The Truth About “Youth Ministry”

Interesting numbers:

Churches with youth ministries and churches without them lose kids at about the same rate.

Churches that offer VBS, camp, Bible classes, etc., lose kids at the same rate as those without them.

Big churches lose kids as rapidly as small churches. The same rule applies to worship styles, demographics, even geography.

That’s right. “Youth ministry” as traditionally conceived in Churches of Christ makes NO STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE in the retention rate of kids who grow up in it.

In fact, the only real predictor of youth retention is the marital status of the parents.

If Mom and Dad are committed to God AND TO EACH OTHER, their kids are far more likely to stay faithful as adults than kids whose parents are separated either by death or divorce. Even then there’s no guarantee, but as ministers it’s the best we can do.


4 Responses to The Truth About “Youth Ministry”

  1. Chris says:

    Children of divorce, when adults, also face significant difficulties with trust. Many face struggles with feelings of betrayal that negatively affect their spiritual growth.

    Many parents forget that marriage is a divine illustration of the relationship between God and his people/Jesus Christ and the Church. When a marriage relationship is broken children of that marriage tend to struggle with the divine truth behind the living illustration. That is, that God keeps his promises to His Bride.


    • benwiles says:



      You said, “When a marriage relationship is broken children of that marriage tend to struggle with the divine truth behind the living illustration. That is, that God keeps his promises to His Bride.”

      This is, I think, what Jesus is saying in the Sermon on the Mount. His concern was not to create a new legality about divorce, but to illustrate his point about God being a God of His Word and calling His followers to do the same.

  2. Jeffrey says:

    “Traditionally concieved Youth Ministry”. Hmm. The problem with our youth/children’s ministry today is the content in those programs; we seem to forget that the children we have in our congregations are the next generation of front line soldiers in the battle against the forces of Satan. Too often, the message we give is “Jesus loves you, now go play/ hang out with your friends”. We need to be equipping these children with the tools they need to fight those battles! Stories about Noah, David and other Bible characters are fine, but so often we stop at the superficial and practically refuse to go deeper. We as a Church need to quit underestimating these kids and TEACH them, train them (Proverb 22:6), explain to them why they should believe what the Bible teaches, make them memorize Scripture (Eph. 6:17- this is HUGE). The reason that only 9% of “Christians” have a Biblical world view (recent Barna poll) is because we as the leaders of the Church are not TEACHING the truth!

    Plan of action:
    1. Train your teachers. Don’t take the first warm body that comes along, give them curriculum you purchased and hope everything comes out okay.

    2. Thouroughly review your curriculum; don’t assume it teaches everything you want your kids to know (this is a big problem with us Acts 2:38 folks).

    3. Place your kids properly based on their walk with Jesus. A ten-year-old believer and a ten-year-old non believer should not be in the same Sunday school class! They are at different levels and have different needs (we are terrible at properly discipling new believers in the Church).

    4. Follow up with the parents! Make your teachers build those relationships with those who have entrusted their child for 2 hours of safekeeping once a week. Offer help in supporting parents in their role of primary teachers of the Word to their children (this is the way it’s supposed to be, even though we know better, right?)

    I could go on I suppose, but there is too much material for a reply post (this is Ben’s blog, not mine). Bottom line- we need to ground our children in the Truth that is Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! We as a Church have failed to do this (parents, teachers and leaders). That is why we are losing our children. I look forward to your reply.


    • benwiles says:


      You’re dead on right about the parents. The strongest influence in a child’s life is Mom & Dad. And while the thrust of “traditionally-conceived youth ministry” seems to be to separate parents from children in the name of spiritual formation, the greatest impact happens when parents and kids grow spiritually together.

      Regarding increased rigor in Sunday School, I think the LDS folks might be on to something there. They aren’t afraid to put their kids through the theological ringer if doing so will turn out a quality missionary. The key, again, seems to be Mom & Dad. Do they take their own faith seriously enough to see it take root in their kids? When they do, their children and grandchildren are likely to follow suit.

      Small churches may actually have an advantage in this area, for three reasons. 1) They usually can’t afford a traditional, professional “youth minister.” 2) The adults teaching kids’ Bible classes are usually somebody’s Mom or Dad. That is, kids get to see their own parents devoting time and energy to God and His people, and by teaching somebody else parents learn more than they otherwise would siting in a class. 3) They often have multi-age classrooms, something traditional SS Curriculum publishers don’t serve anymore. Thus, lessons have to be created rather than simply purchased.

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