Three Dying Trends in Student Ministry

October 15th, 2017

If there is one constant in student ministry, it is change.  The culture is constantly changing around students.  Each generation is a testimony to change, as they all possess different characteristics and values.  Trends within society ebb and flow.  Sometimes trends even return.  For example, I’ve enjoyed seeing my teenage sons and daughter wearing Vans and Chucks and remembering that I wore them when I was their age.

As youth workers, we measure the pulse of trends in our culture, in the culture of our churches, and in student ministry.  We should always evaluate such trends from a biblical perspective through a Kingdom lens that seeks to sustain trends that build up our student ministries and build bridges to sharing the gospel and to defend against trends that damage them and cause harm to the gospel.  Three trends I see in student ministry in North America are:

“Go it alone” student ministry is dying.  Networks are on the rise.

As I interact with student ministers around the country, I hear less about what their particular student ministry is doing and more of how God is causing Kingdom growth in their communities through networks of student ministers who work together in cooperation rather than in competition.  This past summer, I preached a missions camp that consisted of nine churches that networked together to provide a great missions experience for their students.  The student ministers of these churches spoke of the blessing of working with each other to reach students in their communities.  There was no sense of competition for students or fighting over “turf.”  They saw the need for student ministers to work together in Kingdom-focused networks rather than in isolation.  More and more student ministers are turning away from building their own student ministry kingdoms and seeking to advance the Kingdom of Christ by locking arms with other student ministers and ministries in their networks.

The head in the sand approach to gender issues is dying.  Student ministries are becoming more informed on the issues and seeking to address them biblically.

Whether out of love towards students struggling with the issue of gender identity or out of the awareness that they must face the issue, youth workers are increasingly educating themselves regarding the gender identity.  Student camp ministries are educating themselves regarding the issue for they are increasingly take calls from student pastors who inquire about students who identify themselves as transgendered coming to camp with their youth group.  There is an increase in student ministers seeking to approach the issue in ways that are well-informed, biblically-based, and compassionate towards their students.  

The number of full-time or “paid” youth pastors will continue decline.  Bi-vocational and volunteer youth ministers are rising.

Shortly after arriving at Anderson University in 2013, I noticed that full-time student pastors are a minority in South Carolina churches.  Most of our churches have either part time, bi-vocational, or volunteer student ministers.  That same year, I read articles in YouthWorker regarding the beginning of a decline in full-time student ministers.  In a recent conversation with a denominational leader in student ministry, I asked how many of our 47,000 churches had a “paid” (full or part time) student minister.  The reply was that only 12,000 of the churches in my denomination had “paid” student ministers.  The rest are bi-vocational or volunteer student ministers.  I do not believe that this trend is isolated to my denomination.  The number of “paid” student ministers will decline as the numbers and sizes of our churches decline.  As I see no slowing down of the national trend of numerical decline across the denominations, I believe this trend will continue.

I pray that this short list of trends helps you to evaluate your student ministry and seek how you will continue to reach students with the gospel and advance the Kingdom of Christ.  As one of the heroes of a trending cartoon from my childhood used to say, “Knowing is half the battle.”  

Tim McKnight is the Director of the Great Commission Center and Assistant Professor of Missions and Youth Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, SC.  You can reach him on Instagram or Twitter at @drtimmcknight or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Dr.TimothyRMcKnight/


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