The answer to this question has changed over the years. At first youth ministry was just about entertainment, games and keeping the teenagers away from the rest of the church. Then it became more about keeping kids from doing bad things. But as our culture has changed, family dynamics and health has changed, and students have changed because all of this, youth ministry has had to and needs to change with it.
At its core we believe that youth ministry is about reaching students for Christ in such a way that they experience life change and become life changers. How exactly you go about that changes depending on the community you live in and the culture of that community. For example, if you come from an urban or rural setting, if your families are working class or more affluent, if you have a lot of intact families or a large number of divorced families with single parents, all of these factors affect how you do ministry.
But I will tell you that regardless of your setting or circumstances the goal is the same, to help students experience life change in Christ and become life changers. And there are some things that all students are longing for that will help you achieve this goal in your youth ministry. First of all is relationships. We were designed for connections and relationships and more than ever students need those. Because even though they are the most connected generation ever they have also become the most isolated. Some of this due to the breakdown of families and some to technology, but regardless of the cause the problem exists. And due to this problem students are longing for community and relationships and when we offer this to them it will be like a breath of fresh of air and will begin to break down walls and hard hearts in the lives of students. Another thing that will always work is truth. You need to speak truth into the lives of your students, both from the stage and in face to face conversations. This includes both truth from scripture and honest counsel about how the choices students make will affect their lives. Because we live in a culture that no longer believes in truth. Therefore our students not only need it, but they also want it, whether they will admit it or not. Finally, I believe that youth ministry should offer students a purpose. That purpose comes from Jesus changes their lives and giving them a vision for what He wants them to do, but as a youth ministry you should help them find that purpose and encourage them to follow it. Because students do not just want to be entertained. They want to do something with their lives and accomplish big things. They want to change the world and leave an impact, they just do not know how to. We need to help them realize that they only way is in Jesus and then call them to great things . We need to raise the bar and let our students know that we expect nothing less than them being life changers. And when we do, I believe students will rise to the challenge and we will be amazed by what God does in them and through them.
We could keep going and get into more details about what exactly youth ministry is. But much of that is so fluid depending on your context. I believe though that what we have discussed today will help you better understand what it means to minister to youth and will help you do it more effectively. Please hear me though. I do not believe that this is an exhaustive description of youth ministry, nor do I believe these are the only things we should be doing. So I encourage you to share with us, when you think about "What is youth ministry?", how do you answer that question?