Youth groups are a hot topic; people love them or hate them. There is an article that is getting a lot of attention that points to Youth Groups as the reason so many young people leave church in their twenties.
I pastor a church in the RCUS, and I would bet that our church is in the minority in the denomination in having a youth group. I agree that this is a very flawed survey, and is sponsored by the Family Integrated Church movement, which is probably leaning toward Patriarchy. But put all of that aside and we are still faced with the question, are youth groups bad?
It is hard to read responses from many youth pastors and not think, "Youth groups are indeed the problem". Any defense of youth groups that includes blaming parents, blaming boring church services, and quotes YoungLife as a positive is more likely part of the problem than part of the solution. In fact I am willing to say if your church's youth group is creating worship services for the youth, then it is clearly part of the problem. Yet, I still think there is a place for Youth groups.
I know there are many who think that segregation of the church by age is dividing the church. I agree and disagree at the same time. Whether we like it or not, the world around us is age divided. Unless your kid spends all his or her time at home and never goes outside to play with friends, your child is age divided. My 11 year old plays baseball in a different league than my 9 year old. And have you ever tried to make a Sunday School class that teaches both the 3 year olds and 65 year olds? Age division makes some logical sense.
I think Youth Groups can be a great positive for the youth. I think it can actually bind them to the local church rather than divide them. But several things have to be present. First, you can't have a worship service for them. Worship is not age divided. And if it is, then you are sending a message of separation rather than unity. It will also train youth to grow up and expect church to be like it was during youth. This generation's church service is last generation's youth group. Second, the whole idea of Youth Pastor has to go. This is another message of separation. Your youth pastor is not the head pastor. Your youth pastor is a special guy who just does one thing. Oh and your youth pastor does not really participate in worship either, except maybe on one or two Sundays a year. It is another separation. However, if the actual pastor spends time with the youth, would it not help bind them to the church?
This is how I currently envision youth ministry. The pastor sitting down with the youth and leading a bible study. Yes, in my church this often involves pizza or candy, but you will have a hard time convincing me that anything cannot be improved with food. But the pastor sitting down with the youth and having Bible studies that help them with the particular trials they are facing is a good thing. Probably most of the adults in your church are not struggling with dating or how to choose a spouse. And thus, your church is probably not teaching on it very often. But this is something the college students are facing. And can't high school students get a head start on knowing what to look for in a potential mate? Having a time and place for the pastor to lead a bible study on this with those who are facing it can be a valuable thing.
If we believe Bible study is good, why would be against bible study for a particular age group that faces particular challenges? And is there a better way for a pastor to get to know the needs of people who are valued members of his church than to sit down with them and talk to them over a pizza? Maybe your youth group needs to have a lesson about why age divided worship services are bad. Maybe you need to explain how wonderful it is to be in worship with people of all ages. It is a timely topic for college students who are often being invited to church services geared for the young. Explain to them why they should not abandon your church that sings hymns and has 80 year olds in the service. Our youth group talked about it, and I think it was a discussion they needed to have.
I know that Youth groups are a hot button issue. I understand the desire to not be replacing parents, and on the other hand, I understand the desire to draw in young people. There are always ditches on both sides of the road. But for me the issue comes down to the call of the Lord: "Feed my sheep." Each church needs to ask that very question. Are the youth getting fed, and are they being equipped with the word to face the challenges they face? I think the youth group is one way a church can try and feed the sheep. It is not the only way at all, but I think it can be a possible way.