There has been much talk lately about the benefits and drawbacks of youth ministry. Some have gone as far as saying that youth ministry destroys teenage faith and the whole idea of youth ministry should be scrapped.
I am no expert, although I was a youth pastor for five years and have been involved in youth ministry to varying degrees since then. When I started in youth ministry, it was seen as the silver bullet that would safeguard the future of the church. It is by no means controversial to say that belief is incorrect. Many of those who attend youth groups drop out of church by graduation and many of those who come to church later were not involved in youth groups.
The suggestion I am often hearing is that youth groups should be disbanded and the emphasis should be on integrating teenagers into the main congregation. I think that integration is a part of the solution but not the whole thing. My ministry experience was that a very small portion of the youth group actually attended Sunday morning services. As an ideal, it is a great thought. But if I had implemented that, I would have lost all the influence I had with the unchurched teens that came out to youth group. I was able to share the Gospel and teach from the Bible to those who would never show up on a Sunday morning. I do not believe that was wasted time.
Not every church needs a youth pastor or a youth ministry. But for those that can, take advantage of the opportunities that you have. Don’t let it be all about pizza and games (but have some of that as well). Look at who you have that attend church and those who are unlikely to attend. Come up with a strategy to maximize your discipleship opportunities. Teach the Bible as often and as clear as you can. Integrate as much into the main congregation as you can but don’t give up on those unchurched kids.