THE REBOOT BLOG | September 17, 2020
To Hire or Not Hire a Youth Minister,
That is the Question
by the Reboot Grant Team
Over the past 20 years, our church has faced the complexities of not being able to retain a youth pastor for a period extensive enough that would uphold the student ministry. The lack of intentional church-wide support and involvement in the youth ministry is one of the underlying reasons for such a high turnover rate.
(Agape Baptist Church, San Antonio, Texas)
For the many churches across the country like Agape Baptist, this question is revisited over and over again. It’s the set-up adults know, that many grew up with in the good-old days of seemingly thriving youth programs led by freshly-minted, energetic youth pastors.
The common scenario—now over sixty years old—looked like this: congregations segregated youth into separate youth-only worship services, hired a youth worker with a youth-only job description. Congregations envisioned highly successful church youth programs that would compete with parachurch youth ministries—laser-focused on evangelism with young people as targets. This set-up also relieved parents and other adults in the congregation of any responsibility or avenue to actually interact with youth. What seemed like a great idea was questioned as early as the mid-1960’s, when warning volleys sounded concerning the dangers of separation and siloing youth into a “tribe apart.”
Speed forward several decades and what do we see? Youth parents apathetic towards youth ministries. Youth leaving the church when they age out of youth group never to return. Church budgets stretched to the max due to decades of declining membership and decreasing giving. A pessimism about the future of the church and the youth of the future.
Before congregations jump immediately to ask whether to hire or not hire a youth minister, they must take a pivotal step in the opposite direction: Reorient youth ministry as a congregational ministry. That’s the approach to youth ministry sponsored by Perkins School of Theology, Reboot: The Congregation as Youth Worker. Yes, that’s right. The congregation as youth worker.
Here’s what leaders from Agape Baptist — a congregation participating in our Reboot work—realized when they set aside for now the question of hiring or not a youth worker and took a long look at the current disconnect for the youth in their midst:
The siloing of youth ministry exacerbated the disconnect between the youth and the congregation as a whole. We realized through the Reboot journey that there are very few spaces where children, youth, and adults are worshiping and interacting in a multigenerational, engaging way. Most youth have not been attending worship, much less participating in worship leadership, and are not fulfilling meaningful roles in other ministries.
Such realizations are not merely reserved for clergy, youth ministers, youth parents, or older adults. They are occurring with youth at the discussion table—as agents empowered to have a voice in this new direction.
This congregation plans to revisit in the future whether to hire a paid youth worker or not, but first they are taking the most significant first step to establish themselves – the entire congregation – as the youth worker. Otherwise, their fear is “we will fall into the same cycle of running into similar hurdles and/or issues we are currently trying to overcome and the overall morale of the church will suffer.”
To hire or not to hire a youth minister is not the question to ask. Instead, to be or not to be the congregation who is the youth worker, that is the first and most important question to ask.