5 Big Ideas For Ministry To Increasingly Dysfunctional Households

Mel Walker
March 9th, 2020

We all understand the value of good homes. Statistics reveal that kids growing up in a consistent Christian home are much more likely to live for God and to be active in church when they become adults. Of course, it would be fantastic if every kid in our youth group was from healthy and supportive families where Mom and Dad both love the Lord and are enthusiastic supporters of the church’s youth ministry. But, that’s probably not what today’s youth workers are seeing. 

According to the authors of “Generation Z: A Century in the Making” (Seemiller, Corey and Meghan, Grace, published by Routledge, New York, 2019, Chapter 8), today’s young people are facing growing numbers of single-parent homes, cohabiting or non-married parents, multi-generational guardians, and same-sex couples. It is becoming increasingly clear that non-traditional and dysfunctional households are on the rise. Plus, due to youth sporting events and other extra-curricular activities, more and more teenagers are probably missing church services and youth group meetings due to other priorities and involvements. 

Those of us in youth ministry are serving in a time when much is being written and said about the importance of family ministry. However, since we are ministering in a post-Christian culture when the family unit is becoming less Christian and less involved in church programming, the time has come for the church to think through how to reach and disciple today’s young people when their families do not support and maybe even do not attend the church.

(For more information, see my article, 8 Urgent Insights on Gen Z that Every Pastor Needs to Know, at: https://www.crosswalk.com/church/pastors-or-leadership/urgent-insights-on-gen-z-that-every-pastor-needs-to-know.html.)

Effective youth ministries through the next several years must consider how to reach this generation for Christ and how to disciple them toward long-time maturity in Him. The days where the “nuclear family” (meaning the traditional family unit of Dad, Mom, and kids living under the same roof) being the nucleus or core of culture are gone. Current trends reveal that a growing number of American households no longer see church programming as an important and vital influence on their kids.

That’s why one popular Christian researcher recently observed, “Churches that want to understand and serve teens and young adults should focus first on true household ministry, and not just family ministry.” (Households of Faith, published by Barna Group & Lutheran Hour Ministries, Ventura, CA, 2019, page 23.)

What can today’s youth workers and other church leaders do to build thriving ministries in a culture where many kids are likely to not have a positive support-system from God-honoring parents at home? Here are some practical suggestions that churches may be able to implement to minister to today’s non-traditional and dysfunctional households. 

Keep doing what youth ministry does well.

Historical youth ministry came to fruition with the goals of reaching kids for Christ, providing a place to develop positive peer relationships, and giving adults the opportunity to build growing connections with young people. The current generation demands a return to those basic priorities for youth ministries.

Present the Gospel – and creatively teach Biblical truth in a way that applies to life & answers life’s tough questions.

Today’s households need good news – and we have THE “good news”, the gospel of Jesus Christ. We also must re-prioritize the creative experience of Scripture so that our students see that it applies to their lives today and is God’s source for them to find answers for their most difficult questions. 

Provide and promote a safe environment for kids.

An increasing number of today’s kids are growing up in difficult home situations with fractured relationships with their parents or guardians. Plus, daily news cycles are filled with accounts of adult predators who prey on vulnerable minors. More than ever, churches must provide and then promote the safe environment. Mandatory background checks and clearances are a required starting point; but churches must also intentionally build their reputations in the community as a place that loves and cares for kids. 

Offer quality, spiritual resources. 

To have an effective and relevant presence in today’s post-Christian culture, churches will need to position themselves as a positive repository of community-oriented resources. This will perhaps include making personal and family counseling available for today’s struggling households, mentoring younger parents (see Titus 2:1-8), and using the church property, facilities, and budget more to meet the practical needs of the community.   

Youth workers should seek to connect with kids in their “world” and work with their over-scheduled lives.

Many youth workers are experiencing the trend that today’s busy teenagers are not regularly attending youth group meetings or church services. Youth sports and other extracurricular activities, jobs, homework, and other commitments often come before church functions. Wise youth workers must make connections with teenagers outside of the church walls by attending their functions or by volunteering to serve somehow in the local schools. Instead of complaining about how busy today’s kids are, maybe youth workers should rearrange our schedules to meet with kids in public places at other times – like maybe meeting them for coffee before school.

In these days of an increasing number of non-traditional, dysfunctional households, the church must commit to being “the church” – to do what God instructed the church to do. The statistics may tell us that the majority of kids who go on for God are from “good” homes, but church leaders must commit to reach young people for Christ by serving their communities, teaching and preaching the Word of God that relates to life today, and discipling kids to lasting maturity in Christ. 

For other resources related to helping at-risk youth and ministering to dysfunctional families, check out the follow downloads from NYWC:

Mel Walker

Mel Walker has invested his life in the next generation. He is uniquely positioned by God to have a leading voice in today’s youth ministry. He has over 45 years of practical experience in ministering to students and their parents. He has been a youth pastor, pastor, professor, administrator, ministry leader, editor, writer, and speaker. Mel has visited approximately 30 churches each year for over 30 years – and he is the author of over 13 books on various topics relating to youth ministry. Mel, and his wife, Peggy, speak to hundreds of young people, young adults, church leaders, and youth workers each year in a wide variety of events and venues. They are also the parents of three adult children – all of whom are in vocational, career ministry – and they currently have 10 grandchildren.

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.