In churches nowadays, aging and the loss of younger generation has gradually become a serious issue. Committed to the cultural mission for the next generation, Presence has developed a set of surveys for youth, parents, and youth workers (pastors and youth leaders) in order to have a better understanding of their views on youth ministry in church. From mid-May to August of 2019, we conducted these surveys among different churches in Southern California (San Gabriel Valley) and Northern California. A total of 125 responses were collected. We hope and pray that the results of the survey will become a good asset to help churches better serve the next generation.
To learn more about the younger generation and youth ministry in church, so as to provide some indications for church and Presence to serve the younger generation in a more effective way.
A total of 125 completed sets of questionnaire were collected, from which 30.4% were from youth, 12% from youth workers, 21.6% from parents who responded in English (Parents (English)), and 36% from parents who responded in Chinese (Parents (Chinese)).
This report will be analyzed from the following four aspects:
1. Stresses & challenges faced by youth today
From the perspectives of youth, youth workers, and parents, we find out what difficulties and challenges youth are facing today.
1a. From youth’s perspective, the challenges that they are facing:
Top 3 major challenges for today’s youth
- Time Management: According to the response, the top challenge was time management, which accounts for 60.6%. Youth further explained that time management challenges were mostly due to indulging in video games, social media, and cell phone usage.
- Faith: The top second challenge was faith at 36.4%. Youth is at a stage of faith maturation where their parents’ or teachers’ faith can be transformed into their own beliefs and a personal relationship with God can be firmly established. In this stage, youth are curious and struggling with the authenticity of their faith.
- Academics: Academic was at 33.3%. Some youth believed that their stresses were rooted from not meeting parent’s expectations, but most of them admitted that spending too much time on video games, social media, and cell phone had affected their academic performances.
1b. Challenges faced by youth from youth workers and parents’ perspectives:
The data shows how youth workers and parents understand the challenges of youth based on youth’s top three responses:
Top 3 Major Challenges for Today’s Youth
Remarks：Y.W: Youth Workers, P-E: Parents (English), P-C: Parents (Chinese)
- Time management: Youth workers saw time management challenge as the fifth important (as seen in diagram 3 in orange). Parents (English) and Parents (Chinese) rated it as the second and first respectively.
- Faith: Only youth workers believed that spiritual growth was the number one challenge, but parents did not consider this the top three challenges.
- Academics: Only Parents (Chinese) considered this to be the second important challenge, but for youth workers and Parents (English), academics were not in the top three.
- The top three challenges that Parents (Chinese) picked were closest to the youth’s answers
2. Effectiveness of youth ministry
2a. Evaluation of the effectiveness of youth ministry
The data shows that ratings of the youth ministry effectiveness fall mostly on 3 (average), followed by 4 (effective). Those who rated youth ministry effectiveness 1 (not effective) were all parents. Slightly higher number of Parents (English) and youth workers rated the effectiveness 2 (slightly effective). Youth, in general, considered youth ministry to be pretty effective. The youth workers’ and Parents (English) gave more average ratings. Parents (Chinese) had more diverse responses across the spectrum.
2b. In the survey for youth, it was further asked, “What makes the youth ministry effective?”
The results can be summarized into three areas: faith, daily life, and relationships.
From youth’s perspective, an effective youth ministry needs to have the following:
- Faith: Clear messages, bringing hope, encouraging and helping people grow in faith
- Daily life: practical, can connect and relate to real life
- Relationship: Feel loved and accepted and be safe to open up
2c. Youth workers were asked to describe their current ministry status in the survey
- A small percentage thought it is very good, with good leadership, promoting life transformation.
- “There is no vision. Church is too small, cannot support a stable youth ministry, only surviving.”
- Youth ministries in some small churches group 5 year-olds to teenagers together.
3. Youth’s willingness to open up
3a. The willingness of youth opening up to youth workers
The data shows youth’s willingness to open up to youth workers: 21.6% always willing, 27% often willing, and 32.4% sometimes willing.
3b. In the survey, youth were asked the reasons that allow them to willingly open up to youth workers.
The following is their response:
*Youth worker’s characteristics:
- young adults
- able to build a deep connection
3c. Youth’s willingness to open up to parents
The data shows youth’s willingness to open up to their parents: 29.7% always willing, 18.9% often willing, and 37.8% sometimes willing.
3d. In the survey, youth were further asked the reasons that allow them to willingly open up to their parents.
The following is their response:
- like a friend
3e. Whom do youth turn to when facing problems?
The data shows that when youth have difficulties, they would turn to: First priority is close friends at 33.3% , followed by Jesus at 27.8%, next would be “I don’t want to bother others” at 11.1%, and then parents at 8.3%. It is worth exploring why only a few youths would turn to youth workers when seeking help and why a high percentage of youth were reluctant to find someone for help.
4. Relationships with each other
4a. Ratings of relationship between youth workers and parents
4b. Youth workers and parents were further asked to describe one another’s relationships:
*Youth workers’ comments about parents:
- Most were willing to support but participation was low
- Lack of communication
- Language, cultural barrier
*Parents (English)’ comments about youth workers:
- Most thought that youth workers were trying to support, but relationship needed to be strengthened.
