Reprinted article from Walt Mueller pushing back about Family Intergrated Youth Ministry

Youth Groups Driving Christian Teens to Abandon Faith? . . . Some Issues. . . .

Last week a friend posted a link to an article from Charisma magazine that was making the rounds in our youth ministry world. My friend wrote this:  “Have you seen this? I would love your thoughts. This study has been emailed to me by 2 pastors in the past two weeks. This study is by the same group that did Divided the movie. I agree that Youth Ministry has been factor in this problem but I don’t know the best way to respond to those that are putting this study on my desk.”

And so I went and read the article – “Youth Groups Driving Christian Teens to Abandon Faith” – and followed the embedded links.

Some of you may know that I blogged on the Divided  movie and the organization behind it – the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches – back in July of 2011. You can read that blog post here. In that post, I talk about my take on the film, along with some reflections on how the film was made, and how my interview for the film was presented to me, conducted, and then included in the movie. . . or about 5 seconds of it! At the time, I expressed some deep concerns about how these folks were going about their business, along with some concerns about their message. Now, I’ve read the Charisma article. My concerns have been reignited.

So, in response to my friend’s question, let me offer a couple of responses. First, about the survey and it’s methodology. Second, I want to say something about youth ministry.

The Charisma article begins with this line: “A new study might reveal why a majority of Christian teens abandon their faith upon high school graduation.” There’s quite a bit in that first sentence that should cause us concern. For me, the biggest and most immediate issue was referencing the “new study” conducted by the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches. I linked to the “study” and found it more accurately to be a “survey”. . . an online survey in fact. Take a look at it for yourself. All I will say about the survey is that if you are going to quote this, you also have to talk about the sketchy methodology that’s used to come up with results that are entirely slanted, and therefore unreliable. Like the Divided movie, what you have here appears to be another piece of propaganda. Consider this simple little fact: the people who will take this survey are already biased in their opinion against youth groups. That’s why they would go to this site in the first place. This would be like me. . . a Philadelphia Eagles fan.  .  . setting up an Eagles’ fan site that’s populated and frequented by Eagles’ fans. Then, setting up an online survey soliciting the opinions of Eagles fans on the Dallas Cowboys and their likability through a series of three questions that give Eagles fans the option to rail on the Cowboys. If you know anything about football. . . or are from Philly or Dallas. . . you know how this one would go if, let’s say, 90% of the respondents were Eagles’ fans. Enough said.

My first concern, then, is with how the folks at the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches are going about their business. We should expect better. They need to know that sketchy methodology and hidden agendas driven by an “ends justifies the means” mentality will drive Christian youth workers and others to ignore their message. I, for one, have a very difficult time taking them seriously based on my past experience with their methods and tactics. To be honest, I am now skeptical about anything these folks are producing.

But there’s a second aspect to this discussion. It has to do with the criticisms that are being leveled against our youth ministry world by these folks. To dismiss these criticisms without giving them serious introspective consideration would be irresponsible and arrogant on our part. We can’t use the irresponsibility or sketchiness of those who criticize us as an excuse to not pause and consider whether or not there is any truth or validity to their accusations. Is it possible that we do need to look at our theology and practices?

Let me offer some brief and direct thoughts on the relationship between church, youth group, and family that are restatements of things we’ve been saying here at CPYU since the get go:

  • The Scriptures are clear: parents are primarily responsible for the spiritual nurture of their children.
  • The youth group, Sunday School, youth pastor, youth workers, teachers, and congregation are to offer deliberate secondary spiritual guidance and nurture in support of parents.
  • Youth ministries that establish separate youth worship services at times when the “big people” are in “big people church” are nurturing kids into a needs-based understanding of worship and the Christian faith. Not only that, but they are dividing up the body of Christ. Children, teenagers, young adults, parents, middle-aged adults, senior citizens. . . all of them need to be worshiping together to experience the full breadth and depth of the body of Christ and to exercise and benefit from the giftedness of all.
  • Youth workers should be recruiting and equipping an army of adults to love, relate to, and mentor kids.
  • The church and youth group cannot ignore the growing number of young people who are growing up without a parent or parents in the home, and the growing number of kids whose search for redemption in the absence of home-based spiritual nurture lead them to the church and youth group.

One last thing. . . I can’t seem to find any place in the Scriptures where the use of websites, online surveys, and other “worldly innovations” are a biblical way to reach people or solicit opinions.