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Adam McClane Feels Youth Ministry's Cup is 95% Empty - I Respond

Excerpt from Adam McClane’s Blog.  Read the full article at his blog HERE.

You don’t need a scientist to measure impact if you know basic facts about your community.

  • How many students are in middle & high school in your community? How many students attend a youth ministry in your community? Divide.Probably less than 10% of the eligible population. (If you factor in students who attend youth group by choice… this number dramatically falls, doesn’t it?) 
  • How many years has the current model of youth ministry been impacting your community? 20, 30, 40 years? How much have churches grown as a result?At best, church attendance has flatlined over the past 20 years, likely declined compared to 30 or 40 years ago. 
  • You might be able to point to a couple of exceptional examples. (Communities of great impact or individuals greatly impacted) But for the amount of effort, amount of investment, in most communities the impact is pretty small.

It’s not that the wrong people are in youth ministry, it’s not that they are uneducated, don’t care, are lazy, or even under-resourced. I actually think the frustration, the quitting, angst, and the burnout we see in youth ministry is because we have the RIGHT people working 24/7 [largely] on WRONG strategies. [More fairly, their current strategy is OK, just limited in impact.]

That’s not tearing down at all, is it?

My point is that the strategies we’ve used to date have a finite impact. We can look at 40 years of history and say “youth group” will impact less than 10% of any given student population. (How much more evidence do you need to see that this is true? 50 years? 100 years?)

My Thoughts in Response:

Adam - I know your heart is right, and looking at the stats it looks grim, but I see things quite a bit differently.  There is a big picture here and a few factors, I feel, are shaping the tide.

First, your stats are right.  That is the impetus to do what we are doing.  As a person who has just gotten into full time youth ministry within the last four years (after seminary), I’ve chewed on the seemingly grim reality.  But there is more.

Second, the big picture affects the little picture.  Culture moves in waves, and with this transitional phase of American culture, people are saying “Am I religious?  Is God real?”  America was in a similar state prior to the Revolution (Jefferson thought that everyone would be a Unitarian in 40 years).  Look at the Books of Judges, Chronicles, Samuel and Kings.  So much perspective on how generations choose their loyalties. Good or Bad, those who serve the faithful have to continue on in faith that God is working the big picture for the greater glory of Himself (and not necessarily the church itself).  With some of the sins of the people of the church, is it a surprise that people are re-evaluating their stance toward organized faith?  It is a heated topic, but scripture and history are a way to gauge some of this.  

Third, Smal things can lead to Big Things.  We have to remember church history.  In Methodism, John Wesley started with one Small Group, that would eventually revitalize Anglicanism, start Methodism, and lead to the end of Slavery in England.  Small sparks lead to big things, and we have to be faithful.

I’m an optimist by nature (the glass is always 95% full IMHO, because God is greater than… I’ve seen amazing things happen in individual youth, and I’ve seen youth that carry a flame into their cultures (which can be very dark).  But God is always doing a work.  Even if Christianity becomes more monastic and is pushed from the public sphere - we are here, reminding all people that the God that created you loves you and wants your whole focus to be on Him and the transformation of the whole world.  

I feel that we are on the cusp of some great movements in world Christianity.  I’ve learned in ministry that sometimes you have to persevere, wait, and see what God is doing, when everything has already fallen apart.  That’s how we know it was God, and not us.  

Thanks though, Adam.  Your thoughts get my thoughts going. This is by far my favorite blog. Kudos.

Adam’s Reply:

Interesting perspective in light of church history. The reason Wesley (and Whitfield) had so much success? They did a little missiology and built a ministry around where people were at instead of trying to force them into church. ;) 

The Conversation Continued a bit.  I am Thankful for Adam’s insights:

  • Adam McLane Daniel - See, like I said in the post, you can point me to points of success individually or even specific group examples. But we have 40 years of evidence that the current model isn’t enough. My post wasn’t calling for the end of YM at all. I’m just saying that we need to dream about new ways to impact the lives of students. I’m not satisfied with 3-5-10% of adolescents. That’s not theologically appropriate to me.
    30 minutes ago · Like
  • Daniel Griswold This is a hard topic because there are so many moving parts. I agree on the impetus, but I’m worried about discouragement. In history there have been times when things seemed dark, but pointing to a refocusing on personal holiness, and working with the few who are coming alive, God works in their lives to create a network of change for the future.
    10 minutes ago · Like
  • Adam McLane This statement in the post, “My point is not to tear youth ministry down down. It’s to rebuild. We can’t think about the future until we can make a sober assessment of what our tribe has accomplished.” If my premise that a sober assessment isn’t encouraging, I apologize. The intent of my words was to help us dream.
    8 minutes ago · Like
  • Daniel Griswold 
    Thanks Adam. The dreaming element is big and I’d like to see more of that. Perhaps it is just that there are so many voices out there that to a youth minister in the field, it feels like there is an echo chamber purporting the fact that we are “failing”. I worry about younger ym’s and those who read blogs as they tackle tough situations. Likely I should give ym’s more credit though, especially the ones that will persevere and make a differences.

