Youth ministers have been on a long and frustrating quest of their own over the past two decades or so. Believing that a message wrapped in pop-culture packaging was the way to attract teens to their flocks, pastors watered down the religious content and boosted the entertainment. But in recent years churches have begun offering their young people a style of religious instruction grounded in Bible study and teachings about the doctrines of their denomination. Their conversion has been sparked by the recognition that sugarcoated Christianity, popular in the 1980s and early '90s, has caused growing numbers of kids to turn away not just from attending youth-fellowship activities but also from practicing their faith at all.
The shift described in the article is encouraging, but the author seems to equate success in youth ministry with how many youth are attracted to your programs. Is not this focus on numbers a by-product of the consumer-culture we are trying to resist? Is a small country church with a five-member youth group necessarily less effective than a 500-member youth group at a mega-church? Years ago I stopped reporting in the church newsletter the number of youth present at our various activities. I realized that it sent the message that we were judging the value of our ministry by the number of youth who walked in the door.