First of all, I would like to define terms a little better. I think it should actually be program-focused to people-focused. Because here's the deal: with programs you're successful as long as (a) you have lots of programs and (b) people are showing up. But when you're focused on people, your ministry is only successful if people are becoming more like Jesus.
In most current models, you can come to church and be "involved" all your life and never experience any actual spiritual growth at all. And worst of all, no one will even notice. One Sunday night in a large congregation I ended up talking to an elderly woman who had been coming all her life. When I mentioned I might like to go to Mexico to do mission work she said something like, "all those people want is your money." Here was a woman who came to church all her life but hadn't made it past step 1 of the Gospel. She was still racist for goodness' sake! Something's wrong with what we're doing if you can call a ministry successful when a large majority remain untransformed by the Gospel.
Moving on to youth ministry, you may not like my ideas. Anyway, here's my four steps for transitioning.
- Get everyone on board. You can't press forward with anything in a church until the congregation understands what's going on and why. Spend some time teaching and preaching about the nature of the church, as well as the problems with what we've turned church structure into. Explain that the church is a family, and that quality matters more than quantity. Then explain that in light of these facts we will have to change (ow, the church cuss word) the structure to make our church more like what God wants.
- Integrate the ages. Separating people by race has been somewhat abolished (we still have white and black churches) but we have completely segregated churches by age. Youth are basically in their own church, and we have classes divided up into 20s, 30s, young marrieds, 40s and so on. In our culture youth are raising themselves with almost no adult influence whatsoever. What should be the solution? Kill the youth ministry. It's not healthy. Stop separating everyone by age and move people together. The Church is a family, but we don't act like one, and neither do we gather like one. Classes, small groups, and fun activities should be mixing ages and not segregating them.
- Impress on parents their responsibility for their childrens' spiritual growth, then give them the tools to do it. In our culture we have handed off virtually every aspect of parenting to "trained professionals." Right or wrong, when it comes to education on science, history, English, math, and so on we have brought them to a school for other people to do it. We teach them sports by enrolling them in leagues. And we train them in spirituality by handing them off to youth ministers. But God has given that role to parents. Regardless of what we do with science and sports, It is the parents' responsibility to impart the glory of God to their children. Parents are the youth ministers in God's eyes, regardless of what we have paid other people to do. However, in my experience many parents are clueless in how to parent their children, let alone disciple them. They need to be trained in godly parenting and discipleship.
- Facilitate times when the older are with the younger in smaller numbers. Though parents have the primary responsibility of imparting the glory of God to their children, some people don't have godly parents. The Church can be that family, full of acceptance and an adopting spirit. I am so thankful that people have adopted me in the faith, welcoming me to their homes and sharing their lives with me. We should facilitate times where the older can impart their wisdom, transparent faith, and lives to the younger. This doesn't mean that the older are perfect, just more experienced. Whether its Life Transformation Groups, small groups, or assigned mentors, this should be pursued. You are hindered in growing in your faith if you're never around those with more maturity than yourself.
Our culture has failed miserably at the older imparting wisdom to the younger. For example, my dad has built houses all his life. He can build a house from the ground up, and in fact he's done it many times. But guess what? I couldn't build a house to save my life. I didn't learn building homes by osmosis, like just being around my dad would make me a skilled builder. I have to be taught. So you know what? His building skills will likely die with him. They won't continue because he hasn't passed them down.
What about handing down living for Christ? We have done exactly the same thing. We have largely focused on our private spiritual growth, but we must be concerned about the next generation. Have we learned nothing from Israel? How could a generation rise up that "did not know the LORD" so quickly? The people of God did not pass down and invest in the next generation, and we are doing exactly the same thing today. The worst part is that our own church structure actually promotes this.
Youth go on camps, have devotionals, classes and everything else with almost no adults present. There are some adults who go along with these things, but in my experience these are usually the ones who never grew up anyway. They're trying to "relate" to the kids, and so are not helping them mature at all. They're just gaining from the kids' immaturity.
We need godly men and women who will invest time in their own children first: training them to be disciples of Jesus Christ. And we need churches that don't just focus on evangelizing the outside, but making real Christians of the people who are already there. We need churches that adopt their own in the faith with all the love and adoption the Gospel creates.
"We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory." - Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12