This is from a conversation on Gordon-Conwell’s Youth Ministry FB page.

Filed under Adam McClane Response Reaction Youth Ministry youth life optimism practical growth discipleship Christianity Faith

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Christian - Y U No Post Memes? Translation - Why Don't Christians Discuss Memes?

To see a collection of Christian Themed Memes Click Title or Click HERE.

I don’t know if Christians are aware of a conversation taking place on the internet.  The conversation is primarily visual, involves lots of laughter, is challenging and often evokes gut reactions, and is often denigrating to believers of Christ.  I did notice, however that these conversations are full of misunderstandings and misconceptions, and if there are no Christians involved in the conversation, and providing a voice of love and compassion in this world, there will be no gains or healing.  This conversation is done in the form of MEMES.

Memes are humor based one or two liners that are associated with an image that grabs attention.  Our culture is becoming incredibly visual in the internet age.  The person who said an image is worth a thousand words is probably understating their importance today.  The visual is the message in these cases.  They evoke an emotion or a feeling or a familiarity associated with pop culture.  The consumer reads the image and wants to learn more, so they read the words – placed in often unattractive yet attention grabbing white fonts.

If you still don’t know what a meme is, check out the lolcat memes at That is a generally inoffensive meme place, where people share funny photos of cats saying funny things.  There really is no point but entertainment there.

My point comes into play at the philosophical level, where young people, adept at using computers, are using their time to make arguments using memes – and these memes spread on social media sites, or are googled, etc.  They go viral, and people nod their heads in laugh, but they’re only seeing one side of the argument.  In fact, I’ve found that in their mini-debates, fallacy in argument seems to be the rule.  If you build up a “straw man” enemy (the weakest argument by your weakest opponent), and tear it down easily, you win.

I do wonder, if there were more intelligent (yet humorous) Christian memes out there, speaking truth in clever ways, would the dialogue change towards (1) Honest Dialogue (2) More Truth Seeking (3) A Spirit of Charity (4) Less Vulgarity on the interwebs?  I wonder.  Though I’m not holding my breath, and I have found it hard to sit down myself and think through appropriate yet insightful memes, I have found some interesting ones that talk to the Christian Experience, or communicate old messages in new ways (in the gallery below – feel free to click through).  I have found them all through the net and many of them have no attributions, so I apologize for not linking.  They have been passed around quite a bit.

In my thoughts I have struggled with the question, “Why don’t Christian’s Laugh?”  - as much, especially when it comes to our own failures in faith.  I understand that our walks are serious, and as Christians we have a huge amount of responsibility (in which we have often failed), but in all honesty, God made us as humans ‘like’ God, not as gods.  We err, and for some reason, laughter is a form of healing which we need, and often breaks the ice for more serious discussion and growth.

It is a hard subject though, because pop images and modern assumptions are not evenly spread in the minds of people.  Not everyone gets a reference to emo glasses used in images, or of Indiana Jones or Chuck Norris quotes being used as propellants for a hidden truth.  There is the possibility of offense, so I do walk lightly here.  The intention of all this is not to offend, but to get people thinking about what is already going on.

I do not recommend just googling “Christian Meme” without you realizing that most memes out there are people who have obviously taken a strong anti-Christian stance and often communicate it in vile and venomous ways.  It is a wild west kind of culture, and there are literally no rules right now.  That is because it comes out of the “trolling” anonymity of the internet.

But that is why I believe that good, well written and made Christian memes could add a new dimension, and perhaps one day eclipse the ridiculousness of the culture. Speak truth in love,  in a way that others will understand, and perhaps you will see God move in the hearts of people.  And you may see discipleship start with a few chuckles, as long as we point to the depth of understanding and wisdom that a life devoted truly to Christ can offer.

Here are some that I’ve found.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 

christian-why-u-no-post-memes-thumbDwight-2Peter3v91Hipster Cat Sin
Jesus Meme Luke 6 29JEsus BabyKeanu-Fasting
Golden rulesuccess-kid-healingJesus Got it Meme

Church Table and Chairs meme

Filed under Christian Meme Conversation Youth Ministry Humor Life Living Love Candid Culture Critique

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Want to Help the Developing World? Informative Article on What to Avoid or be Wary Of

Youth Ministers, we have a lot coming at us, and we give a lot of messages about doing good in the world.  A lot of your church members also want to do good and are likely adding dollars and labor to all sorts of missionary projects whether for the church or through a commercial company who has promised to do “good” somewhere.

