To start with, I really would like to hear back from some innovative youth pastors or leaders. I would like some feedback from those who have either built youth ministries in the middle of this pandemic or have somehow adapted their youth group to stay connected and active during these trying times. If I get some that are newsworthy and may help other youth groups, I may use them soon in one of my articles.
My recent article “This mindset has been hurting our teens for decades,” based on over 25 years of youth ministry, identifies a culprit which has been “dumbing down” people’s attitudes for many years. This complacency, which is a huge lie, has hindered innumerable youth leaders from doing all that they “could do”, if people just cared enough to become actively involved. This article looks at what I believe is a second mindset which has also hindered youth ministry for years and I ask you to read this with your heart open to truth, with a desire to change this mindset, and with the realization that often churches are forced to do what they do because they are greatly limited in both finances and volunteer. While meaning no offense to anyone, I am compelled to say that I have seen this second pattern repeated over and over again throughout my lifetime, and I know that the same thing is still happening today.
Imagine that you are the parent of a couple of teenagers and it has just been announced that there is a new youth program at their high school. Nothing about it seems to contradict your personal beliefs. You find out other parents are bringing their teens and you decide too as well. You pull into the parking lot and follow others into the room where the event is being held. When you get in there, you notice that there is a pool table in the center of the room that has a big tear down the middle. It looks like several of the balls are missing and there are only two cue sticks to choose from and they look pretty ratty. There is a foosball table over in the other corner, but you notice at least three of the plastic men are broken and the colors are faded, revealing that this foosball table is also quite old. One of the teachers who has volunteered to head up this program goes over and turns on some music and you watch as he tries to fix the sound, but it is popping and cracking because the sound system he is using is one the school music department handed down when they upgraded to a new one. Over on the snack table you see several bottles of Wal-Mart brand soft drink, no ice, small cups, and big bags of chips and pretzels that look like they came from Aldi’s. What is wrong with this picture? Your first reaction is “Is our school going broke?” or “Who planned this thing?” or just simply “What is going on?”
However, the truth is that what I just described to you would never happen in a public school. Working in a school system for thirteen years, I soon discovered that “Everything here is new or almost new.” On the other hand, if you have been planning youth activities for years, what is detailed above far too often describes many a youth activity, planned by great hearted youth pastors who are severely limited by the funding allowed them by their church. Imagine how teens, which are used to things being new, feel when they come into an environment like that. They at least expect brand name soft drinks, and if they were throwing a party for their friends, they would never in a million years consider serving cheap soda, and certainly not the cheapest snacks they could find. Also, who wants to play games on broken equipment? This scenario was repeated over and over across America, especially during pre-Covid times.
So why are church youth groups so often underfunded? I believe it is because of a mindset that works really well for church business decisions but is sorely ineffective for understanding the needs of today’s teenagers.
A board of elders oversees most churches finances. Most generally they are chosen because they have a good business sense, having been successful themselves in their own businesses or in working for a company. I have sat through many of these board meetings. I used to say I would like our church to change the name of our ministry to “Adolescents” rather than “Youth” so our needs would be discussed at the beginning of the board meeting and not at the end!
I in my article entitled “This mindset has been hurting our youth for decades,” I pointed out that the lack of compassion for young people in America is based on the following flawed mindset, “I WAS A TEENAGER ONCE, AND I MADE IT. IF I MADE IT THEN, THEY CAN NOW TOO! KIDS ARE STRONG, THEY ARE RESILILIENT, AND THEY WILL BOUNCE BACK.” However, as I declared in the first article, today’s kids are not strong, they are committing suicide in epidemic proportions and need our help. This second mindset, formed by well-meaning church board members, who are often of retirement age, is almost as ill informed and is often combined with the first. “ ‘X’ AMOUNT OF DOLLARS IS ALL WE HAVE FOR TEEN MINISTRY THIS MONTH. GOD WILL MULTIPLY IT IF THEY PRAY AND DO FUNDRAISERS!” Sadly, there are probably few people in your county who really understand today’s teens or the need for specialized ministry during this Covid lockdown. It is a hole, which needs to be filled with someone who knows TODAY’S teens and someone who cares enough to start doing things differently! Will your church be that church? Will you enable your youth pastor, by providing him the funds that he needs, including a salary to reach today’s teenagers?
Rev Nolan J Harkness is the President and CEO of Nolan Harkness Evangelistic Ministries Inc. since 1985. He spent most of his adult life working in youth ministry. He also felt the calling of Evangelist/Revivalist and traveled as the door was open holding evangelistic meetings in churches throughout the Northeast. He is currently a contributor to christianlensonline.org and christianpost.com. His website is www.verticalsound.org.