Are You Leaving Youth Ministry?

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Anna (not her real name) is a fellow lifer in youth ministry. We’ve been friends for more than two decades. Last summer over ice cream, I was telling her about Ministry Incubators. I couldn’t tell if I heard a twinge of betrayal in her voice when she said:

“I just think it’s fascinating that after all these years in youth ministry—now you and Mark are doing this missional-entrepreneurship thing instead.”

Wait… “instead”?

I hadn’t thought that founding Ministry Incubators was “leaving” youth ministry. I thought it was giving it wings.

The connection between youth ministry and missional innovation and enterprise seems obvious to me—and from what I can tell, youth ministers are acting on this connection with increasing boldness. Intuitively, we know that youth ministry-as-we-know-it must change. Intuitively, youth ministers sense that young people who want to make a difference in the world seldom seem to think that the church as the best place to do it. Intuitively, we know that youth ministry is the church’s R&D lab. Short on funds and long on chutzpah, creativity, and missional imagination, youth ministers—like the young people we love–tend to be an entrepreneurial lot.

It’s time we talk about this, and not just intuit it.

Consider these realities:

Whether the average youth leader is thinking deliberately about missional innovation or not, young people are. More and more, youth—and youth leaders– are pioneering an entrepreneurial moment in the Western church.

Of course, mixing ministry, innovation, and entrepreneurship is hardly a new idea. For centuries, monks, missionaries, and ministers in distressed communities have worked this way out of necessity. If your youth group has ever hosted a car wash, you’ve dabbled in entrepreneurial ministry too.

Here’s the new wrinkle. For millennials, entrepreneurship is not just a way to make money for ministry–entrepreneurship is ministry, and it’s a more compelling way to make a difference in the world than youth group in the church basement. Social entrepreneurship has become a secular mission movement. It’s the primary way millennials think about “changing the world,” one pair of Tom’s Shoes or Warby Parkers at a time.

Young people are seeing, perhaps more quickly than the rest of the church, that entrepreneurship can be an expression of faith, a vehicle for creativity, and a venue for mission. Teenagers and young adults are reminding us that the church itself is an entrepreneurial venture—a community of people who “undertake” (entreprendre) a way of life that shares God’s costly grace with people desperate for abundant life.

What if we “flip” youth ministry? What if– instead of spending our time as youth ministers dreaming up ministries that we must convince youth to join—we asked young people about their ministries, and how the church can come alongside them to support what God is calling them to do? As one youth leader told me, “We’ve got to stop using young people as cheap labor for our ministries, and start learning to support youth in theirs.”

It sure doesn’t feel like Mark and I have left, or are doing something “instead of,” youth ministry. It feels like something Anna and I have talked about a hundred times is happening: the way we think about youth ministry (and maybe all ministry) is fundamentally changing—and youth ministers may be among the first to see it.

I’m all in.

Kenda Creasy Dean




Kenda Creasy Dean

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