11.21.2006

Is It True or An Urban Legend?

I'm looking for your thoughts on this.

Do most churches really think that younger, cooler, hipper people make better junior high youth workers or do we just think they think that?

For years, I've taught others and have been taught myself that we need to de-bunk the belief that younger = better. Is it really a commonly held belief? I'm beginning to wonder.

This last weekend at Y.S. during my junior high ministry workshop I began talking about how young most junior high youth workers are....how parents and churches think younger is better...etc. As I spoke my eyes quickly glanced across the 300+ people in the room and I noticed something: There weren't a ton of super young people sitting in the seats. My hunch is that the average age of people in the workshop was probably early 30's. Now, early 30's is certainly young in my book, but hardly the 'stereotype' that so many of us have been trying to break!

Talk to me....

24 comments:

Joey said...

We fight it all the time. Our church has a difficulty getting parents or older adults to serve in youth ministry period, let alone, jr. high ministry. However, I worked as an intern at a megachurch in memphis and out of 130 plus leaders very few of them were NOT parents or older adults. It may depend on the culture of the church and what they value.

Mike Lovato said...

Yeah, it does depend on the culture. I would guess that maybe overall this has become more myth than fact. A staff member told me that when my church had a congregational vote for me to come he overheard someone say , "I just wish he was 10 years older." I think a lot of churches want the energy of a 20 year old with the experience and wisdom of a 40 year old. With that said, MOST of our volunteers are parents of teens or older. It feels like we need to balance it out with some younger 20 and 30 somethings.

Josh(ua) said...

I've been wondering about this for a while. I wonder if the common age of volunteer has to do with the person who is recruiting (i.e. the face of the ministry). Most of my staff are in college. I would love to have some older volunteers, but they just don't seem drawn to our program.

Mike Lovato said...

Josh got me thinking again. I was thinking in terms of our high school ministry. In our jr. high ministry we're probably roughly half college-age and half parent-age with no one really in the middle. Interesting.

kurt johnston said...

Josh...you could be onto something. It would make sense that the 'face' of the ministry would attract people in similar life-stage.

Ryan Nielsen said...

It has got me to wondering... Maybe it is not so much the "age" that the church is looking for as much as the financial element. Often times (although I am happy to say this is changing a lot these days) churches did not put a lot of investment into their Jr. High Ministries. So, it got me to wondering if the reason we see (or think we see) churches looking for younger individuals for their Jr. High Ministry positions is because it would cost the church less money to hire a young individual than it would someone who is older. I don't know - just a thought.

Nick said...

Could there be a bias in your sample set?

If someone's church is mature enough (in health, and also financially) to be sending their Junior High leader to YS (probably in addition to a High school leader or something)... then they probably don't have a fresh-out-of-the-gate, young Junior High Leader.

Not sure if that makes sense but -- basically, there might be a bias at YS, if you've got Junior high-specific leaders at YS, they may tend to be sent out from churches that aren't just hiring young inexperienced types.

Kevin Massey said...

I agree with Nick. My experience at YS is there are only a few that go the convention relative to the number that are serving in the trenches. Take my sample area for example I have 78 local sister churches with 25 full-time and 30 part time and the rest volunteer leaders. I know of only 2 including myself that travel to YS. For the avg youth worker it costs around $800-$1200 to go. Most churches can't or won't swing that.

I have also seen that a lot of the newbies coming into youth ministry seem to think they learned everyting that they need to know at Bible College and tend to blow off training the first few years of their ministry. Just my thoughts.

Paul said...

I used to believe this but was corrected painfully. Ata previous church, I was recruiting and found this couple that I thought would be great for youth min. They were young and cool, they had his and hers motorcycles. After six months, I asked to leave. It was obvious that they just didn't care much for teens. The teens could smell that a mile away.

My new criteria - love teens.

Erik said...

I would agree that it has to do with the one doing the recruiting of the volunteer. I also think it has to do with the schedule the ministry keeps. My experience is that most youth ministries operate during times that don't work for older adults with families. This all relates to the values of the church. Do the people (adults) in the church see the need for the older generations to be in with the junior high. This issue speaks to a larger issue of communication. Youth ministries are often out of sight/out of mind. Sometimes it seems like people prefer it this way, but if the youth ministry "wins" are able to publicly be spoken and recognized people will want to be there. People want to volunteer where things are happening, where they are valued and where they feel that they can be used. Maybe, as youth pastors, we have too much of the "I can do it all" mentality and we dont look for others to love on students too. Great conversation here. I love it!

