Thursday, December 07, 2006

Youth Ministry as the Incubator for the Emerging Church

Here's a provocative portion of Phil Johnson's post at the Pulpit Magazine blog yesterday:
I have friends who have suggested that the emerging church idea is the predictable fruit of churches that tailor their youth ministries to whatever style is currently fashionable, hold alternative church services for the youth in a separate building (”the youth building”) and never incorporate them into the actual life of the church itself. They’ve grown into adulthood while their styles and preferences were catered to in a special “church” service all their own. The actual church service was something they weren’t expected to like. Many of them were never really exposed to worship in the context of the actual church, with real adults. They were deliberately entertained instead, and thus they were conditioned to think that way. They grew old, but they never grew up, and now even as adults, they want to continue to play at church, but outside the mainstream of the historic church. (My friend characterized the emerging church worship style as “Church services for the ADHD generation.” Read the Christianity Today account of Emergent’s national convention and you will understand why he said that.)
So keep on building your youth ministry on the sand of entertainment and excitement if you must. Warm the kids up to worship with skits and games. Dream up grosser and more outlandish spectacles. Keep on denying that what you reach them with is what you reach them to. And maybe one day you'll have your own little heretical kingdom that rises from the ruins of the Emerging Church.

Just don't forget to use your sermons to scorn all the small-minded people who said this was a bad idea. (Ha! Silly me. Sermons are so first century.)


Chris Anderson said...

Wow. That makes so much sense. We teach young people that church isn't for them, then act surprised when they learn it.

Do you think children's church does the same (without assuming a worst case scenario of entertainment, puppets, games, etc.)?

billy bob said...

for a short time i attended a church that had it's youth group meetings on fridays after school until 5pm. it didn't displace any church service. the actual services were very traditional; the youth meetings used all kinds of modern methods. a lot of the teens came to both.

Ben said...


There are folks arguing against any age grading in the educational program of the church. I'm not one of them. I've observed children's church services that were more biblical and serious and theological than many of the adult services I've seen. And the kids weren't bored!

Unless you're going to have all newborns in every service, you're going to have some division of ages. I think my argument would be that the division should decrease as quickly as possible as age increases, and than any decision to divide should take into account all the unintended consequences.

How's that for a dodge?

Anonymous said...

Hum...interesting post, i think you make a lot of sense.

I think the U.K. picture is that some youth churches grow into all age churches as the young people grow, but most keep they young people until they leave for college - then if they fall away its not the home churches problem and they don't need to feel bad because it didn't happen on their watch

I also think the 'mainstream' church needs the energy of young people to keep it fresh, so we can't afford to let them go off all on their own. Something about being a body i think...

Kent Brandenburg said...

I did a three part series on this over at my blog entitled: The Medium and the Message. All of this is essentially a version of the Neil Postman book Amusing Ourselves To Death and the need for linear thought to reach sufficient knowledge for salvation. My question is this, simply, Are We Adding to the Word of God with Non-Scriptural Methodology? I believe "yes" and that methodology is coming home to roost.

Chris Anderson said...

I agree, Ben. We do have children's church for children age 4 through grade 2. They dismiss just before the message, and they get a message aimed more intentionally at their level. Meanwhile, we have 3rd-6th graders in the service, taking notes during the morning message, earning points for our midweek program (which, I suppose, is another controversy).

At any rate, even later elementary students can get more out of sermons than many would expect. If they're expected to.

Josh said...

I agree with most on this thread. It is a problem that I have been worried about for many years. I would like to see more kids in the regular worship service. This may be a small point and I don't want to start a fire here, but I think some of the disconnect between the pulpit and the youth is the archaic version that many of our churches use.