It’s the end of the Church as we know it, and they (youth) feel fine.

The Western church is an inconsequential place in the life of many students. The research from the NSYR (National Study of Youth and Religion) points to this fact. Is it true? The Church has become a destination or a building. “I’m going to church.” Church is also the event happening at the building—worship, youth group, etc.  Students’ attitudes towards church are impacted by their parents’ lived out ecclesiology. The church has a branding problem within society where it is treated as inconsequential until an emergency (9/11) or during an election year.
The Western church’s ecclesiological context is declining. South America and Africa are exploding with liberation and charismatic theology. In those contexts there is a communal empowerment that the Western church by and large doesn’t have. For a variety of reasons—including fill in the blank sermons and vertical worship songs—we gather as a community to worship individually, not as the body of Christ.
As Andy Root has pointed out, church is something that students consume, they gather what they need and they put it into their backpacks, without any consequential changes or ramifications to their lives or future consumptions.
We also recognize the society’s dismissal of the authority and especially the authority the church still attempts to practice. Young people struggle with authority which contributes to the undermining of theologies that are the foundation of the Christian faith.
We simply don’t have a theology of the body of Christ that is vibrant enough so that we can be the church in the world instead of a country club.


  • We must answer the question of, “Is this really happening?” Is the church really on the decline?
  • We need a better understanding the arch of pastoral leadership and how youth ministers might lead the church into a new ecclesiological future.

Other Views:

  • Two issues have been merged: church as meaningless and the decline of the church.  Those two things might not be as tightly linked as we’d think. The disestablishment of Christian culture in America my have been precipitated by a meaningless church—but reversing that now (i.e. finding meaning and purpose) will not necessarily stop the decline culturally. Lets get beyond our Christendom mindset in which we equate vibrant Christianity with numbers and power.
  • Is not the church also a place where youth see a radically inclusive community of people of all ages, races, interests, beliefs, etc.?  Who are not blood related yet choose to be together as a family?
  • Para-church kids transition to the church
  • Kids love Jesus…benignly apathetic church
  • Facebook as metaphor for substitute church
  • Youth ministry can be an example to the church of being the body of Christ and living as a missional church
  • This idea of decline assumes it’s bad. But is it really? Why so? Newbigin and Guder both point to dis-establishment as opportunity.


  • Is the church really on the decline?
  • What resources for students exist for ecclesiology?
  • Is our theological premises built on church growth not proper ecclesiology?
  • Can the ecclesiology of youth ministry test, shape, and inform the changing ecclesiology of the larger church?
  • What can we learn from churches that matters to youth?
  • What can we learn from places in the world were the church is exploding (liberation theology movement)?
  • What is the impact of para-church youth?  How do the national statistics take para-church organizations into account?
  • What role can repentance play in helping the church rediscover its mission?
  • Is the church on the decline or is this a self-fulfilling prophecy based on a few loud voices?
  • How do we glean and honor the experience and wisdom of what “was” for what is “becoming”?
  • Is it even possible to avoid youth taking a consumerist approach to church when they “swim” everyday in a highly consumerist culture?


  • Help youth find their “place” within the ministry of the Church (big “C”) and not a building or one particular local congregation.
  • Transition from consumers to agents of mission.

Training & Education Implications:

  • We must teach and equip youth ministers to develop and test new ecclesiological models that can be developed within the life of the church. Teach missional formation as an ecclesiological practice. We have seen the student ministries of the past 20 years be the “R&D” departments of the future church. This should continue to be the case as it finds itself one of the only places in the body of Christ that that is still allowed innovative license.
  • Develop modules that actually track, analyze, and distribute the findings of the youth ministry “R&D” departments.
  • Focus on training youth in ancient Christian spiritual practices to foster understanding of faith as dynamic and participatory, not static and institutional.
  • Move from doctrinal based formation to a praxis based formation.

Resources that exist:

  • 5 Fruits of Faithful Congregations by Robert Schnase, endorsed by UMC
    1. Radical Hospitality
    2. Passionate Worship
    3. Intentional Faith Development
    4. Risk Taking Missions and Service
    5. Extravagant Generosity

Resources Needed:

  • Are there any resources for ecclesiology and youth ministry?
  • Need to tell our story better
  • Practicing our Faith Resources—print and web-based
  • Jonny Baker and the Church of England have been asking this question for two decades
  • Philip Yancey—Book on the Church
  •—international youth ministry organization