Where Student Ministry Fails

December 22, 2010

I just finished the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  It is filled with stories about why successful people become successful.

Every story of success in Gladwell’s work has one thing in common.  Each of them has, when an opportunity comes, at least 10,000 hours of work in whatever field they become successful in (for instance, Bill Gates, when the personal computer craze started and the Beatles, when rock n roll emerged).

The goal of student ministry has always been to give a student a firm foundation in the Word so that when he/she graduates from high school and faces the challenges of the real world, they will not stray from Christ.  Lets us impose Gladwell’s theory of 10,000 hours equaling success to the number of hours it takes for a student to have a “firm foundation” in Christ.  If a student, from birth until eighteen, is to spends four hours at church a week (a very generous number), the number of hours they accumulate is 3744 (dreadfully short of the 10,000 required).  This leads me to several conclusions . . .

  1. It is no wonder the statistics of students falling away after high school are so high. There are all kinds of numbers for this, but I have heard it as low as 4% and as high as 12% of students who graduate from high school actually hold onto the faith.  If a church’s only offering to them is a few Bible studies a week, the student has little chance.
  2. Parents are essential. If a student’s parents are not helping to shape, mold and bring their kids up in Christ at home, away from church programs, the odds against a student are stacked against them.  The Church should encourage and empower parents as youth ministers wherever possible.
  3. The Church must encourage and teach students in how to gain insight from the Bible on their own. Leaving out the fact that the Bible is powerful and life-transforming, if we only did this to encourage them to gain more hours of experience into what it looks like to be a Christ follower, it would be worth it.
  4. Relationships which endure when a student graduates from high school will trump any Bible studies they attended. An adult who has earned the role of mentor to a student who graduates and leaves has a Kingdom responsibility to stay in that role in whatever capacity is possible.
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10 Responses to “Where Student Ministry Fails”

  1. Nikomas said

    Great thoughts. There is no replacement for personal study and families discipling their kids. Convincing families and individuals of that is our hardest task in student ministry.

    • kevintomeo said

      Absolutely.

    • Yeah, the struggle is that we have students who parents are not as strong biblically as their students are. Then we encourage students to go home and connect with their parents and they are pushed away because the parents don’t want to hear about God.

      Then we have those in the church who look at the Youth ministry to provide this environment so that they don’t have too.

      Big Idea – I truly believe is one way we can overcome this. Have everyone learn on the same topic and then at least parents don’t feel dumb when talking to their student if they were at church.

  2. E.M. said

    I agree somewhat with the premise that Gladwell is presenting. It does take an enormous amount of dedication and effort (all translated into thousands of hours) to master a skill or become successful. My only concern is the number of “quality hours” versus “regular” hours dedicated to being successful. I think this concern emphasizes your point #3. An hour of networking to grow your business, in my opinion, doesn’t translate to a “quality hour” versus rugged market analysis and/or business strategy. If we shift gears to student ministry, a “quality hour” could be construed as in-depth Bible study and making a concerted effort to truly understand living like Jesus and not be of the world but in the world. Depending upon how that hour is spent, it can really have an impact on how a student can leave a ministry equipped to take on the rigors of college and life beyond.

    • kevintomeo said

      I agree. Increasingly, I see these “quality hours” as the greatest hours we could ever impart to a student. Still, if we are talking about the sheer number of hours, the “nonquality” hours might be more important when the circumstances of their lives overwhelm them simply because there are likely to be more of those.

  3. I have heard David Kinnaman speak on the percentage that people are using to speak on the failure of Youth Ministry. He has shared that the number that people are using was directly related to college students leaving organized religion not religion itself. Many of those students still believe in God and trust Him they just are growing in relationship with Him through the traditional means once they go to college. Look at the number of Bible College students who stop going to church until they have a ministry. I believe we have over used that statistic to justify some of the trends we see in Youth Ministry today.

    I would love to see some more research done along the lines of adolescent development that probably better explains why we have this issue where students are leaving the church not religion.

    Barna created the statistic and the church has jumped on it to undermine the quality or value of our youth ministries all across the country. Few people have actually read the background research that goes with it.

    • kevintomeo said

      I agree that the statistics are inflated and it has created a “doomsday” scenario that may or may not be there. The reality, however, is there are more students leaving the church than should, even if they hold onto Christ. This 10,000 hour idea may be part of a reason why?

      • I don’t know if feels more like we believe we are sending students straight into hell and are not worried about connecting them as they go to college.

        How many youth minister’s help all of their students find a Christian campus house or church to get connected too and follow up on the students.

  4. […] The goal of student ministry has always been to give a student a firm foundation in the Word so that when he/she graduates from high school and faces the challenges of the real world, they will not stray from Christ.  Lets us impose Gladwell’s theory of 10,000 hours equaling success to the number of hours it takes for a student to have a “firm foundation” in Christ.  If a student, from birth until eighteen, is to spends four hours at church a week (a very generous number), the number of hours they accumulate is 3744 (dreadfully short of the 10,000 required).  This leads me to several conclusions . . . (read the rest here) […]

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