What is 21st youth ministry in the church in this digital, distracted world?

How on earth is a youth pastor leading a youth group of 50 suppose to engineer a compelling youth ministry in an age of much distraction?

We live in a time where youth ministry is needed more than ever.  Students are more stressed out than ever.  Lack social capital.  Aren’t getting enough sleep.  Depressed.  Isolated.  Not inclined to trust adults.

So this is where youth ministry comes in.  

We must first start with a definition for youth ministry.  Without a definition, I am not exactly sure how a youth pastor can gauge the impact of their youth ministry effectiveness.

A “working” youth ministry definition:

Youth ministry is a community of committed followers of Jesus. Youth groups gather regularly for preaching/teaching of the scriptures and worship through meditation and music, share meals, observe baptism and communion and teenagers are empowered to be missionaries to their town and to the world for God’s glory and redemption.

Thankfully, the mission of youth groups is not that complicated. The mission of youth ministry comes directly from the command of Jesus:  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20; see also Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:20-31; Acts 1:5-8). Jesus speaks of going, evangelizing, making disciples, and maturing youth ministries and the Church.

A mission minded youth pastor knows how to carry out the mission to today’s  progressively non-Christian youth culture.  This is why youth pastors need to be culturally smart and theologically solid.  Youth pastors need to know, understand, and assess culture in order to implement their strategies on how to reach and grow unChristian students.  The mission hasn’t changed but the soil has.

Here are some traits a 21st century youth ministry needs to have to be effective:

➡️  Multiple small clusters of students ( 8 to 10) that are committed to being real and responsive to the teachings of Jesus. Mark Oestreicher talks a lot about this idea in his book:  Youth Ministry 3.0.  

➡️. Teach and focus on theological concepts that are rooted in tradition and history

➡️  A monthly centralized large group gathering for worship

➡️  Building new systems to leverage old, tried and true approaches to connecting with teenagers:  calls, texts, mail, gifts

➡️ Integrated into the bigger church body

➡️. Teaching format is more discussion based in small groups where topics and messages can be tailored and contextualized to the specific group of students

➡️. Strong online presence that acts as the front door of the youth ministry

➡️. Huge emphasize on making young disciples by having a growth process in place


Everett Fritz in his book The Art of Forming Young Disciples:  Why Youth Ministries Aren’t Working and What To Do About It argues for an approach that can change spiritual lives of students by applying the old school one-to-one personal method that Jesus Himself used to form his twelve original disciples.  It’s making a shift to a small group only model.    

This model will help you create a comfortable environment that leads students into self-reflection and self awareness while asking the question of the critical role of parent and parish’s role in the faith formation of the teenager.

The youth group is not program that has been pre-built.  Relationships and mentoring make disciples, programs don’t.

This is why I think youth ministry is soo fun!!!  Why?  We are given the Great Commandment and Great Commission and the youth pastor is required to contextualize it according to its culture, church methodology, and theology.