Whenever I’m faced with a big project, I try to approach it in pieces. I break it down into doable parts and work my way towards finishing the whole.
When I heard Dr. Richard Ross speak at D6 Conference, I couldn’t help but think that what he shared was basically the same approach, only in the realm of ministry.
Dr. Ross served as youth minister for 30 years and now is a volunteer with teenagers and parents at Wedgwood Baptist in Fort Worth. He is also a professor to the next generation of youth ministers at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth and his new book, Youth Ministry That Lasts a Lifetime, was just released. I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Ross at lunch. Here are some of the things he shared with me then and from the main stage that really stuck with me.
What made you decide to look at the effectiveness of youth ministry?
Dr. Ross: We hear a lot about young people who leave the church as they enter into adulthood. We tried replacing parents with the professionals for 60 years. So how’s that going? I decided I wanted to look at the characteristics of young people who stay committed to their faith after high school.
What did you find out?
Dr. Ross: There were three major factors to young people remaining in the church.
First, they had spiritually alive parents. Spiritually lethargic parents create spiritually lethargic children. Spiritually alive parents are not pew sitters. They are all in!
Second, the young people who remained had a relationship with the larger congregation outside of specialized ministry (such as children’s or youth ministry). Young adults who have little love for the bride will eventually walk away from the groom but teenagers who spend their time with all generations in the church tend to stay in church. Giving teenagers a love for the church comes in two pieces: relationships and ministry.
Which leads to the final factor; there needs to be “Bible-drenched age-appropriate ministry” that helps youth live out their faith in the world today.
How do you suggest the church approach ministry to kids and youth with these factors in mind?
Dr. Ross: The ultimate goal is families that love God, love people, and make disciples of all people. The way to do that is to get out of the “event business” and into effective ministry. I suggest a new model for approaching ministry—Ministry in Thirds. Would we be willing to give one third of our calendar, budget, and energy to each of the three factors?
One third of these resources would be spent focusing on helping parents to be spiritually alive and active by resourcing them, supporting them, and equipping them for the work of discipleship.
One third of the resources would be focused on engaging our youth with the whole congregation and finding ways to build relationships in the larger faith community.
And one third would be spent on our age-specific ministry area such as youth groups and children’s ministry.
Where can we start if we want to move in this direction?
Dr. Ross: So much of what we do is focused on our events and programs and those take a lot of time and energy. But when you get yourself out of the event business you discover you have hours every week you can give to the families. Children are like wet cement. We can leave impressions on them when they are young. We need to let them be active in the church as soon as possible.
Don’t wait to allow kids and teenagers to serve until they are adults. They become dry cement. Find ways to let them serve while they are young.
I’ve been blogging at ReFocus Ministry for almost three years now. During that time, my heart has been to offer a “Both/And” approach toward ministry to children and youth that included BOTH age-specific ministry AND intergenerational ministry in the larger church community and homes. As I listened this week to Dr. Ross and Dr. Bengtson share about their research, which consistently pointed to the need for these intergenerational relationships in the church and home, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “I’m not crazy. This really does work!”
Friends, we need one another. All ages, all generations, the whole body of Christ. As one D6 attendee shared with me, “All saints doing ministry, all the time, everywhere.” There are no limits to God’s kingdom work. He can and will use all of us, youngest to oldest, to bring about “His kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”