Barna Group report reflects different perspectives, priorities
June 12, 2017
Parents and youth ministry leaders have differing views on youth ministry, suggests a recent report from the Barna Group. The report, “Pastors and Parents Differ on Youth Ministry Goals,” is derived from the comprehensive State of Youth Ministry study released last November in cooperation with youth ministry resource organizations Youth Specialties and YouthWorks.
When asked what the objective of youth ministry was within their context, 71 percent of pastors and 75 percent of youth pastors said discipleship and spiritual instruction were high priorities, followed by 40 percent and 48 percent respectively saying building relationships was a top priority.
On the other hand, 96 percent of parents say safety is very or somewhat important for youth ministry. “Presumably this would include their kids being kept safe from physical harm, but many parents may also think of safety in emotional terms, especially since the recent introduction of ‘safe spaces’ on campuses across the country,” the report concludes.
Yet, the highest expectation parents had of youth leaders was “discipling,” for which it was a “major expectation” of 72 percent of respondents, falling in line with what pastors and youth ministers consider the focus of their work.
“Church leaders tend to form their goals from the church’s mission statement, from their own understanding of Christian formation, or from a particular model of discipleship and ministry,” said Gina Yeager-Buckley, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) associate for youth ministries. “Parents tend to form their goals based on their ‘big picture’ view of their child’s livelihood, ethical behavior and understanding and how their child reflects the family ‘mission.’”
The Rev. Amy Kim Kyremes-Parks, director of spiritual formation at Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, agrees that youth ministry leaders have broader goals in mind for youth, including instilling lifelong faith and moral grounding. “We’re trying to create a moral and ethical framework with kids and their parents so they can live in the real world and adapt, not just know the right answers,” she said.
Barna’s interest in this topic was piqued by the article “The Overprotected Kid,” which appeared in The Atlantic in 2014. Researchers wondered how the “tug-of-war between a parent’s protective instincts and their desire to raise fearless kids” would play out in youth ministries. They found that, to a large degree, the protective attitudes parents exhibit on the playground, in school and through sports apply equally to those entrusted with the spiritual welfare of their children.
In the Barna survey, parents also ranked peer relationships, life guidance and activities as important aspects of youth ministry. Service opportunities and mission trips were ranked lowest; just 48 percent said they were “very important.” Youth ministers ranked mission trips highest in their list of external activities that also included camps and retreats, with 74 percent saying mission opportunities are “very important.”
Study authors conclude mission trips will continue to play an important role in youth work and that these trips will have to be justified against expectations, saying, “It will be important for youth ministry leaders and pastors to make strong connections to the outcomes they are attempting to create, such as discipleship, spiritual instruction and relationships.”
Yeager-Buckley recently participated in a youth ministry visioning process at a church where small groups of parents, youth leaders, youth and others voiced their hopes for the program. The results were similar to the Barna study.
“Parents said their primary goal was for their child to ‘Learn to live responsibly, ethically and to demonstrate these things in all the aspects of their lives,’” she said. “The primary goal of the youth was to learn about God, and the primary goal of the leaders was to call young people to discipleship in Jesus Christ.
“Wowie! Are these completely separate? Do they have connections? It’s an interesting situation.”
Gregg Brekke, Reporter, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Youth ministry
Let us join in prayer for:
Fairmount Presbyterian Church Staff
Derek Starr Redwine, senior pastor/head of staff
Robert Moncrief, minister of music and organist
Amy Kim Kyremes-Parks, director of spiritual formation
Susan Holderness, pastor for congregational care
Sarah Kok, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
O God, thank you for the witness, courage and zeal of young leaders. Ignite our hearts to join forces with them to boldly reach out to those in need. Guide our feet, and empower us to serve in your name. Amen.