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I recently attended a conference hosted by the Association of Youth Ministry Educators in Dallas, TX. While a trip to Dallas is always a welcome one, considering the temperatures that city was significantly warmer then the climate I had just left (Edmonton Alberta Canada), it was one of the breakout sessions that has been percolating in the brain since I left the event.

Richard Ross, (who served as youth minister for 30 years and now is a volunteer with teenagers and parents at Wedgwood Baptist in Fort Worth. Richard is professor to the next generation of youth ministers at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth) shared this from his book “Youth Ministry that lasts a life time”

“Youth ministry that doesn't last a lifetime doesn't matter very much.

The real criteria for evaluating youth ministry is this question: Are we consistently introducing teenagers to Jesus and then discipling most of them into believers who will, for a lifetime, love God, love people, and make disciples for the glory of God?

Everyone who evaluates youth ministry needs to ask a new set of questions.

The issue really is not: How is our youth group doing today?

Instead, the core question is: How will our youth group be doing for a lifetime?

Most youth pastors love King Jesus supremely and do their work tirelessly. But by employing a sixty-year-old model of youth ministry, the great majority of church teenagers are not becoming world-changing disciples as adults.”

And so, he presents a model for ministry called, “Youth Ministry in Thirds”

Research tells is that about ½ the students leave the church after high school and if we look at the ones who stay, it shows us that these students

  • Have spiritually alive parents. That being the case, we may need to consider if our youth ministries are making a difference in the home. Research typically shows that spiritually lethargic parents produce spiritually lethargic kids.  We need parents with heart connections.
  • Experience the congregation as a family. Students will leave if this feeling does not exist. If it does exist, when they move out of their parents’ home, and if they love the church, they will seek out that same sense of belonging in their new context. There comes Intergenerational elements of life together in ministry.
  • Have a Bible drenched age group ministry. We find that typically, more stay in church when a church has a Youth Ministry program than without. Here, students can wrestle with what it means to take the message of Jesus seriously.

So, simply speaking,

Youth ministry in Thirds. What would it look like if people who serve in Youth Ministry would spend …

  • … hours per week working with parents
    • Where Youth Ministry is … connecting with the home?
  • … hours per week working with congregations
    • Where Youth Ministry is … connecting with the congregation?
  • … hours per week doing conventional Youth Ministry
    • Where Youth Ministry is … doing Youth ministry?

 What do you think? 


Hi Ron,

Thanks for this post.

Every since reading the EFC report from 2012, i can't help but see similarities in the main factors of youth ministry. They said the main factors influencing youth to leave, stay, or return to church were: how well we do parenting, truth, community, and providing environments to experience God.

At the church i serve, we hold up/out three values: Believe in Jesus, Belong to God's family, and Bless every neighbor. Our youth group focuses on all three, incorporating them into their gatherings and scatterings. 

It is my humble opinion that the youth feel very connected to what their parents are connected to, and hopefully they are influencing each other.

So i like what the thirds are saying as they incorporate very similar foci.

May we always find God finding us,


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