The youth room is full of equipment, curriculum, and games. Yet the seats of modern day congregations are growing old rather than “growing young,” as coined by youth ministry leader Kara Powell. The parents, pastors and parishioners are all mystified regarding what other programming can be created that will increase the interest of this age group in the congregation.
The answer cannot be found in more and more games nor can it be found in actually filling the seats with more students. I purport that the answer lies in relationships that are meaningful more than in programming. However, within the typical congregational setting, our focus has been driven by programs, pilots and people stats rather than by relationships, reality and relevant service to families of the congregation.
This obstacle is an opportunity to refocus on the values of primitive congregations and faith development practices before programming took the helm. In early traditions of faith, the family played a more vitally important role in the spiritual development of the young. Many current youth advocates and faith researchers, such as Kara Powell, Chap Clark, Andrew Root and George Barna, are echoing similar implications to return to the family-centered model of faith development.
Rather than relegating the responsibility to the congregation to develop young people, it is time once again to focus on the family. Let the congregation play the supportive role rather than the leading role in the process. According to youth ministry experts, when asked about the major influences to their faith, most youth suggest that family relationships, congregational relationships outside of the youth leader, service projects and meaningful teaching hold the greatest influence in their faith development. This helps one to see that pouring more resources into a nicer room, a flashier faith library and more fun youth trips should not be the primary method by which we build youth development in the local congregation.
Perhaps this is the time to change the question from "what can we do to fill the seats in the youth room?" to "what can we do to empower parents to fill the seats at their family devotional table?" for meaningful enrichment and faith development of our youth.
Take a look at some of the resources on the CRG related to this subject. I recommend the resource Relationships Unfiltered and the book Think Orange which also has a curriculum that integrates family practice into faith development.