Models Of Church Youth Work

I teach youth work for my Diocese and last time around we were looking at models of church youth work. I thought it might be helpful to share. Below are 7 different models on a scale of parental involvement. I’ve sorted them into 3 categories. The first model is total parent led work to the exclusion of everyone else, the last is totally led by peers and adults to the exclusion of parents. As with most things, most of these models can be implemented really well or really badly. So if you want to criticise one, criticise it as if it was done in the best possible way.

Family Focused Ministry

“the process of intentionally and persistently realigning a congregation’s proclamation and practices so the parents are acknowledged trained, and held accountable as the persons primarily responsible of the discipleship of their children” – Perspective on Family Ministry, Timothy Paul Jones (Ed.) 2009.

The following 2 or 3 models are taken from that book.

Family integrated ministry

“The church eliminates age-segregated programs and events. All or nearly all programs and events are multigenerational, with a strong focus on parents’ responsibility to evangelise and to disciple their own children.” (Ibid)

No youth worker or youth work. Pastor has responsibility for entire flock, children are discipled by being in church and by parents being told to disciple them. Parents, parents, parents.

Children sit in the same service next to their parents.

Family equipping / family based ministry

“Age-organised programs and events still exist, the church is intentional about drawing generations together, equipping parents, championing their role as primary disciple makers, and holding them accountable to fulfil this role.” (My own definition). I’ve merged two slightly separate models together here, but they’re close enough in practice.

Certainly youth activities, and perhaps a youth worker, though unlikely. Sometimes a families worker whose job is to strengthen families to disciple their children.

Children sit in the same service maybe near their parents, maybe near their friends.

Programmatic Ministry

Young people are part of the life of the church, but with their own stream of programmes and activities. Youth workers are at least equally responsible with parents for the teaching of a young person, if not primarily responsible. Parents are (hopefully) informed about what’s going on.

Sunday School ministry

More of a historic model, not frequently practiced now in the UK. 

Young people and children are fully part of Sunday services, however they meet before hand or afterwards for specific age appropriate teaching.  Eg an hour of Sunday school before the church service. Often taught by the vicar or some licensed lay minister.

Children meet their parents in the same service.

Youth Work Ministry

Young people and children are involved in the Sunday services, but will leave at some point of the service and have the bulk of the ‘teaching’ portion elsewhere. The vicar will teach the adults while volunteers and potentially paid staff will teach the children. They all join back together at the end of it. Mid-week activities are inevitably aimed at either young people or adults. Age segregation is the default for any group.

Children sit in some of the same service as their parents then leave.

Youth congregation ministry

Young people and children have a separate worship service (normally at the same time on a Sunday). They enter through a different door, have a separate pastor, separate notices, separate worship time. Legally church is probably same as adult church and staff are shared, but in practice churches operate as separate organisations.

Children don’t sit in the same service as their parents, though will probably share a lift to church with them.

Youth Focused Ministry

Young people are intentionally not drawn into an existing adult congregation. Instead a new “fresh expression” of church is established for them. There is no intention to integrate them back into the wider church.

Youth Missional Communities (sometimes called cell groups)

“A missional community is a group of people who are united, through Christian community, around a common service and witness to a particular neighbourhood or network of relationships. The group has a strong value on life together and has the expressed intention of seeing those they impact choose to start following Jesus, through this more  flexible and locally incarnated expression of the church. The result will often be that the group will grow and ultimately multiply into further missional communities. Missional communities are most often networked within a larger church community. ” Citied in Rich Atkinson, – Target

In this model the primary gathering of the church is these missional groups which are 10-20 people big and the core fellowship. They aim to plant other groups. They are all part of a network of missional groups which will probably meet together, as often as weekly, to have something more like a recognisable worship service.  In this model the young people and children are part of their own group.

Children have separate church fellowship, but join together with their parents for occasional big services. The big services aren’t church, the fellowship groups are.

Youth Church

A church is created specifically to reach out to young people as a separate cultural group. Parents are not involved at all. It’s probably the hope that the church one day becomes all ages as the young people grow up, get married, have kids, and evangelise wider than their peer group. But it starts out with a core of young people.

Children go to a separate church to their parents and most other adults.

See Bishop Graham Cray’s work on this.