Resource Review | The End of Youth Ministry?

Joseph Fowler
May 5th, 2020

The End of Youth Ministry? Why Parents Don’t Really Care about Youth Groups and What Youth Workers Should Do about It might be the most important book on youth ministry in a very long time.

Most youth pastors spend an exorbitant amount of time planning and scheming on how to beat the non-church activities that students are involved in. When students are choosing among the endless supply of other activities, youth ministers are left scratching their heads wondering “Why are we losing?” How is it that youth ministry can provide good, wholesome fun with the potential for life change thrown in, while students and parents are choosing other things? That question is why Andrew Root’s book The End of Youth Ministry is so valuable.

Root develops a proposition that youth ministry must be reimagined to fit the purpose of joy, and perpetuate “the Good”.

“The Good” is an idea that he develops throughout the book as he begins with the fact that parents want their children to have “good lives”, which is predicated on their happiness, not joy. Root breaks that apart, arguing that what parents are actually pushing their kids towards is only good feelings, not anything that is ultimately good.

The only true “Good” is wrapped in an identity that is found in Christ.

There is a LOT to unpack here, and Root does this masterfully throughout the book. 

Root argues his point about the choices that parents are making for their children by showing that the calendar is king. When activities overlap, whatever the parents deem as “most good” for their child will win the day. Much of the time it is piano lessons or soccer practice over youth group meetings.

The question is still left as to why that happens.

Why does youth ministry take a back seat on the calendar of activities? From the parents’ perspective, it is because other things are bringing more feelings of happiness, or they see them as more important to the development of the identity of their child.

If youth ministries are not careful, the book argues that they will be ministering to a world that no longer exists. Youth pastors are seeing it, but many are not recognizing it for what it is, much less restructuring their ministry to better fit the current shape of youth culture. Root points out that there has been a major shift from what he names “fast times” where youth wanted to grow up way too fast, and youth ministries helped slow that process down while giving positive alternative activities. Now, culture has shifted and growing up has slowed down, parents are more involved and youth ministries are no longer needed as a means of slowing down a fast-paced coming of age. So the question is presented, “What is youth ministry for?”

Ultimately it comes down to identity.

Most youth pastors have been preaching identity for a long time, but Root provides an explanation of identity development as it has evolved over the decades. Youth culture has transformed from one with few identity choices and a lot of freedom to find them, to a plethora of identity choices and a narrowing of paths in which they are encouraged to take. Youth ministries should, and can play a pivotal role in the development of identity in a student’s life, thus leading them to the Good. Every youth pastor wants this for their ministry. They all want a vibrant group where students are being transformed by the Gospel, and growing in faith together. It is in the “how” that things tend to break down.

This book differs from the normal youth ministry resource in that Root gives us a philosophy that is elevated higher than simple practicum. He utilizes the story of one particular youth ministry, in one unique context, but does not use that as the basis of a “plug and play” type of resource. Each ministry context is different, but the global youth culture is relatively homogenous.

Therefore, Root is able to provide us with something better, a working interpretation of the culture, and the philosophy to minister well therein. He is able to grant us a look inside the thinking of parents who are trying just as hard as the youth leader to navigate the culture that their children are growing up in as he interviews families, as well as several youth ministry leaders. 

In the final couple of chapters, Root does get somewhat practical, primarily utilizing one particular ministry as a case study. This leader, and her ministry, became the primary crux of the book. The story of this leader and her ministry is woven throughout, and Root dissects the problems that this ministry has faced, as well as the successes in order that he can develop his proposition. 

Every person who works with youth should read this book.

Here is a quick overview on the way towards a recommendation, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Andrew Root is able to answer questions that the typical youth leader did not even know they had. He builds his argument deliberately enough so that the reader is able to let new ministry vision develop as they unpack this philosophy. At the very least, I challenge you to read this and try and count all of the pop-culture references. 

Joseph Fowler

Joseph has served in ministry for 14+ years. His passion is to reach the next generation and equip them to be fully functioning followers of Christ. He currently serves as the Pastor of Student Ministries at at CrossPointe Church, having lived and served all around Alabama, as well as speaking around the U.S. and the world. He graduated from the University of Alabama, and he went on to complete his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL. He and his wife, Kinsley, have two little boys named Camden and Cohen. He is an avid outdoorsman, sports fanatic and pop culture connoisseur.

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