Luther Seminary continues to put out quality research related to youth ministry. I got to participate in one of the webinars they have just developed to make this research accessible to the average church leader called the Exemplary Youth Ministry Online Seminar. In this one-hour seminar they go over the basics of the Exemplary Youth Ministry Study, which you should be familiar with if you are not already. This study sought to identify key markers and assets in congregations who nurture long-term faith in the lives of their young people.
One of the insights that was brought up during this seminar is that significant faith is developed in three different spheres: the home, the congregation, and age-specific ministry. And here’s the kicker: “Activity in two of the three Spheres results in the development of a ‘Sweet Spot’ promoting greater levels of faith maturity.” And, obviously, activity within all three of the spheres would promote high levels of faith maturity as well.
What doe all this mean? Here’s a few of the implications that I have been thinking through:
- “Youth Group” is not enough by itself. Without nurturing faith in the home or participation in the congregation, trying to disciple teens only within the age-specific sphere is an uphill battle. I wonder how many youth ministries need to rewrite and rethink their mission statements. How many youth ministries try to facilitate all of the necessary programs to disciple a young person using only age-specific ministry? To say that an age-specific youth ministry will do something like “produce lifelong disciples of Christ” (or something to that effect) without also taking into account the life at home and contributing to the life of the congregation is short-sighted.
- Teenagers can have a growing, vibrant faith without participating in the “youth ministry.” If a teen has an active faith life in the home and is active within the congregation-at-large, they may never set foot in Sunday school or go on a youth mission trip, but still have a growing faith. We need not think that every teenager in a congregation must be involved in youth group to help them grow in faith.
- There is hope for youth who come from families whose parents are not nurturing faith in the home. Sometimes grandma will bring a child to church, or a teen brings a friend with them and the friend starts to get involved, but the parents of these youth might not be reinforcing anything at home. In these cases, the age specific ministry combined with activity in the wider congregation can still help to nurture mature faith in teenagers.
- We still need the “one-earned Mickey Mouse,” to an extent. After my recent post about the value, at times, of the old one-eared Mickey Mouse model this research seems to suggest that there is still a place for getting teenagers ministering specifically with people in their age range. Obviously, it is not enough by itself, and one person cannot do it by him- or herself, but it is still a vital component of youth ministry that should be kept intact.
What do you think? Does this “Three Spheres” model play out in your experience? Are there other insights to be gleaned from this? [Update: Yes, there are more insights… check out this post]