This article above, shared by my good friend Matt @Wiatt (Twitter), and from the MatadorNetwork.  My commentary below.

What most people don’t think about is that every drop in a puddle makes a ripple, and not all ripples are good.  I remember a missions trainer telling a story of a Methodist minister who was working in an area and teaching people how to make their own clothing.  A small economy was likely possible and people were learning skills.  One day, a missionary group from out of town brought boat loads of t shirts and brought them to the center of town. The donors were immediately swamped by people of the area scrambling for the free clothing.  The Methodist missionary just looked on as all the work they had done would be set back.  

The implication being, “If we can get something for free, why make it ourselves.”  Also, it makes a dependent system where people simply wait for more supplies rather than seek to make or grow it up themselves.  Systems of poverty are strengthened.  And the team that brought the t shirts goes home and tells their church how needy the people were.

I try to reverse every situation, and I thought to myself.  What would we do, as Americans, if someone came from Brazil and had suitcases full of brand new sneakers and stopped in Times Square in New York City?  Certainly, there would be tons of people who would clamor for the shoes.  The Brazilian missionaries would feel like they did some good.  But what does that ripple do?

Shoe sellers in New York would first of all have a few less sales.  Not much, but its something.  

Those able to give, who live in New York City, would then have an excuse not to give.  ”Oh, well, the Brazilians are do such good work.  We are thankful.”  If the perception is that others are helping, we are less likely to help our own.  I think that Americans try to take pride in helping our own people - and it should stay that way.  But outside help makes us more dependent.

The people that got shoes, when that pair wears out, may look for the missionaries next time they need shoes rather than finding a self sufficient way to earn the shoes.  This is bad for everyone.  

Now think about how we help others.  Is our missionary effort having an imperialistic and dependent bent - or are we finding ways to help others help themselves.  Care and compassion are moot if we don’t treat the other as a capable being, or surrounded by capable people who have responsibility.  Every missions opportunity should not just be about feeling bad for people around the globe, rather - it should be about connecting with other people of faith, supporting them, and asking, How can we help you help your neighbor.  

Brain shift!

Filed under Missions rethinking help others love life youth ministry matador network toms shoes economics of help economy article resource

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I ran across this video on facebook (and I’ll note that there is some profanity in it).  Basically, a father, who is an IT Specialist found out that his daughter was being ungrateful (not an uncommon teenage phenomenon).  He was blocked from her account, but was able to figure out what she was posting regardless - it wasn’t good.  Her father decided to read her note about her Parents on Youtube. It is not yet a phenomenon, and it may never become one because I think that parents are mixed.

(1) Should parents embarrass their children for their selfish moments?  So publically?

(2) What is a response of Love? How are the parents modeling how you deal with situations?

It is obvious that this is how parents feel everywhere.  They don’t feel valued, they don’t feel like they are making progress, and they are hurting.  This dad is letting his steam go in a public forum.  I doubt this will have a positive result - especially if millions end up watching it.  I also wonder how her friends are responding to this.  Teens are not good with someone who has been marked as a national pariah.  May not be good.

Parents - I know that parenting sucks sometimes.  Much of the time.  But your good work and your good modeling of adult behavior is the single most influential pillar in your child’s life.  Think about how you deal with their behavior, be on the same page as your spouse or other guardians.  And take away the laptop - sell it on ebay - no need to shoot it with exploding rounds!  :D

Filed under Fed Up Father Teenager Teens Ungratefulness Youth Ministry Youth Life Culture Response Wow

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If you have ever attended a session with Rob Bell, such as his “Everything is Spiritual” tour, or watched a “Nooma” video with your small group, you know that Rob Bell is a talented communicator.

Bell has come out with a new book that is the talk of Evangelical Christianity called “Love Wins” in which it appears that he comes out with a Universalist version of the faith in which it doesn’t matter what you decide on this earth about God and Jesus Christ - in the end God is Love, thus, all people will eventually be won over by God.

Watching this video, however, Bell politics his way out of answering the question of whether he is a Universalist or not.  The debate started even before his book was released when John Piper and others read the promo summaries of his book and Piper, a reformed Christian leader, wrote the tweet “Farewell Rob Bell”.  A twitter firestorm erupted (seeing that Bell is a pretty hip guy and lots of people follow him there) and hashtags surrounding Bell actually trended as Christians talked back and forth for and against a book that hadn’t even come out yet.

Book reviews are starting to come out, and traditional theologians are starting to speak against Bell’s views that seem unscriptural.  We all, out of ignorance or sometimes purposely, we emphasize different parts of scripture.  Probably because comprehending God’s vastness, we tend to want to fit God into a box.  Bell here, wants to emphasize God’s Ultimate Love, or God Being Love itself. 

