Intergenerational Ministry -- An Emerging Innovation for Next Generation Ministry

Danny Kwon has been serving 27 years in ministry, 25 years leading the family and youth ministry at Yuong Sang Church, and has Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership with his dissertation focusing on innovation theory and emerging intergenerational ministry paradigms.

One widespread, fictional fabrication in youth ministry and churches is that droves of students leave the church after they graduate from the youth group.  Many youth pastors have been hurt and threatened by these various, dubious statistics.  These erroneous figures often report that 80% to 90% of students leave church after they leave youth group.  As a youth (and family) pastor of 25 years at my church (yes, one church for 25 years), I have cringed when guest preachers have visited our church, promoting these erroneous statistics, and leaving me with worried parents, an upset Session, and a very concerned Senior Pastor.   

Studies related to youth ministry have shown that the statistic of students leaving churches after youth group is portrayed as way too high.  Two seminal studies have shown that actually about 45% of youth group students leave the church after youth group.  This is still not great, and the fact remains that students “ARE” leaving the church after graduating from youth group.  Youth ministry operates within its organizational context, its ecclesiastical context known as the church.  In the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), we also embrace Covenant Theology, which should promote the covenant family and church, and our youth groups having a deeper connection with our church body, and subsequently, “less” students leaving the church after youth group.  However, many PCA pastors and churches also struggle with teenagers leaving the church after youth group.

Intergenerational ministry is emerging as a promising paradigm for youth ministry in the local church.  Moreover, its practices and paradigms most align with Covenant Theology.  Generally speaking, intergenerational ministry can be defined as ministry that involves and incorporates the entire church, from each individual to the church community, so to nurture the spiritual growth and maturity mutually.  To us PCA folks, this language and terminology resonates deeply with us, as people of the Covenant, who subsequently seek to nurture covenant relationships among his people and the church.  In terms of intergenerational ministry more generally speaking, numerous churches and youth pastors have initiated implementing intergenerational ministry to intentionally nurture and make more fluid the transition for youth group students to continue in their faith and church life after youth group.  While this has been the main impetus, the history of youth ministry and recent sociological developments of teenage spirituality has also shown the need for youth ministries to consider intergenerational ministry.   Hence, intergenerational ministry is gaining momentum as a new paradigm for youth ministry.

Numerous and important studies have also contributed to show the importance of a new paradigm for youth ministry in the local church.  Moreover, they have specifically pointed to how impactful intergenerational ministry can be as a new paradigm for youth ministry in the local church.  One example is Mark Senter’s study on the history of youth ministry in America titled “When God Shows Up: A History of Protestant Youth Ministry in America.”  This study provided an important, foundational understanding as it relates to the concern and need for a new paradigm of local church youth ministry.  In outlining a history of Protestant youth ministry, he traced the movement of youth ministry in various contexts in American history.  Ultimately, Senter concluded that youth ministry today is at a crossroads and that the “evangelistic inroads to the current generation [has] produced a negative growth factor,” and one of these factors is students leaving the church after they graduate from their youth ministry years in church.  As a result, Senter stated that the church and youth ministry needs to consider how they may counter this negative phenomenon.  

             Related research has demonstrated the specific importance of intergenerational ministry in the lives of youth group students and its impact in their faith and church lives after youth group.  For example, in conjunction with a large and evangelical denomination, Lifeway Research noted the importance of relationships with the church body and parents as an important factor to teenagers remaining in the church after youth group.  Similarly, the Orange Group addressed the importance and impact of churches in making long term impact in children and youth.  Ultimately, the need to restructure local church youth ministry is evident as one considers the dilemma of students leaving the church after youth group.  The church and youth ministries need to address the sociological and historical issues of youth ministry and youth students leaving the church after youth group in relation to the deficiencies of present day youth ministry paradigms.

ArticlesStephen Yates