In his book Family-Based Youth Ministry, Mark DeVries presents the current crisis in American churches: the way youth ministry is being done is not an effective way to lead students to mature Christian adulthood. This is due to, as DeVries explained, “the ways our culture and our churches have systematically isolated young people from the very relationships that are most likely to lead them to maturity” (36). Churches need to move away from a youth ministry that reinforces the isolation of adolescents and move toward a family-based youth ministry that connects students with both their nuclear and extended Christian family units.
The impact of the family on the faith development of a child is outstanding. Recent research shows that parents who simply talk about faith in the home and serve with their children will double, and sometimes triple, their children’s chances of becoming a mature Christian. This is something that cannot go overlooked, as Devries states, “doing youth ministry without parents is like driving a car without the engine” (67-68).
With the traditional family in a state of crisis due to divorces, chemical dependencies, financial crises, abusers, etc., it is more important than ever to provide each adolescent with opportunities to be impacted by the extended Christian family: “the community of believers who affirm and encourage growth toward Christian maturity” (87). While the impact of this family is great, the chances that these connections will happen naturally are slim. As adolescents are cut off from this family of support, they enter more relationships with the less-healthy, peer-centered youth culture.
In order to move students toward being a mature Christian, youth pastors have to include the family. This foundational model of ministry begins by empowering parents to be the primary nurturers of their children’s faith. The church then needs to equip the extended Christian family of the church to come alongside students to cheer them on, be people of continuity, and support their students through the adolescent years.
Instead of spending time rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, youth ministers need to walk toward a movement of family-based youth ministry in the church, which “accesses the incomparable power of the nuclear family and connects students to an extended family of Christian adults to the end that those students grow toward maturity in Christ” (176) through uniquely family-based events and including the extended Christian family into the already developed youth programs.
Source: DeVries, Mark. Family-Based Youth Ministry. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2004.