The advent of "youth ministry" or "youth groups", as we know it, is a rather modern phenomenon in the Christian church, not existing historically, or even biblically. At large, it is a "church service" catered to a younger audience that takes all the pulp out of sound teaching and fills it with games, food, hang out sessions, and flirting among peers (heck, that's why I went). Notice I said "at large", as I am not condemning the practice at whole, but at large.
Around 66-70% of youth ages 18-22 leave the church, never intending to come back, according to Lifeway Research. This is a major problem. Where does this come from? Why does this happen? I believe the answer is simple, we are not teaching sound doctrine. We are catering to the age group and are more focused on getting numbers in attendance rather than winning souls for Christ. Show me a youth group that exposits the text verse by verse, exegetes the text, and teaches sound doctrine and I will show you a small youth group. Youth ministry has become nothing more than a hang out spot for flirty, pubescent teenagers. If I'm being honest, that's what I looked forward to when I was a youth, the girls. So let's leave all these teenagers to their wits and vices, offer little to no reproval, waste their time with games, vain conversations and offer up very little "study" time, (which is usually a shallow message anyways) and we'll see why young people are leaving the church in droves. I say all this because I was almost one of those people. I was almost a part of that statistic.
The youth group I attended growing up was your typical american youth group with everything I mentioned above. I was not challenged, and when we were taught, there was never any meat. It wasn't until I started attending another youth home group on separate nights that I really began to understand some of the Bible. It was the first time I had ever come across verse by verse teaching. I was amazed, I never knew the Bible could be so captivating. I probably learned more in a few months of verse by verse teaching than I did from years attending my other youth group. But despite the good verse by verse teaching, my heart was still wicked. During this time I guess you could say I was attending two youth groups. One fed my flesh, and one fed my soul. In all of my sinful follies, I let my flesh (almost) win, as I had every intention of leaving the faith once I was off to college.
I had high hopes for myself, I wanted to be an actor. My parents even took me to Hollywood where I auditioned and got into an acting academy/conservatory. After my audtion the academy had an open house/tour, to which I then discovered there to be a strip club, directly across the street. My parents told me they trusted me and I of course obliged them, but oh how wicked my heart was at the time, as I had every intention of setting foot in that club once on my own and free from parental guidance. I had future intentions to sin. I had future intentions to not go to church. I was going to become "my own man" and was going to damn myself in the process. I was going to be part of that 70%. Luckily all of my plans never transpired as I never went to this school, but ended up moving to Washington instead, where through many years of spiritual immaturity, God finally got ahold of me.
These are lofty accusations to be throwing at modern youth ministry, but of course it cannot be entirely at fault. I do, however, believe there is some (partial) due blame. A couple hours a week (if not twice a week) for the better part of 7 years, that could have been spent feeding these kids, we instead catered to their fancies, grew our numbers, patted ourselves on the backs, only to watch most of them leave the faith, as most were probably not even saved to begin with. Now, this is where the parents come in, and why I don't blame the church entirely, as it is not the church's job to spiritually raise your kids. "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." (Deuteronomy 6:7) The church should really only be complimenting what is already taught at home. Yes, I'm not married, nor do I have kids, but I still biblically understand my calling if I ever do obtain such a station, and it scares me. To know I have to stand before God and give an account on how I led my wife and raised my kids up in the Word terrifies me, but it also motivates me.
In closing, I do not want to commit one of the first sins that was ever committed, and that is passing the blame, or the entire blame to someone or something other than myself. Yes, I believe the church is culpable. Yes, I believe parents are culpable. But we, me, I, myself, that is who is most culpable. We must remember that Adam and Eve had a perfect Father, and even they sinned. This blog wasn't written to entirely defame youth ministry, as I believe some do it very well. There are indeed youth ministries out there that teach and exposit the text, where the only difference is the application being more suitable or relevant to their age group. But if they aren't getting fed at church (one, find another church), but most importantly they should be getting it at home. Youth are leaving the church at an alarming rate. Faith is in decline. We pray for revivals but do little to spark them. It starts with us. It starts at home. Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)