Twenty years ago (think vintage 1990’s), churches begged, borrowed, and pleaded with their people to find the funds to hire a youth minister. They were willing to do whatever it took to get someone, anyone to work with the teenagers. Whatever it required, a youth minister had to be found. The mindset was clear: someone has to work with our teens because “they are the church of tomorrow.”
Youth ministry in evangelical churches was thriving. Youth ministers were seen as fun, trendy, responsive to the culture, able to relate big truths to young minds. They were creative, loved praise and worship music, and knew how to put together a rockin’ mission trip on a tight budget. Youth camp attendance was pushing all-time highs. Youth conferences were abounding. Youth ministry publications were everywhere. It was a great time to be a teenager and an even better time to be in youth ministry.
So I ask you, where is all that energy and inertia today? Well, it is not in youth ministry. Things have shifted younger in the past 20 years.
Today (think vintage 2010’s), all that energy and inertia has shifted to kids ministry. A children’s pastor or family minister is the most sought after position, outside of senior pastor, in American evangelical churches.
Churches are desperate to find and hire qualified, trained, responsible people to lead the nursery, pre-school and K-5 areas, otherwise no sensible parent will come. The consumer parenting culture of Gen X, which is having more babies than their Boomer parents, demand churches to upgrade every corner of the children ministry.
The facility has to look like a McDonald’s PlayPlace, only better. Equipped with better security, better lighting, pristine cleanliness, background checks on volunteers, slick lanyards identifying workers in matching t-shirts. The shiny polish of youth ministry has been expanded and multiplied for young ones. These kids ministries are well oil machines with programs and contingency plans that surpass all other ministry areas (if they are successful), including the worship ministry which used to command the show.
I was told by a high level denominational leader recently that an experienced, qualified, theologically trained, former professional educator (aka ex-teacher) who felt a call to kids ministry could name their price. They could pick any church, any city, any denomination and just determine what they wanted to make and someone would offer it to them. They are the rarest breed of minister in the ministry marketplace.
This trend is not dying away anytime soon. It will be here for a while. At least until all these kids become teens.