Thursday, March 02, 2006

Believing and Belonging Revisited

There's a statistic that gets thrown around a lot in Youth Ministry and in Church in general. I may not remember it precisely, but it's something like 85% of people who make a decision to follow Christ do it before the age of 18. Sometimes it is more negatively stated: if I person doesn't make a decision to follow Christ by age 18, they probably never will. To be totally honest, I think this statistic is a little flawed in that it fails to take into account that most of the people it refers to probably grew up in Christian homes and Christian environments, so it really shouldn't be all that surprising for various psychological and sociological reasons. Even so, I think there may be an important truth to glean from those who decide to follow Jesus in that timeframe who did not grow up in a Christian family.

Is it possible that more people are converted through youth ministry than through the church at large? (I know that the church at large provides the youth ministry, but hear me out.) How could that be? Why would that be? Do you know what the requirements are for belonging to a youth group? You just have to want to be a part of it. Compare that with the requirements for belonging to a church. As Brian McLaren points out in several of his books, churches tend to motivate by exclusion, i.e. "do these things" and "think these things" and then you can truly belong. Youth ministry has always motivated by inclusion, i.e. "join us", "come along with us", "be a part of us" the hope that through belonging they may come to believe. There was a time when "motivation by exclusion" worked pretty well for churches. I wonder if that time has past. I wonder if we ever should have tried it in the first place.


The Metzes said...

Interesting correlation connecting the communal atmosphere of youth ministry and that of the church at large . . . I like that . . . it's a timely comment.

Right now we are working through a series of "who are we" sermons revisiting some of the core "tenets" of Churches of Christ (a tough series for me to be sure), and this week first up is baptism.

Is there an issue that we place more value on in our community than this? Unfortunately, until baptism happens (on our terms) one is not considered part of the family (except in some pretty unique circumstances).

That's just one example of how quickly we want to draw lines and put up fences. Our Fellowship has many positive aspects that have been passed to us, but one that I am having the hardest time with is our urge to be so definite in our lines of fellowship, doctrine, and faith. It's ironic how we've taken something Paul called "mysterious" and attempted to make it definite and clearly defined. "Yeah, how's that going?" you may ask. Well, it seems those out to clearly define are becoming extremely polarized while the rest are left scratching their heads saying, "Now what."

Perhaps youth ministry does offer a better vision of community and "conversion." Robert Webber has said we've moved from where a process of "make up your mind about God, then come be part of our group" to a more thrilling process of "come be part of our group trying to be like God and see if any of it makes any sense to you."

Tony said...

I, too, like the idea of youth ministry being "inclusive". However, I see some differences in the nature of a youth group and the nature of the body of Christ. Are there not prerequists to being a part of the body?

I am all for the church inviting people along for the greatest journey upon which one could ever embark. That has to happen for many reasons. As we invite more and more to be a part of the grand adventure, we become more inclusive than exclusive. With that said, there are still certain distinctions to be made between a follower of Christ and a member of Christ's body.