*Parents (Chinese)’ comments about youth workers:
- Half of these parents thought that there was communication with good relationship;
- The other half thought that communication was lacking, and relationship was distant
4c. Youth workers and parents rated their relationships with youth
Majority of Parents (English) rated their relationship with youth as 4 – satisfied (44%) and a few rated 1 – dissatisfied( 3.7%). For Parents (Chinese), majority also responded 4 – satisfied (44.7%), and none chose dissatisfied. Majority of youth workers rated their relationship with youth as 3 – average (53.3%) and none as dissatisfied.
4d. Youth workers and parents were further asked to describe their relationships with youth:
- Some indicated having very good and close relationship with youth; could connect with them in a deep way.
- Some indicated having good relationships with youth, and yet it was difficult to get them to open up.
- Some parents felt very close to their children. Children would open up and obey their parents.
- Most parents thought that relationship was good, but it was difficult to carry deeper conversations. They felt that their children were in a rebellious stage.
- Half of the parents felt very close to their children. Children would open up and obey their parents.
- Half of the parents thought that relationship was good, but it was difficult to carry deep conversations. They felt that their children were in a rebellious stage.
4e. Parents’ involvement in youth ministry
- According to the data, Parents (English) who are involved in youth ministry account for 22.2%, while those with no involvement account for 44.4%.
- The Parents (Chinese) who are involved in youth ministry account for 9.5%; those with no involvement account for 66.7%.
- Overall, the satisfaction of youth in youth ministry is relatively high.
- Youth and youth workers see faith as a challenge for youth, but both Parents (Chinese) and Parents (English) do not consider faith as one of the top three challenges.
- Both youth workers and parents think that although it is possible to build relationships with youth, it is difficult to have in-depth communications.
- A high percentage of youth are reluctant to share difficulties with others.
Limitations of the survey and suggestions for improvement
- Not enough participants (125) in general, and youth’s participation is particularly low (38).
- Participants came from different churches, and they were not asked to fill in church names in the survey. This will prevent us from conducting a more thorough analysis.
- Youth participants are junior high to high school students, but the questionnaire did not collect data of grade, age, and gender.
Suggestions for leading youth to grow in their faith journey
- Parents should lead by example and share their faith journey with their children, so that faith does not only exist in church but also becomes part of everyday life. Likewise, the center of life should not be just academics but should include faith as the main priority.
- Encourage youth to attend faith seminars and to strengthen their understanding of the gospel. Further equip them with apologetic training in areas such as religion comparison.
- Encourage youth to participate in inter-church youth activities; expanding their faith community for more inspiration and support to grow in faith.
- Youth workers can enhance ministry training and expand the ministry horizon. Pay attention to culture and age differences and learn to listen with empathy.
- Seek professional help from organizations to effectively help youth on time, stress, and emotional management.
- Help youth face problems of internet and gaming addiction. Always give referrals to professionals when cases are serious.
- Strengthen communication between parents and youth, and find ways to guide youth to open up. Parents to share with children their family plans, directions, and challenges ( family finance, issues at work…etc ) and to pray together.
- Encourage the spiritually mature adults in the church to actively establish relationships with youth, hoping to lead to one-on-one mentorships.
- Youth workers and parents can have a better understanding of one another by exploring the differences in behavior brought about by cultural differences and core values.
- Encourage parents and youth workers to have their own support system.
- The integration of youth ministry and family ministry will help build support and teamwork. Churches can provide training to parents on Christian education at home. Parents and youth workers can work together and support one another to nurture the next generation.
Individual holistic growth:
- Parents, youth workers, and youth all need to grow and transform.
Youth workers and parents play a critical role in shaping young people’s lives, especially in light of the challenges of cultural and generational gaps. It takes a lot of skills, patience, and empathy. Parents and youth workers are meant to be the role models for youth. Churches can consider providing effective platforms and training to help parents and youth workers work together.
Reflection questions: (Extracted from Presence’s online course: Healthy Dialogue for Parents, Youth & Youth Workers, Dr. Agnes Ip, 2018 )
- What kind of training does your church provide to parents for them to effectively minister to their children?
- What is your church policy regarding parents’ involvement in youth ministry?
- How can your church assist parents and youth workers to set clear boundaries? What kind of training does your church provide for youth workers? And how can your church help parents work with youth workers?
To Youth Worker:
- How can you partner with parents to empower youth in decision-making and establishing their social and self identities?
- As a youth worker, what do you think your responsibilities are? How can you train youth to prioritize their activities based on Christian values?
- How do you assess youth’s abilities, emotional, and spiritual well-being?
- How do you see the roles of youth workers? Do you see them as spiritual leaders? Or you simply take them as “big brothers/sisters” (who need to report to you)?
- Are you willing to partner with youth workers to guide your youth about priorities and balancing church and academic activities? (understanding the abilities and limitations of the youth)
- What are parents’ roles vs. youth workers’ roles? How do you set clear boundaries?