As I continue my review of The State of Youth Ministry from the Barna organization, I want to look at the busyness problem a little deeper. In the last blog I noted that only 11% of parents think their child is way too busy, whereas 74% of youth directors cite teen busyness as the main obstacle to their ministry. What’s going on here that creates this kind of difference of perception?

Well, as it turns out, the real problem isn’t the amount of activity so much as it is the kind of activity in which teens are involved. Here’s where the statistics really get interesting.

Parents of teens report the following about their children. 47% are involved in sports. 35% are involved in band or music. 18% are involved in work for pay, 13% are involved in art/photography/or filmmaking while drama/theater/dance takes up 12%. 9% are involved in academic clubs. There are many things which teens can be involved in, and sports – no surprise here – tops the list.

What kind of activity makes a difference?

“Parents whose teen has a job are less likely to say that their child attends youth group weekly or more often.” (p. 29) Not only does it appear that having a paying job is a significant detractor, it may be the only one producing a negative participation effect! The report goes on…

“Most parents who say their teen does any activity other than “working for pay” tend to report more regular youth group attendance than those who do not engage in extra-curricular activities.” (p. 30)

Yes, you read that right. It seems that involvement in extra-curricular activities increases participation in the church’s youth group, unless that activity is holding down a paying job.

Remember, this is from the parents’ perspective. However, this doesn’t invalidate the youth director’s complaint, rather it only explains a portion of the difference between parents and directors on the busyness scale. The real concern of the youth director isn’t activity, it is scheduling.

I wonder if the Barna research will provide any insights on how to solve that problem! I’ll let you know in the next blog. In the meantime, if you would like to get your own copy of the research, you can do so here:

Dr. John Oberdeck was a parish pastor in Southern Illinois for ten years, and served on the faculty of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis in the Practical Department for thirteen years before coming to Concordia University Wisconsin in 2002, most recently serving as the Director of Lay Ministry. He retired in June 2017. He and his wife, Ginny, live in Brown Deer, Wisconsin, and have three grown children and seven growing grandchildren.

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