The Failure Of Modern Youth Ministry?

in church circles lately, there have been many conversations revolving around the so-called failure of modern youth ministry.

ya know… 80% of students graduating from their faith when they graduate high school.

yada yada yada

books have been written on the topic.

people no longer in the trenches of youth ministry have garnered a following talking about it.

conferences host breakout sessions on it.

churches have changed entire paradigms because of it.

and everyone wants to know “the future of youth ministry”.


but the most recent addition to the hype is a relatively new 1-hour documentary called “DIVIDED”.  you can watch it for free online right over here.

i was skeptical from the beginning, but told a friend upon their urging that i would watch it with an open mind.

i wish i had my hour back.


i’m not trying to be a jerk in this post, but it deeply bothers me to know that there are discouraged and defeated youth workers who are abandoning their calling because of a few logical fallacies in this film and around this conversation.



1. the data used hardly represents the whole 

much of the film’s conclusions seem to be drawn from unrepresentative and biased samples. i question whether the film-maker truly went on a journey of discovery with his camera along the way, asking the same questions to a true variety of youth ministry experts… or if he already had his conclusion pre-determined and knew where the people he was interviewing stood on the issue. at the very least, the people and statements included in the film only represent one side of the debate.

2. the issue is grossly oversimplified

this film captures much of my frustration with this entire debate simply because it oversimplifies the complexity of why some students walk away from the faith, and why some stick around.  there’s a ton of factors involved when a college student decides to stop going to church, and it can hardly be authoritatively blamed on a student ministry that actually kept those same teens around during their teenage years.

  • some pitch it all because they find that a respected christian leader was really fake and deceptive and broke their trust.
  • some grow and make big strides in their high school years, and while they want to stay involved in church, they simply don’t yet know how to manage the overwhelming pressures for their time.
  • some throw it away because they know the fakeness of their parents’ faith during the week, and then they see their fervency on sundays… and it repulses them.
  • some are just stranded on campus because they don’t have a car (and the online church thing doesn’t get factored into the statistics)!
  • and part of it is simply this whole world/flesh/devil thing…

i thought kurt johnston summed it up well when he tweeted this:

3. improper assumptions (post hoc)

a post hoc fallacy occurs when you assume that one event “A” is the direct result of another event “B”, simply because “B” follows “A” in time. the movie leads you to draw the conclusion that when a student abandons church after high school, it’s the direct result of that church’s youth ministry (because it immediately preceded it in time). for instance, in the film philip leclerc tells of how his father started paying attention to their church’s student ministry when he turned 13, and then eventually pulled him out entirely because the people graduating didn’t turn out at the “desired level”…whatever that was. the inference is that the youth ministry actually harmed the students more than helped them.

4. age segregated ministry is not in the bible… therefore it’s unbiblical

slow down a minute, cowboy. there’s a lot of things that aren’t in the bible, but we would never go so far as to say it’s unbiblical. whatever’s in the bible is absolutely true, but just because something’s not in the bible doesn’t mean it’s not true. i would hate to give up driving my car and walk barefoot everywhere simply because car’s aren’t in the bible.


at the heart of this discussion, and what i DON’T hear people putting on the table, is the parable of the sower and the seeds from matthew 13. jesus tells us that as we do the work of ministry, we’ll be spreading the truth of His Word to 4 different categories of people. we don’t know who they are… we’re just told to spread it. and of those 4 categories, 3 of them will receive the truth but not let it take root in their lives. in other words, we’re talking 75%!  my bible pretty much says to expect this kinda thing. but you do it anyways because of that other 25%!

here’s the parable. and i even put it in the king james in case that helps 🙂


Matthew 13
1 The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side.2 And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.3 And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.9 Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:15 For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.17 For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.
18 Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.