Barna Group Study Finds Pastors, Parents Disagree Over Purpose of Youth Ministry

Barna Group Study Finds Pastors, Parents Disagree Over Purpose of Youth Ministry

The latest research on youth ministry in the United States found that parents and pastors are in disagreement when it comes to the goals of youth ministry.

The Barna Group’s study noted and followed up on a public debate over a related topic that was brought up a few years ago, when The Atlantic published a piece titled “The Overprotected Kid,” which argued that overprotective parents keep kids from discovering things, taking risks and learning independence – without necessarily making them safer.

“The ensuing discussion raised a number of questions about the tug-of-war between a parent’s protective instincts and their desire to raise fearless kids,” Barna researchers recounted. “This dynamic plays out in schools and child care centers across the country, but is acutely felt in youth ministries.”

To find out whether parental priorities of safety are shared by youth pastors and leaders – and to see whose goals take precedence – Barna partnered with Youth Specialties and YouthWorks to conduct a major study on the state of youth ministry across the United States and got a better picture of the expectations of pastors, youth leaders and parents.

What pastors say kids need …

The Christian research organization discovered that senior pastors and youth leaders typically agree about the objectives of youth ministry.

“When they are asked to identify the top two goals of youth ministry, a substantial majority of church leaders choose ‘discipleship and spiritual instruction’ as one of their highest priorities,” Barna researchers divulged. “Seven in 10 senior pastors (71 percent) and three-quarters of youth pastors (75 percent) say this is one of their top goals.”

Other priorities were found to be the main goal of less than a majority of senior and youth pastors.

“’Building relationships with students’ is a primary objective for about half of youth pastors (48 percent) and two in five senior pastors (40 percent), while ‘evangelism and outreach to youth’ is selected by roughly one-quarter of each group (29 percent senior pastors, 24 percent youth pastors),” the research revealed. “’Evangelism to the parents of teens,’ on the other hand, does not appear to be as important (7 percent senior pastors, 4 percent among youth pastors).”

Despite the fact that most church leaders do not focus their teen ministries on being an outreach to parents, a significant portion are hopeful that parents will reach in …

“One in six senior pastors believe ‘getting parents involved with spiritual formation’ is a top goal of youth ministry (18 percent),” those conducting the survey found. “And youth pastors are even more likely to say so: one-quarter identifies this as a priority for their ministry (23 percent).”

Even smaller numbers of church leaders feel that providing a safe haven for youth is a major objective.

“Similar percentages of senior pastors (12 percent) and youth pastors (10 percent) feel that providing a ‘safe and nurturing environment’ is an important goal – which … is a much higher priority among parents,” the researchers discovered.

Less agreement among senior pastors and youth pastors was witnessed in regards to community involvement.

“Senior pastors (17 percent) are more likely than youth pastors (10 percent) to emphasize ‘serving the community’ – but ‘serving the church body’ is at the bottom of both groups’ lists (6 percent senior pastors and 4 percent youth pastors),” the report continued.

Even though they do not see eye-to-eye on everything, senior pastors and youth pastors basically share the same goals when it comes to running youth ministries in their churches.

The study found that a large majority of youth pastors put discipleship high on their priority list, while a small majority of them indicated that an outreach to teens outside of the church is a major goal.

“About one in seven reports their church places ‘a lot’ of emphasis on outreach to teens (13 percent), while two in five report ‘some’ emphasis on reaching out (41 percent),” the numbers showed. “The remaining 46 percent say outreach to teens outside the church is ‘a little’ (37 percent) or ‘not at all’ (9 percent) an emphasis for their congregation.”

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Michael F. Haverluck