Regarding Kate Murphy's recent piece, "Is youth ministry killing the Church?", the concern she shares isn't new, at least in my youth ministry circles. I'm glad it's getting larger exposure, because that is a huge problem. Murphy's unstated solution, however, is as reactive as the same shift that caused this problem in the first place.
With the development of mandatory public education and adolescence—the idea that youth have a transitional period where they develop physically and mentally from child to adult—churches tried to focus more on the spiritual development of the adolescent. This began with a focus on curriculum and eventually paid ministers, hired specifically to focus on youth.
This shift grew out of a few concerns:
- loss of influence at the church and family level (being replaced, at some level, by public education and more peer interaction)
- fear of losing the youth to other denominations or no church participation at all (more common with the growing urbanization)
This leads us to the problems Murphy identifies:
- separation of youth from the larger church (popularly called a "satellite model" of youth ministry)
- consumer mentality, where everything we do seeks to serve the youth
- major drop-off from high school to college (unless, of course, you've built a college ministry with a similar consumer mentality)
- (And I would add) lack of faith development within the family...you go to church to learn about God
Yes, it is possible to develop strong faith in children and teens without a specific youth minister. In fact, parental involvement with faith is the #1 factor of continued participation of teens as they become adults. (Here's one survey, though it's not the one I was looking for.) But if you have the money as a church to hire someone who's been focusing on the youth culture, why would you ignore that resource? Just make sure they're aware of the dangers, and as a church, hold them and yourselves accountable, together, for the faith of your teens.