Anglican youth ministry thoughts

As mainline youth ministry begins to professionalize and catch up with the Evangelicals, one of the key points of tension is going to be that we have to figure out what we're doing. I don't mean that we need to learn how not to be inept--we actually have to sort out what the point of youth ministry is from a perspective outside of Evangelicalism. Evangelical youth ministry has largely been aimed at "conversion" and retention. That is, it has aimed to achieve assent to denominational propositions, and to integrate youth into the culture of the Church, so that they won't leave when they graduate high school. Ultimately, at least for Anglicans, that's not exactly how I see our goals. Anglican spirituality is more about joining in the "stream" of worship, liturgy, service, and community life than assent to propositional truths, so the "conversion" experience will be only one possible feature of successful youth ministry. Also, among mainliners, where there is less emphasis on the Church as the sole means of salvation, "retention" isn' t necessarily our highest goal. People will come and go--some will connect strongly to our tradition and stick with us through life, and some won't. I see it as the essence of our goal to minister to those who pass through our doors, to invite them into the "stream", and to serve them any way we can.

In terms of method, mainliners have a catechetical history to draw upon--we've got confirmation programs, and a tradition of training up our youth by teaching them the key features of the faith and involving them in our liturgies and ministry. However, I think we're going to have to rethink those traditions as well, and come up with a different model--undoubtedly one of the reasons Evangelical youth ministries have flourished is b/c youth and families have left the mainline churches where the old catechetical models weren't working, or were deemed too boring. I've seen it in my own situation, and historical statistical data supports it. (Those models still exist as dinosaurs in most of our churches it seems, but certainly aren't flourishing in a populist sense.) These old methods in fact have their history in a loyalist culture that doesn't exist anymore, and in an institutional church model that has largely passed away.

I honestly think we can learn a lot from Evangelicals in terms of method. In the mainline, we tend to be pretty dry when it comes to youth programming, focusing on instruction and acolyting as the be-all end-all of youth ministry. I think that the Evangelicals have been both practically and theologically astute in focusing on fun, freedom and community in youth ministry, along with the integrating youth into worship, service and the beliefs of the the denomination. My impression is that as mainliners we feel a little bit like sellouts if our kids are having a lot of fun--religious training is supposed to be disciplined, deep, and moving, right, not messy, fun or out of control? In taking this approach, we've basically not allowed our youth to form the sort of relationships that keep them in the Church as they get older, along with teaching them the lesson that Church is a place for the severe and the disciplined. Thought of liturgically, we often emphasize the "sermon" aspect of worship to the extreme in youth ministry, and generally cut out "the peace" and "the Eucharist". In so doing, we create barriers for youth to feel welcome in our Churches, and we ultimately cut out some of the most important avenues for learning and acculturation into the Church.

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