David Kinnaman summarizes the state of youth ministry this way. “For the most part youth ministry in the U.S. is stable and functioning effectively” (p. 83). Pastors, youth leaders, parents and youth are working reasonably well with each other.

Over the horizon, however, loom challenges. Kinnaman lists eight (pgs.84-87). My question for you is this: how many of these are you already encountering? And if you are, how are you responding? Here’s the list.

  1. Rising Biblical skepticism
  2. Increasing loneliness
  3. Pervasive pornography
  4. Confusion regarding human sexuality
  5. Me-first morality
  6. Pressurized Christian identity
  7. An era defined by achievement
  8. Conversation-challenged disciples

Most of these are not surprising. Each brings its own texture to adolescent development. Some are paradoxical; how is it that loneliness increases with increasing digital communication? But it does.

Some of these are linked, yet the effects of the linkage haven’t been sufficiently explored and mapped. There’s little doubt that pornography affects attitudes and expectations about sex, but how that is confusing male/female interactions and relationships isn’t entirely clear.

According to the Barna research, “Most teens expect to land their dream job by age 25. One in four believes they will be famous within the next 10 years” (p. 86). Lofty goals, no doubt, and what happens when the expected achievement doesn’t happen?

What is a “pressurized Christian identify?” The pressure placed on the Christian to keep silent in the public square is working on both teens and adults. How can we help teens, and ourselves, to be present and vocal in society?

Okay, here’s some good news. God is not unaware of these challenges. God has supplied His church with His Word to guide, and His Sacraments to strengthen, as teens and adults maneuver through the changing culture. Each of the eight challenges provide enough to keep us busy in conversation, study and prayer as to how we can help young people in the church make their way through a spiritual minefield!

So, again I ask, how many of these are you already encountering? And if you are, how are you responding? Let’s get this conversation started.

If you would like to get your own copy of the research, you can do so here: https://www.barna.com/product/state-youth-ministry/

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.


  • Avatar Karen Winefeld says:

    I’m finding that more of my Middle School youth are being brought up in public school environment and they definitely are discouraged from discussing Christianity there. More of my High School youth were in Lutheran School system and could articulate their faith better. Also of my 8 Middle School youth, 4 or them were not regularly brought to Sunday School during their Elementary School years, and their knowledge base is less than the High School youth. I’m encouraged that the Middle School youth seem eager to learn, and ask questions if unsure of their understanding. I have learned the past couple years to use their technology skills to teach they can find answers in their Bibles, if I can’t immediately answer their questions. But I still want them to know the Bible is where the true answers are, so I make them learn how to find the answers in print. Many don’t even know the Books of the Bible otherwise. This group of youth is needing to learn the use of the Bible and Bible history, and how to apply it to life today. Otherwise, they won’t be read to learn the material regarding Sacraments and Confirmation from Pastor. This series was helpful to me to see that I’m not alone in what I’m seeing.

    • John Oberdeck John Oberdeck says:

      Thanks for your post. What I resonate with from your comments is the need for familiarity with the Bible itself; what does it contain, how do we use it, what kind of authority does it have in our lives… These are all such important skills and concepts to learn early on. I wonder how middle schoolers work with the technology. I frequently use YouVersion on my phone, but when I’m really engaged in Bible study rather than a quick read, I’m using my Lutheran Study Bible. However, I approach the Bible with the assumption – more than an assumption, a solid belief – that what I’m receiving from the Word is true. I’m not sure if the young church members have that kind of respect for the Word. I’m pretty sure their friends don’t.

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