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.