Brian Buchanan said...

I was in that workshop and thought the same thing myself... as a Bible college student now I find myself trying everything to not be the stereotypical college-aged youth leader who is just about fun and games and being hip however as I have looked around at ministries I have worked with I have found that very few of my peers are even interested in jr high ministry. At my home church we have about 50 jr highers, about 10 volunteers, and I am the only volunteer under the age of 30 even though we have 7 people from the church going to Bible college for youth ministry.

Phil said...

It makes no difference with the kids whether you are 22 or 42! Have fun, been real and leaders of every age can reach jr highers. Talk about your jr high years and the dork you used to be (or still are) and love the kids. love the kids and earn the right to teach them the word

Kevin said...

I am a Midde School Youth Director and I am 23, yet when I get together with our Youth Leader Network meetings where all of the youth leaders from the area come together once a month I feel like the outcast when it comes to age. I think I am the youngest non-volunteer.

Kurt said...

I am 26 and a middle school director.

I think that kids like a younger youth pastor, but parents and staff often have a hard time with it. Its a tough balance trying to be "cool" so the kids at least relate with you a bit, while at the same time leading volunteers who are double your age.

In the end...I find the "young, cool, relevant" youth pastor card is nearing its end for me. I start Seminary in January and hope to grow in my knowledge of the Word and Gods character...

-Growing Up

Kris said...

Hmmmmm....

As someone who is 40 and the Youth Pastor...I feel that yes -- the experience and wisdom from age helps in many areas -- but students also love the energy from younger leaders/pastors.

One way to have the best of both worlds is to find leaders that are younger -- the students love 'em for their energy and naturally relate them. We have leaders from 15 to 50 in our Jr. High Ministry. God willing -- we will continue to bless the students with caring leaders of all ages!

So I guess I'm saying that it doesn't matter what age the Youth Pastor is as long as they look for balance in the ministry!

Deneice said...

I agree with the "who is doing the recruiting" thing. When I was the YP my volunteers were already in place (save the couple I needed to recruit) and they were older. When I was no longer in that position it was parent run and now that we have a new YP...we are still older and I am (at 37) the youngest of that "older." The kids seem to love it and my new 6th graders are happy I am on board as a volunteer because they didn't have to say "goodbye" (small church...that wouldn't have happened anyway, but things would be different).

Deneice said...

Ooops...didn't mean to hit post...I am in the middle of making T-day Dinner.

Anyway...I think it would be great if we could get some of our college kids/younger adults involved but the interest isn't there.

Sometimes I think our church is "weird." :)

mdaele said...

Hi I'm a 37 year old junior high worker. (I thought this was group therapy :)
There is a bias toward younger people in ministry both paid and volunteer. I think one of the dynamics that needs to be considered is that younger people are not flocking to youth work as the default entry point into church ministry. So naturally the median age of (especially) paid youth workers is rising. The novelty of youth ministry has worn off.
Most churches, families would prefer younger people for many of the same reason already mentioned:
-They're cheaper.
-They'll have more energy to run the ultra busy glorified babysitting service that most churches are looking for.
-They are more easily controlled. (younger people are more moldable and if churches need to fire them they are still young enough to - "Bounce Back")
-They don't need to be smart or more experienced cause they are working with junior high for crying out loud.
Personally, as a person who has been doing youth for 15 years - it is more than a little obvious how people feel about my age in relationship to my effectiveness. my money is on my church hiring a younger dude when I am gone...

Chris said...

I think that some of the situation is more dependent on the life stage of the individual as opposed to the preference of the church.

For instance in my church (I'm 33) most of the population is either newly married or aging 50 plus.

The newly marrieds are very much in transition i.e. just out of college, new careers, babies etc... So I don't feel that they have the time nor the inclination to volunteer.

Conversely the older generation is generally more focused (in my church) spending time with Grandkids, vacationing, and other ministries that they feel would give them something as opposed to giving of themselves.

