Is Student Ministry Dying?

Just a few years ago, I was part of a thriving student ministry that was reaching between 120-160 kids every Wednesday night. Now, that same ministry averages around 25 middle and high school students. What’s changed? For one, our student pastor who was leading the ministry transitioned into a very successful campus pastor. Also, in the three years since then, we’ve gone through two student pastors, with myself being the third. Oh, and we stopped running church vans because of lack of volunteers and safety concerns. That’s what has happened within the church, but what’s happening outside of the church seems just as drastic.

  1. More Practices. Sunday and Wednesday evenings used to be designated church nights that were protected for the most part. That’s no longer the case. Sports and extracurricular activities are now invading that space.
  2. More Homework. The pressure for good grades and higher test scores has never been more prevalent. It’s not unheard of anymore for students to have one to two hours of homework each night.
  3. More Social Media. It used to be that if you wanted to hang out with your friends, you actually had to be in the same room. That’s no longer the case. Instagram and SnapChat provide plenty of community for kids who used to have to go outside to find it.
  4. More Jobs. Parents in small rural communities are financially strapped. It’s very hard for them to pay for their teen’s cell phone, insurance, and vehicle. This means more and more students have to find jobs that don’t always work around their church schedule.
  5. More Freedom. It wasn’t that long ago most Christian parents made their teens go to church. As busy as parents are these days and as much as they’re already running their kids from place to place, church has become much more of an option instead of a requirement.

So, how long will student ministry as we currently know it survive? Five years? Ten? Twenty? And is it being effective?

If not, is there a better way to do student ministry? Perhaps, something that’s led by students and works around their schedules. Maybe something online? Or is student ministry even necessary?

I’d love to hear your thoughts because this is something I’m wrestling with and honestly don’t have any answers. Leave a comment and let me know what you think, and if you enjoy the blog, make sure to subscribe to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

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11 thoughts on “Is Student Ministry Dying?

  1. Travis
    Student ministry is a must,if we take a back seat something else will always fill the gap in our children’s lives, we all have a tendency to become wonders in life , I know this from personal experience, personally for me leading mission trips for the past 17 plus years I have had the privaledge of getting to know many young men and young women, some stories are the same but many are different, most just want to be heared or encouraged, some just follow the crowed, some sit quietly in a corner trying or wanting to be noticed, many factors can play out from short term missions trips I have developed relationships with young adults and there parents from years ago to present
    I have seen them start as middle schoolers all the way to adults and even marriage, I don’t always get to be there play by play in there life but when they are there I make it count, it could be the only oppertunity we have to make an impact or plant a seed, social media has been key for me to reach out through the mile to stay connected I cherish each one as if they were my very own, they know I’m for real in my walk and faith, God helped me to be and thought me how to be a leader in all walks of life big small old or young, kids basically want to know we are there for them know matter what, they simply just want TIME this is our most valuable asset. They want and desire what we want time with the father we all are wired with a desire to follow God he created us to be that way are children are no different. Hoping this helps
    Thanks for your time

    • Scott, thanks so much for the wonderful response. We need more people like you who are willing to take the time to invest in the next generation.

  2. I think this is something all student pastors wrestle with especially rural and small town church’s.

    It’s either sports/homework
    Busy with teenager stuff
    Or parents just don’t make it a priority.

    I’ve learned to live with at the end of the day it’s not my job to disciple all these kids it’s their parents but I can help with the ones I have.

    Plus times have changed I think most kids don’t care as much about hanging at my house or hanging with the leaders so groups or community outside church night is hard.

    Plus I don’t know about you but I don’t care much about the hanging at my house or going out to do lazer tag or something. At least in this season of my life. My time with my kids is set aside for that.

    But anyway it’s a growing struggle where I think the ministry as a whole will change and adapt as needed and each church will have to look at what works and what they value and see what should keep being done or what needs to be ended.

    • Eric, thanks for the comment. I totally agree. I tried to hang out with some of our students when Black Panther came out, and they weren’t too excited about it. I never got invited to the movie. I believe most my kids really like me, but they don’t want to hang out with me on the weekends.

  3. I believe student ministry is still a good thing, and a needed ministry. You do have to have the right pastor that can get their attention and put a drive into them. It should be something that they want to go to weekly, and be able to do youth trips and activities with. If any help is ever needed let us know!

  4. I think maybe you answered your own questions with a lot of what you wrote. The large group was seemingly built around the former pastor to an extent and a student ministry with that high of % relative to weekend attendance is difficult, maybe impossible, to sustain long-term unless it is a focus of the larger church. I can’t speak to your situation, but it would be hard to effectively disciple that number of students without an appropriate number of adults involved – and there was a stated lack of volunteers. When you reach that size, there is a great dependence on other sponsors. It bears asking what attracted that number of students in the first place.

    Beyond that though, the fact that some high school students have seen 4 different youth ministers while in high school (unless my counting is wrong) may be the biggest factor. By most accounts it takes a few years to establish the trust and relationships it takes to build up effective youth ministry. That process gets more slow and difficult with every quick ministry transition. It would take you longer than usual to build trust that you are actually sticking around. You may have to change expectations as well. Not many high school students want to spend their weekend hanging out with an adult, regardless of the relationship.

    All told, I don’t know that the outside changes have had as dramatic an effect as the internal changes and instability in the student ministry. It takes time to repair and rebuild. It takes time to work with parents and others to instill the value of the student ministry in the students to the point that they choose it over work, homework, staying at home, etc. There have always been “other” options, and we may face a more difficult set of obstacles than in previous years, but I don’t think that’s to say that student ministry is dead, dying, or declining in any way – though it may be changing.

  5. This is a great article and it has me thinking. Although I believe student ministry is still vital I wonder if there is a shift that needs to happen from the event to serving. Perhaps we need to look for more ways for students to be engaged in the church and the community instead of looking at how we can entertain them?

    I am not saying we need to do away with the church service for students because I think that is important since most of them don’t really engage with the message in “big church” since most lead pastors don’t seem to craft their messages with teens in mind. So I think there is value in having that church service or small group time for them to develop their growing relationship with Jesus. We just need to figure out how to also teach them that church isn’t about consuming, but contributing.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Todd. I will say 80% of the teens in my ministry are serving on Sunday mornings. I just haven’t figured out how to get them to really engage during the week. Maybe serving opportunities are part of the answer.

  6. As a former youth pastor, Rural Pastor and now a 60 yr old missionary to Rural America I believe youth ministry is still relevant and needed BUT the way we do it must transition to keep pace with society as a whole. We must GO to them and where they spend their time. That could be social media, concerts, schools, shopping venues, work, etc. Come and see/hear ministry must become go and show/tell ministry. After all Jesus said Go into the world to reach, teach and preach. And don’t forget that part of youth ministry is ministering to their parents and families. Perhaps a little attention to equipping parents to minister to their own youth would be a good investment of resources.