3 Culture Challenges As A Youth Worker Today

Shawn Catalano
October 4th, 2019

Student ministry is one of the best ministries to serve the Church in.  No matter the age, demographic, church philosophy or culture, student ministry is an extraordinary place to see life change happen right in front of us.  And while it’s an incredible place to serve, it’s not without it’s challenges.  Challenges aren’t always bad – they help us grow and be stretched.  Yet they’re challenges nonetheless.  Here are the three challenges that I believe are challenging us today.


  • “Do you think you’ll ever change the night of youth group?  My son/daughter is just too busy and they’re missing out.”  
  • “When will you be adding another night to youth?  Your night doesn’t work for us, but if you added this other night, that would be a huge blessing to our family”.    
  • “My son/daughter really wants to be there, but between practice, games, recitals, school club and homework, it’s impossible”

Ever hear any of these? Or some semblance of them.  Our teens are just too busy.  Our culture has convinced them, and their parents, that more is better.  That a full resume means they’re well rounded.  In reality, it’s just wearing them out and creating distance between them and us. Church attendance can never be the ultimate measuring stick of health, but it’s hard for us to connect with these students, and for them to find community with each other, if they’re never there.  


I’m not one to jump on media and label it a problem.  I know that social media has its risks, but it’s not the main reason for our students challenges.  For much of it, it was created for entertainment and for connecting with others.  However, just as a hammer was created as a tool to build, not a weapon to murder, media is being misused and over-consumed.  Schools are now moving towards more digital methods and resources and away from paper books and pens.  Our students have more access to media avenues than any generation in history (until their younger siblings come of age).  It’s a challenge for student ministries because students feel that they can find community and “truth” without leaving the comfort of their own rooms.  They can connect with others on Instagram and Snapchat and get the feedback and responses they want in the form or likes and streaks.  They can have “truth” by typing in “YouTube” and find someone that preaches a message that they like, with no relationship with someone who will share a message that they need.


This generation, as well as others, are convinced that good deeds are enough.  The movement of causes helps feed their need to be a part of something, to make a difference.  Which is what we should want from them!  But they’re doing it in passive ways all the while ignoring the real life causes in front of them.  Many are willing to click on videos for animal rights, clean water in remote countries, or posting their hands with the red “x” to fight human trafficking.  All great, well intentioned causes.  Yet the greatest cause in their life, in human history, the Gospel falls by the wayside, with few willing to pick it up and go.  Our culture is preaching wanting a better future, our students have something to accomplish that yet many are unwilling or afraid to engage it.

All current challenges that are real, and none we can point to with one solution.  We live in a fast moving, ever changing culture.  As adults, we’ve seen enough to know how to navigate it and engage it. Many of our students haven’t, and are just trying to keep themselves above water.  How can we help?

Engage them where they are – I have a tendency to want to fight against some of these things above instead of meet the student where they are at.  We’re out to make and develop disciples, not robots who think like us.  

Engage in honest conversations – Honest conversations are just nice and tidy.  Sometimes we have to speak hard truth in love, and sometimes we have to hear it.  Be open and honest with them.  Hear their side.  Find ways to connect with them that fits them.  And it may not be during normal programming hours.

Make the Gospel the filter – help them see these challenges through the lens of the Gospel.  Any cause they want to engage it, ask them how it fits the Gospel.  Any media they take in, help them ask how the Gospel engages that.  Help them begin to build that muscle.

What are some other challenges you are facing?  How are you navigating those?

Shawn Catalano

Shawn is the Student Ministry Team Leader and HS Pastor Hillside Fellowship Church in Spring Branch, Texas.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.