. It sounds easier than it looks, but get to the essence of what that’s asking. You’re essentially getting to the “why” of the “what”. What if every time you got up to speak or ask a question, you mentally were able to answer the question, “This is why you should care about this”. Powerful.
From Bounded To Centered
Set theory has been a cultural concept for a long time now. What if we saw the Church with Jesus at the center instead of Jesus as “boundaries” to get into the club? What if the boundaries that existed were more about proximity to the center than just some ideas of rules we think students need to follow in order to be “in”? The consequences of this is far reaching. It relates to how we teach about sex and gender. It relates to how we talk about our neighbors. It has theological consequences for when we talk about Jesus foundations, the authority of Scripture, and even our faith in politics.
Boundaries are nice because they can tell who is in and who is out. But going back to the question before, “Who is on our team?” should be an immediate concern for how we talk about boundaries with life, ministry, and Jesus. Jesus often flips the script on who is “in and out” and who “gets it”. Boundaries can be helpful, but they can’t be the determining factor for any conversation. What is (or who is) at the center?
What are your trends for the new year? Any counter-trends come to mind that would massively flip the script on something that has been rising up in the last few years? This year in ministry can be a fruitful one, or it can be just another year. This can be a year when that student finally gets their awakening moment, or your student leader receives a call to ministry, or that family finally decides to go to counseling. There’s a lot of time in a year – so hopefully these trend ideas can be helpful as you think about the big pieces for 2019.