Recently I was presenting a workshop at a youth ministry training event and I began by telling the participants that I started in youth ministry in 1991. About half of the participants in the room indicated that they were born after 1991 and most of the others were very close to the same age. While I was running the workshop I became more aware of how different youth ministry was when I began over 20 years ago. Young culture and Church culture have changed so much in the last 20 years that I thought I would share some of these with you.
Now before we go any further this is not a historical overview of how youth ministry has changed in the past 20 years globally or even nationally. I will share a few observations from the youth ministry in my church back in 1991 and if you were around youth ministry in 1991 please leave a comment to share your observations as well. If you weren’t even born in 1991 then read this as a history lesson.
- Led by Parent Couples – when I first started in youth ministry every youth ministry had a parent couple attached. These were a married couple, or several married couples, who would oversee the youth ministry. In my youth ministry they trained and support the youth leaders, helped workshop youth talks and run the finances. As a young person we felt safe knowing that parents were looking after the “hard stuff” like finances so that we could have fun. In 2013 it seems that parent couples have almost disappeared from the youth ministry landscape. I know some youth groups in 1991 that had to take a break until a parent couple could be found, something that would seem unreasonable in 2013.
- No professionals – in 1991 I don’t remember any professional youth ministry staff. Knowing the history of youth ministry that I know now, there were a few professionals around but they were rare. Youth ministry was a volunteer ministry that was often peer led. In 1991 I never ever thought that I could spend 20 years of my life getting paid to lead youth and young adult ministry. In 2013 the “high” turnover rate that some see as a problem stems from the era of the 1980’s and 90’s when everyone volunteered for 1-2 years as a youth leader then moved onto the adult congregation of the church.
- After church on Sunday night – in our location and many other churches in 1991 youth group was on a Sunday night after our 6pm Church service. Back in those days many young people were still going to church on a semi regular basis so linking youth group with the church service seemed like a natural thing. In fact in 1991 it was easier to recruit youth group members from the church congregation if the two were linked. In 2013 the biggest question many youth ministries face is the opposite question, how do we get our youth group members to join our Sunday congregation. In 2013 youth group is often set in concrete on Friday nights as though that was how it has always been done.
- Keeping young people in church – when I started in youth ministry in 1991 many youth would stop going to church about 15-18 or Year 10. So youth ministry was a way of keeping young people coming along to church. In 2013 youth ministry seems more about starting young people coming to church as most young people stop going in the children’s ministry age group, if they were ever attending.
- No mobile phones – In 1991 a friend of mine showed me his dad’s mobile phone and it was as big as a brick. Only business people had mobile phones. Young people not only didn’t have smart phones they didn’t even have mobiles. Youth Ministry was the time to catch up with people for the week and if you missed youth group you missed a week of connection with your peers. If you missed youth you may have missed news of a party or social outing and there was no way to catch up. In 2013 if young people miss youth group they can catch up with all the news, gossip and party news within hours via Facebook or SMS.
- Film Cameras – this might sound really old fashion but only a few young people had cameras at events and it would take a week or two to send the film photos off for developing. In 1991 there was always a physical photo wall or photo album put up three weeks after youth events to show what had happened at the events; it was a real way to keep the memories alive. In 2013 the photos go up on Facebook and Instagram as the event is happening and are forgotten about within days.
- Youth Culture – in 1991 in my area there were the metal heads (Heavy metal music), wax heads (surfers), skateheads (skateboarding) and nerds (those who weren’t part of the other groups). Whilst I admit that I was a nerd, it seemed that there were only a few youth subgroups to fit into. In 2013 the youth culture has split the youth subgroups in to thousands. The music industry alone has thousands of music styles that weren’t branded this way in 1991. Youth clothing has become more targeted in 2013 and costs a lot more money. In 1991 if a young person had slashed jeans they weren’t $250 designer jeans, they were the cheap jeans showing signs of being old.
This is just some of the ways that youth ministry was different when I first started in 1991. My hope is that some of my colleagues who were around in the 1980’s/90’s might add a comment with their observations from that period.
Whilst the specific details might vary from location to location in 1991 they also vary from location to location in 2013. Rather than this being a post of the golden era of youth ministry from the good old days, I just want this generation of youth ministry leaders to recognise that ministry changes and that is OK. Many of the things that some youth ministers think we have always done in youth ministry are in fact new additions that have improved or complicated youth ministry. It is OK for youth ministry to change, in fact I hope that youth ministry continues to change and adapt as young people change and adapt to the culture around them.
Please leave a comment.
markoffaith, MarkofFaith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald, markoffaith.net