My Take on Youth Ministry 3.0

Last year, I read Mark Oestreichers ‘manifesto’, Youth Ministry 3.0, and I loved the concept of Youth Ministry 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 as a way to understand the history of youth ministry. It was like this book was an answer to Mark Senter’s book, “The Coming Revolution in Youth Ministry” (that’s for all you old youth ministry guys). And I think the book is timely – it seems like many in youth ministry are unsatisfied with where we are and are looking for a way forward.

Charting the Course

Something that I found very helpful was that in each section of the book, Marko (as he is known throughout the youth ministry world) builds a chart that lists and compares/contrasts various characteristics of the three different youth ministry eras (pages 49, 61, 78) including youth culture fixation, cultural influence on youth ministry, key themes, driver, and theme verse. By the time I got to the end of the book, I found myself wanting to add another characteristic to his chart, namely the ‘relationship of youth ministry to the church’.

Youth Ministry Outside the Local Church

Marko does talk about youth ministry’s relationship to the local church in Youth Ministry 1.0 and 2.0. On page 46, Marko says “So those early youth ministry pioneers who knew they had to be true to their calling found – in large measure – that they had to do youth ministry outside the context of the local church.” In other words, the primary context of youth ministry 1.0 was outside of local churches. Although this doesn’t appear in Marko’s chart, I think it’s an important enough observation that it could. As Marko points out, Youth Ministry 1.0 was the birth of groups like YFC, Young Life, FCA, etc. (parachurch youth ministries), but a shift happens in Youth Ministry 2.0.

Youth Ministry Inside the Local Church

On page 53, Marko says “Churches [in the late 70’s and 80’s] were finally waking up to the need for youth ministry and moving beyond offering only a ‘young persons’ Sunday School class. Youth groups sprang onto the church scene, and churches started hiring youth pastors left and right.” So the primary context of Youth Ministry 2.0 was inside local churches.

Youth Ministry Connecting Local Churches

When he gets to Youth Ministry 3.0, the context continues to be youth ministry inside local churches, but I found myself wondering – couldn’t the primary context of youth ministry (relationship to the local church) also be changing just as it had between YM 1.0 and 2.0? And Marko’s descriptions of Youth Ministry 3.0 actually hint at what I believe could be the next primary context of youth ministry – youth ministry connecting local churches.

On page 93, he says “But what might this look like, to have a youth ministry of the various youth subcultures in your church and community, acknowledging the uniqueness and value of each-including the styles and preferences of each-but moving toward a supra-cultural taste of the kingdom of God?” (emphasis mine).

Could we be heading into a time when youth ministry needs to break out from the four walls of the local church and spill over into the whole community including other local churches? To be more about the Kingdom of God than buildings, denominations or theological distinctives? I believe that this is the case, and I believe that Marko’s description of Youth Ministry 3.0’s characteristics support that.

1) To reach multiple cultures

For example, he says that in Youth Ministry 3.0, there should be multiple youth ministries to multiple subcultures – that could be done in a single church, but what if all the churches in a community recognized this need and different churches were strategically focusing on reaching those different subcultures. What if we had an attitude that we need other youth ministries in our community to reach the entire youth population of our community?

2) To be true to our context

Another characteristic is contextualized youth ministry – the context of the students in your community is important, but doesn’t that context include other churches and youth ministries? What affect do other churches have on each other and what effect should they have. Could some good come of acknowledging that ‘our church is not the only church in this town’?

3) To be free from being overwhelmed

Doing less and getting small is another characteristic of Youth Ministry 3.0 – imagine the freedom in realizing ‘Hey, I’m not the only person trying to reach teenagers in my community. There are others out there doing the same thing. I’m not alone.” I think that realization could take some of the pressure off of youth leaders and we could feel free to not feel bad about being small knowing that there are many groups out there doing the same thing. A whole lot of smalls make for something big!

4) To be communal and missional

The two key words that Marko gives for Youth Ministry 3.0 are communal and missional. I love that – what fresh ways of looking at what we do. But again, wouldn’t communal youth ministry also mean that the youth pastor needs a community of like-minded people? His community needs to be bigger than the students he/she ministers to – he or she needs a community of people who understand their passion, struggles, goals, etc. And nothing is quite as encouraging as knowing that the mission you are passionate about is shared by others.

In the early chapter of Youth Ministry 3.0, Marko describe the tasks of adolescence as identity, autonomy, and affinity. I think that church history has played itself out in this way, especially since the protestant reformation (the church’s rebellious years?). At first, the church struggled with a sense of identity: What is the church? What are we supposed to be about? And then for several centuries, the church has been all about autonomy — How are we unique and different from other churches? I think it’s about time the church started moving more toward affinity – What do we have in common? How can we connect?

In Youth Ministry 3.0, We Need Each Other

Youth Ministry 1.0 took place outside of local churches because churches hadn’t caught on. In Youth Ministry 2.0, churches took hold that responsibility they should’ve had all along and made it core to what they do. In Youth Ministry 3.0, I think that they overwhelming forces of culture, economics, media, technology, globalization, and spiritual decline are going to force churches to see that we need each other to successfully reach future generations for Christ (see Jason Pauli’s recent blog post). In fact, as my friend Nick Arnold recently reminded me, youth workers from parachurch ministries started in the 1.0 era and church youth pastors from the 2.0 era also need each other to reach this generation of young people.

I’m excited about Youth Ministry 3.0 and I’m thankful to Mark Oestreicher for helping us see what this exciting new time can look like. My hope is that, more and more, we’ll make this new chapter of Youth Ministry something we do together.

Travis Deans has been 13 years with Teens For Christ, a former Youth Ministry 1.0 organization now networking church youth ministries in two counties in southwestern Pennsylvania, and lives in Uniontown, Pennsylvania with his wife Judy.

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