It is hard to follow his reasoning, however, when you strip away the modern notions of love as being merely a Romanticized Love in the vein of The Song of Solomon, and realize that true love involves Refining and Discipline and Justice.  The different aspects of love need to be held together in tension - not even as a Paradox, but as parts of a whole.

While we hate to think that someone that is a good person by our standards may end up in a state of being totally and completely alone, separated from God and the Righteous forever, we have to remember that with Free Will and the ability to decide how we live our lives, there are consequences to our actions. See the Gospel of Matthew on the Sheep and the Goats - there is a stern warning to decide here and now.

It is plain that the world was created for us to enjoy.  God created the world and humankind was to tend it for the Lord.  Never our own possession, but a gift.  But rebellion against God and living for ourselves - even when humans do good for others benefit.  If we live our lives with Humanity or any part of Creation as an idol before our Creator - we are separated from God already.  We make a choice every morning who or what we will serve. 

Christ died for all, and all may accept Him as Lord and be washed of our injustices, our sins, our rebellion - but God set it up so our decisions matter.  That is part of human dignity.  We decide and God delights when we decide to live for Him.

Rob Bell really needs to grasp with this a little bit more, and perhaps when more have read his book, he’ll say it was just an exercise in Conversation, but right now we all need to decide scripturally where we stand on the Doctrine of the Afterlife.

What are your thoughts?

Filed under Rob Bell Hell Heaven Afterlife Religion Mars Hill Church God Good and Evil Life Decisions Faith Christianity youth ministry debate discussion church politics

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Willow Smith of “I Whip My Hair Back and Forth" fame (which we can admit was a really fun and catchy video, has released a new video (announced by MTV here). 

It is titled “21st Century Girl”.  The video starts with Willow being brought to life by some sort of magic by an old African woman in the desert.  She immediately tells the audience that she is here to have fun, have no rules, and she is going to do what she wants.

The imagery depicts strength, creativity, wealth, and the development of large communities.

The idealism is very Western - in that it is almost Imperialistic.  Willow and a gang of girls having fun pull chains and pull Skyscrapers out of the Sand - While having a blast. 

The ease of strength is scary.  Why? It ignores the thousands of workers that would take to build a city.  In one sense it is empowering, in the other it enables a dominant powerful position over the earth.

On an asides - most youth groups are trying to help structure kids and teens lives.  Families are struggling to find their own hierarchy as entertainment dislodges Parents as viable authorities (ex. Parents being corrected constantly by kids in Disney’s shows). This video, if picked up popularly picked up by young children and teens, will validate their idea that they are the center of the universe. 

Biblically, this generation is looking more and more like the generation that grew up in the age of King Solomon.  The kingdom of Israel was large, secure, and wealthy.  When Solomon took over, his son Rahoboam took over with his young advisers.  They advised Rahaboam to work the people harder to generate even greater things at a time when the people needed rest.  The older people who built the nation and knew what it meant to run an army, die on the battlefield, and build the Temple with their own sweat knew that this was bad - and the Nation split in two. Israel and Judah. 

The issue is entitlement and the feeling of power beyond your means.  This video portrays that vividly. 

Filed under Willow Willow Smith Music Video Culture resource life imperialism egocentrism western ideals youth ministry review critique

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Wow - The Role of Single Men and UnCivilization in Pre-Adulthood (click for WSJ Article)

The Wall Street Journal did a pretty astounding look at the uncivilized lives of single men (and a bit on women) who are stuck in the pre-adulthood phase with no real sense of what manhood really means. 

This portrayal of the irresponsible, pot smoking, rude and mostly obnoxious male that is pretty much unneeded by society is very depressing but the WSJ shows that statistically this group is growing.

Remember the creative but unable to accomplish anything (or get assignments done) in High School kid.  Everyone would laugh around this person, but not the kind of guy a girl would want to marry for the long haul?  That’s this guy and their lifestyle is being marketed (see all Seth Rogen’s films) on a large scale. 

Like teens, single males spend a lot on entertaining themselves so there is a lot of money to be made.  In experience ministering with Middle and High School boys, they watch these movies and memorize them making the Single Rude Guy narrative part of their identity.  The male role models in our community often reinforce the move away from responsibility and marriage.

The end of the article is quite fatalistic.  These guys are not needed.  They live on the excesses of society and don’t succeed at the same rate as their more driven female peers.  It strikes hard as part of a generation who watched their fathers divorce their mothers and don’t want to live with the “roles” of the past. 

Culture, however, tends to be like a pendulum moving broadly back and forth.  Sometimes the excesses of one generation are responded to by conservatism in the next.  If this is a growing trend, however, we as ministers need to look to the young and see that they have good role models - much better than the ones on the screens making them laugh at pot and fart jokes.

(click on the title for full article by Wall Street Journal above)

Filed under young males Wall Street Journal Article Resource Pre-Adulthood Human Development life living single college ministry