There's an interesting article in Christianity Today (US magazine), on the future of youth ministry. One or two other people have blogged about this as well. If you're at all interested, I suggest you go read the article, and also the blog of Mark Oestreicher (youth specialties bod) Then, if you're still interested, come back and read what response it provoked in me.....
First, I acknowledge that the research seemed predominantly interested in the views of "evangelical leaders" - not quite sure what I think of this, but anyway. The article itself, paints a picture which basically says - "yeah, things are gonna have to change a bit". Mark Oestreicher's view seems to say that "things are gonna change whether we like it or not, and not necessarily in a way that we might choose".
The initial article seems talks about needing to root youth ministry (read youth ministry, youth work, youth whatever you prefer) in the needs of the local context, and also talks about the need for young people to feel a sense of community. To be honest, this doesn't strike me as particularly revolutionary - almost seems a bit obvious to me. (I don't mean to sound at all big-headed here, it's just the kind of message that I've picked up through my training and reading over the last few years, esp. reading stuff about mission - David Bosch, Vincent Donovan etc.) Basically it seems to be saying that the 'traditional' evangelical process of preaching for response is not going to cut it any more. (That's how I interpreted it anyway)
Mark Oestriechers response is a bit more interesting (imho). Not only does he talk about the change in practice that the article talked about, but he also talked about the potential "de-professionalisation" that my have to occur, esp. as churches come upon hard times financially, and they decide/are forced to lay off staff. Now he is very much talking from US perspective, and to be honest, I'm not quite sure if 'professionalisation' in the US means the same as it does in the UK. While there has definitely been an increase in employed members of staff doing youth ministry/youth work in the UK AND the US, in the UK we have also experienced a certain amount of 'coming into line' with the statutory youth service - the growth of JNC qualifying Christian courses for example.
However I know that in this country too, the future of the church is in some doubt due to decreasing finances. Now I don't think I have a major problem with the 'return' to volunteer-run groups etc, as the Oestreicher suggests might happen, but is that really likely to happen? Maybe I just need a bit more faith, but I hear time and again stories of churches struggling to get volunteers to run stuff. I'm not saying that their won't be a sudden influx of willing volunteers, but something needs to change if the future of church based youth ministry/youth work is going to rely solely on volunteers.
ok, rant over.
Basically, it may well be the case that we will see a reduction in employed youth ministers/youth workers, and this will necessitate a change in the way youth ministry/youth work is practiced. But this change cannot be seen in isolation. The fact of the matter is that institutionalised church as a whole will need to undergo some changes if it is to continue. Of course it may be the case that we consider it unnecessary for there to be an institutionalised church, in which case there are a whole load of other questions which need to be thought about. But whichever way things go, the church as a whole needs to consider its approach to community, context and mission, to passing on sets of values from one generation or people group, to the next generation or another people group.