ReThink by Steve Wright (with Chris Graves) is a compelling, well-written book on the roles of families and churches with respect to the discipleship of youth. The authors engage the question: Is youth ministry, as it is typically practiced by evangelical churches, fruitful? From my review last year:
It is beyond dispute that much of student ministry today, over the long haul, bears little fruit. Wright cites numerous sources in painting a bleak picture: 58-84% of children from evangelical families are leaving the church as they enter adulthood (in their college years). The Southern Baptist Convention has seen a 6.5% reduction in baptisms from 1976-1990 to 1991-2005. Over the same period to time, the SBC saw a 35-40% reduction in baptisms among teens aged 12-17. With regard to biblical literacy, the data are equally perplexing: In a study of teenagers of which 70% were active in church youth groups, and 82% identified themselves as Christians, Barna found that 63% believe Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Jews and all other people pray to the same god. While 87% believe Jesus was a real person who came to earth and 78% believe He was born of a virgin, 46% believe He committed sins and 51% believe He did not rise from the dead. 58% believe that all religious faiths teach equally valid truth.
Why the lack of biblical clarity? Wright notes,
“Student ministry in many cases has become the local YMCA or teen amusement park; students check in and out, but mostly out. After all, once they have experienced years of fun-and-games, all-you-can-eat, no-responsibility, free-from-parents amusement, then we have helped train their appetites for pleasure to find more alluring fulfillment in the adult world.”
Yet students hunger for strong teaching. The Barna Group found the most common reason students gave for attending church was “to better understand what I believe.”
In response to these results, Wright laments the fact that some parents see spiritual formation as the exclusive job of the youth pastor, who in turn too quickly accept the responsibility. Instead, Wright argues (from Deuteronomy 6 and elsewhere) that parents have a primary responsibility for the discipleship of their children, both prior to and during the pivotal teen years. He calls upon youth pastors to come alongside parents in this venture, equipping both the students and their parents.
I was excited to hear that Steve Wright and Mike Hall are planning on holding a FREE conference regarding the book on May 16, 2008 at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. Speakers include Dr. Randy Stinson, Leon Tucker, David Horner, Dave Owen, and Steve Wright. Check it out.