Engaging The Youth Is Innovation Within Ministry

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Our vision within our scope of outreach is to gravitate the young adults as well as the ex-offenders already in the system of corrections. Click the GofundMe insignia to view our passion. It will come to pass though it tarries…

Empower A Felon
Empower A Felon
  • Relational. Effective ministry with adolescents was built on relationships. The central place of the Emmaus story in A Vision of Youth Ministry demonstrated the primacy of relationships and of discovering God within those relationships.
  • Goal-centered. In articulating two primary goals for ministry, A Vision of Youth Ministry gave specific direction while encouraging leaders in local communities to create a variety of ways to reach their goals. There was no longer one way to minister to adolescents.
  • Multidimensional. An effective ministry incorporated eight components with their program activities so that the needs of all the young people could be addressed and the resources of the community could be wisely used. This multidimensional approach was a needed response to social-only, athletics-only or religious education-only youth programming.
  • Holistic and developmental. A Vision of Youth Ministry proposed an approach that attended to a wide spectrum of adolescent needs and that was attuned to the distinct developmental, social, cultural, and religious needs of adolescents.
  • People-centered and needs-focused. A Vision of Youth Ministry focused on young people. It encouraged an approach designed to address the particular needs of young people in their communities. A Vision of Youth Ministry did not recommend program models or specific activities, recognizing that the day had passed when one program structure could respond to all the needs of youth.


e, Sr., has a tremendous passion for God’s WORD coupled with agape love for all God’s people. He has a contagious spirit of generosity that flows through every facet of his ministry.

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.

George Washington Carver


The emerging consensus of research shows a growing percentage of young adults are not connected with any religion, although many younger Americans express an interest in spirituality. This reality raises concern about young adult participation in religious communities.

What is the involvement of young adults in local congregations of all faiths across the United States? And how are faith communities with significant proportion of young adults distinctive?


For these resources, a congregation is considered to have significant young adult participation if 21% or more of its participants were 18 to 34 years of age.  Across all faiths, a total of only 16% of all congregations were in this category.

The resources below explore patterns and practices of churches and other congregations with significant young adult involvement.

A report summarizing the research on churches and faith communities with significant young adult participation highlighted their distinctive characteristics.

A narrative review of current literature on the topic of young adult participation (PDF).  This review was authored by LiErin Probasco, a PhD candidate in sociology at Princeton University. She has been involved in young adult ministry and taught the subject at seminaries in Virginia and New England.  She is currently engaged in community research in East Palo Alto, California.

A summary of the best practices for young adult ministry based on the following case studies and our research. (PDF)

And finally, ten case studies of churches and other faith communities with significant young adult involvement.  These cases were chosen to capture to diversity of American religious congregations today. They vary in size from a group as small as 50 to a megachurch and are from multiple faith traditions.  In each case the case study involved one or more on-site visits with the local group and interviews with key leaders and some of the young adult participants, as well as gleaning information from working documents and Web sites.

A few years ago, one of us (Ken) was part of an ongoing study group with a profoundly ecumenical mix of clergy.

Ranging in age from the late 20s to the early 60s, the members were from the United States, Canada and Ireland and represented a variety of faith traditions: Roman Catholic, Mennonite, Jewish, United Methodist and Presbyterian.

As Ken and his colleagues reflected on their experiences leading people of faith, they came to an unexpected epiphany: none of their congregations placed much value on ministries with youth.

The large Roman Catholic parish always assigned youth ministry to the newest priest. Two of the mainline congregations hired staff from other denominations to lead their youth groups. And a couple of the other churches had simply abandoned the field to parachurch organizations.

That conversation opened Ken’s eyes. He realized for the first time that mainline churches in the United States have essentially outsourced ministries with youth.

The reasons for this development are varied. Youth are rarely in positions of power in local churches and often have no strong advocate on church governing boards. Clergy who have studied and trained in theological schools often prefer to preach and teach among adults — the typical and most rewarded career path in ministry. And given the very nature of adolescence — a sometimes chaotic and messy season in life — youth ministry is inherently challenging work.