In my ministry I would love to have an older volunteer. We had one come on our JH retreat last year and he was awesome, he also teaches our catechism class for the JH but past that he doesn't want to get more involved. When asked why? His response is that once my son graduates from High School, my wife and I are going to look for "a church that suits us better". Essentially they're only involved at our church because their children have had a connection with the youth group.

Eric said...

First of all I think "younger" is relative. Most of the people on this post are talking about 23-26 being young, and I have to admit that is what the church I am currently working for has always had. They almost didn't look at my resume because I was too young (I was 19 when I started in the position of youth director, Jr. and Sr. high). I have had to work hard to betaken seriously as a youth worker who was looking to put meat into the program and not just fun and games. I knew I had finally succeded when the youth didn't always want me around and saw the interns, one of which is older than me, as more of friends and me as more of the youth director/mentor. In my experience in the role of the young youth worker, churches and even the youth want someone at least old enough or mature enough to give off a mature and solid air that the youth feel they can rely on, more than they want fun and games (which suprisingly enough I am no good at.)

clave said...

From the churches I know well and from close friends churches I would say that a younger youth worker is seen as most effective. Ironically, I've seen that many parents want a young youth worker because they feel like it is easier to connect with their teenager (Maybe because they feel so out of touch sometimes?). So from my limited data it is hardly a myth. But what do I know, I'm practically ancient in youth ministry terms?

Could be a couple things: 1. Younger youth workers may generaly speaking be in that phase of arrogance (that we all go through!) that tells them they don't need training. Therefore, they aren't at conventions.

2. It could be that we view a crowd through our own insecurities. An older youth worker who is beginning to feel like...well, an older youth worker looks around and sees nothing but young bucks. A young youth worker feeling organizational pressure to grow up and act more professionally sees nothing but veteran youth workers. A woman who feels unsupported in ministry may look around and see nothing but middle aged white guys. And on and on it goes.

clave said...

From the churches I know well and from close friends churches I would say that a younger youth worker is seen as most effective. Ironically, I've seen that many parents want a young youth worker because they feel like it is easier to connect with their teenager (Maybe because they feel so out of touch sometimes?). So from my limited data it is hardly a myth. But what do I know, I'm practically ancient in youth ministry terms?

Could be a couple things: 1. Younger youth workers may generaly speaking be in that phase of arrogance (that we all go through!) that tells them they don't need training. Therefore, they aren't at conventions.

2. It could be that we view a crowd through our own insecurities. An older youth worker who is beginning to feel like...well, an older youth worker looks around and sees nothing but young bucks. A young youth worker feeling organizational pressure to grow up and act more professionally sees nothing but veteran youth workers. A woman who feels unsupported in ministry may look around and see nothing but middle aged white guys. And on and on it goes.

JD said...

Unfortunately, I think you are right that many young youth leaders either think that they know it all, or they want to know more but are unable to attend such conferences because of budget.

I am one of these "young guns" at the age of 24 but would caution some not to get down so fast on all the young youth pastors out there. While many are the typical "go to seminary and go get a job" with no experience, I see many of my friends and myself changing some of these old rules. We've been interning in youth ministry since the age of 15 under great ministries, some of us have "sacrificed" our college experience for immediate work in the ministry out of high school and going to school on-line. So while I am only 24 I've been working in ministry for 9 years, 5 years as a full time youth pastor.

This is in no means to suggest that a younger youth pastor is better, but hopefully lessen some of the resentment that seems to be out there toward younger leaders. Don't resent us, teach us and lead us. A true leader always respects his elders and learns from their experience.

ps-most youth pastors I know that are "older" are one of two people
1. They weren't burnt out by being unorganized and relying on themselves to do it all.
2. They decided to stay in real ministry and not become the senior pastor =). just kidding

Kristi said...

Hi! Your blog caught my eye! I am 21 years old and I am working with a Jr. High student ministry in Jersey! I am a volunteer and I guess what most would call a point person for the Jr. High ministry. Most of the "team" of people I have around me with the exception of my student leaders are at least 10 years older than me!

Can you say intimadating????????????

Younger isn't better it just means you are less inclined to think before you say YES!