Review AL: “The State of Youth Ministry” by the Barna Group

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The Barna Group has been instrumental in putting out a handful of books, few of which that have found a home on my bookshelf. I remember reading “UnChristian” by Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman for the first time and being impressed with the data they were able to present and interpret thanks to the Barna Group. Same goes for “You Lost Me” and “Churchless”. When I heard they were putting out a book specifically geared towards youth ministry I was quick to find room in my budget to purchase it. As a service to my fellow youth ministers, or anyone who might be considering purchasing this book, I’ll tell you what I discovered from my reading experience.

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The information communicated is helpful. It really does help in envisioning a broader perspective on how youth ministry is being handled beyond your congregation or your denomination. It is comforting to see that other youth ministries are struggling with the same issues your youth ministry is struggling with; but on the other hand, it is a little disheartening that no solution to these issues is presented.

I was surprised at how many times the youth ministry goals and perceptions of all three surveyed parties (parents, youth ministers, and senior ministers) actually matched up. The default perception seems to be that there are huge disagreements between the youth minister and parents or the youth minister and the senior minister when it comes to the “why” of youth ministry. Barna shows that that perception is for the most part quite negligible. Now, the “how” of youth ministry definitely remains a source of disagreement amongst these three parties, but that probably doesn’t come as a surprise to any youth minister. Those disagreements, however, pale in comparison to what youth ministers reported to be their biggest obstacle.

The biggest obstacle youth ministers say they face in their youth ministries?

Busyness. The biggest obstacle youth ministers say they face in their youth ministries is the busyness of their teens. The percentage did have a declining trend in 2016 at 74% as compared with that of 2013 at 86%. However, this is still the main obstacle that youth ministers report. There is little surprise in that result as we’ve all seen our society pressure our students to do more and elevate “achievement” as the greatest good.

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As per usual, Barna was sure to add many aesthetically appealing illustrations and graphs that illustrate the survey results of hundreds of protestant youth ministers, senior ministers, and parents of youth group students surveyed in 2013 as compared to those surveyed just last year. These illustrations are a great aid in visually understanding the numbers they discuss. I do get somewhat frustrated when I’m taking in the same information two times (one via illustration and one written out) but that is a minor qualm.

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Overall, this book was helpful to read as a youth minister. Getting to understand the perspectives and issues of youth ministries in churches both large and small, suburban/urban or rural, white or not was beneficial. In truth, it gave me a sense of solidarity and kinship with my fellow youth ministers throughout the nation. It’s undeniably true, the data can be a little dry, but it is interesting and beneficial.

Perhaps the biggest benefit to me was the message towards the end of the book where youth ministers are challenged to think beyond perpetuating the status quo of youth ministry and to purposefully look towards the future of youth ministry. It lists the following as the top 8 challenges we will be facing (if not already) in our youth ministries:

  1. Rising Bible skepticism
  2. Increasing loneliness
  3. Pervasive Pornography
  4. Confusion regarding human sexuality
  5. Me-first morality
  6. Pressurized Christian identity
  7. An era defined by achievement
  8. Conversation-challenged disciples

This list is spot on. Each of these categories is briefly fleshed out. They don’t go so far to pretend to have the answers for every youth ministry in regards to these challenges but they do point towards some of the important questions that we should be asking and discussing as youth ministers (or even volunteers, parents, and Christians). I would definitely recommend this book to anyone connected to youth ministry and anyone at all who concerns themselves with the spiritual upbringing of the church’s young people.

Thanks for reading! If you’ve read this book and would like to add your views, please do so by commenting or message me directly!

 

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