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]
Adam Lehman says
In my mind (and probably in my context) it means: “yes, we need to change things, but yes, some things are going well and need to continue.”
Brit Windel says
i think it is a great study… sadly though (still needing to be done) healthy churches and healthy youth ministries have known this and been doing this for years. my problem with the model…well not really problem is that the model is more of a release factor. meaning that it frees the ministry to branch out and do ministry more holistically.
what i would like to see is examples of ministries doing this well. Stories of how churches are using this ‘model’ successfully! that is the one piece i have not heard coming from the seminars and conferences i have attended where this model is discussed
I have NO arguments of what the data says, or the three points (even though it looks like an upside mickey mouse)! most data i have seen on mentoring and spirituality does not have age specific ministry, but peers…but what ever!
I really like your comments of 2 & 3. i think both are pivotal in ministry to growing true discipleship and freeing the student and ministry to truly live out and teach Christ!
Brit, if you go to the ExemplarYM website and register, that will give you access to the research study documents, which include some case studies of congregations in the project. That might be the kind of thing you are looking for regarding “examples of ministries doing this well.”
I’m a wee bit confused about your “problem” of this model freeing “the ministry to branch out and do ministry more holistically.” That sounds like a good thing to me.
Joel Mayward says
I’m thinking of all the examples I’ve seen of students who’ve participate in two or all three and how their faith development is dramatically more mature than those participating in just one circle. For instance, an 8th grade girl at my church has spent much of her time at home and with the congregation but not with the youth group. Yet her maturity and her faith are incredibly deep for an 8th grader. I’ve also seen a difference between students who both attend youth group and the Sunday worship services, how their view of the church has expanded due to interacting with different generations in the greater body.
I imagine that these findings could seem threatening to some, because it suggests that one’s youth group is simply not enough, as you pointed out in #2. But there’s also hope, like you said in #3, that students can have a vibrant faith while growing up in a non-Christian home, especially if they connect to the larger church family.
Joel, I think it might be threatening to some, but a lot of us have realized that youth ministry as it has always been done needs to change already. I think part of the value in this way of thinking is that it might temper us from swinging the pendulum too far in the other direction. There are pieces of our youth ministries that are constructive, but they are not complete without some other components. Maybe thinking about ministry in these three spheres will keep us from throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Mary Beth McCandless says
It is SO good to see this. This is what we have been intuitively moving toward for the past two years. I will let you know how it develops. This model and the background information will be incredibly helpful in bringing our leadership more fully on board with this way of thinking. We still have some who think “hire a youth minister and you will have a youth ministry” – argh. This will help explain – in a clear way with a visual tool – what we’ve been doing and are doing.
Glad this will be helpful for you. You might consider having your leadership take part in one of these seminars. They will host one exclusively for your leadership team. Beyond this “3 Spheres” concept there are also 44 “assets” that build faith in young people. And the kicker is that 22 out of the 44 are congregational assets (i.e. not related at all to typical, age-specific youth ministry). It might be helpful for you as you try to make a move in this direction.
Glad to hear about this study, and it definitely reflects something I’ve been thinking/feeling about youth ministry, namely that in order to be truly effective, it has to have support or cooperation in the home and church.
Think about it- even a full-on youth ministry only gets a few hours a week with a student at best. But with strong family support or congregational support (ideally both) of the growth of that youth’s faith, then who knows how far it can go!
I’ll be sharing this study with my volunteers and other church staff for sure. Thanks Matt for sharing.
Bryan Jaster says
I love the exemplar stuff. Do you have any connection with FaithInk and utilizing the Faith 5 (share, read, talk, pray & bless) to tap into “the people who would take a bullet for their kids”? The goal is creating systems of families who vitally live that sphere of “church @ home”.