As a result, many congregations have all but walked away from the field, allocating minimal resources to youth programs and hiring people with little theological training to lead them.

To borrow from the work of Clayton Christensen, this is a classic “bottom of the market” scenario in which disruptive innovation occurs. As Christensen might argue, overlooked youth ministries operating out on the margins — just like small steel mills making low-grade rebar — do not remain marginal. Youth ministers mature and develop; the most effective ones are not content simply to lead small groups in abandoned church basements.

While mainline churches were looking the other way, many youth ministries transitioned from small groups to larger gatherings with sophisticated music and technology to entire alternative worship services. It is not an accident that many of the most effective and visible megachurch pastors in the United States (Adam Hamilton and Bill Hybels among them) began as youth ministers. At the same time, many parachurch organizations such as Young Life discovered new ways to engage youth directly, bypassing congregations and connecting their ministries to high schools and other contexts.

And so, in the same way that Toyota entered the American auto market with the low-end Corona (which eventually morphed into the Land Cruiser and the entire Lexus line of luxury cars), marginalized youth ministries became laboratories for innovation. And like 1970s-era General Motors, mainline Protestant denominations largely ignored them. Like GM, we stayed too long with established models even as they declined in numbers and quality.

Meanwhile, new laboratories in congregations and parachurch organizations flourished, offering young people significant opportunities to experience Christ. Over the years, as mainline Protestants settled for weaker forms of youth ministry, many of these laboratories became their own vibrant institutions — with real consequences for mainline Protestants.

As a result of our neglect of youth ministries, mainline Protestants have lost young people who might otherwise have grown up to become adult leaders in our congregations. Even more important, we have also lost an untold number of gifted young people who might have considered a call to ordained ministry.

Fortunately, Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation also tells us that solutions are possible. Hand-wringing despair is not mainline Protestants’ only option. Rather, we can learn from the best insights of these laboratories and develop our own skunk-works experiments.

Duke Divinity School has already developed one such experiment, the Duke Youth Academy for Christian Formation, which has had a profound impact on many of its participants — not only the teenagers who attend the academy every summer but also Divinity School faculty and alumni. Many other seminaries have developed similar academies, most with the visionary support of Lilly Endowment Inc. And some mainline congregations are investing more resources and talent in ministries with young people.

At the same time, we need to remember that the growth of youth ministry laboratories has not been an unequivocal success. Clearly, youth ministries still have room for improvement — much of which the mainline is uniquely positioned to achieve. The lack of theological education among those who serve and lead adolescents going through one of life’s most developmentally important seasons is a travesty. Approximately 70 percent of full-time youth ministers have no theological education, according toone recent survey.

Already, experiments to help address this challenge are emerging from within mainline Protestantism. Building on the Youth Academy, Duke Divinity School now offers a master of arts in Christian practicedesigned for active youth ministers in partnership with their congregations. The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church offers a youth director cohort that provides skills training, vocational support and spiritual formation for persons serving in youth ministry programs.

When we recall Ken’s conversation with ecumenical clergy, we might be tempted to avoid the subject — and the challenge — of youth ministry altogether. After all, Christensen called this kind of change “disruptive” for a reason.

It will be no small task for pastors and judicatory leaders to rethink our practice of outsourcing — or worse, ignoring — youth ministry. But it will be equally challenging to allow new forms of worship, music, technology and community to reform us.

The future of mainline Protestant witness will depend on whether we can incorporate disruptive innovation into our identity for the sake of ongoing faithful Christian witness.

When we were in seminary, one of our professors published a book entitled “Will Our Children Have Faith?” In the light of the disruptions of the past several decades, the question we need to ask ourselves now is, “Will our faith have children?”

Pastor Kendall B. Goslee, Sr., has a tremendous passion for God’s WORD coupled with agape love for all God’s people. He has a contagious spirit of generosity that flows through every facet of his ministry.

Pastor Kendall B. Goslee, Sr., has a tremendous passion for God’s WORD coupled with agape love for all God’s people. He has a contagious spirit of generosity that flows through every facet of his ministry.


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