To pizza or not to pizza, that is the question. At least that is what appears to be the crucial topic in youth ministry by a simple observation of Leadership Journal this year. In the Spring 2011 volume of Leadership Journal, a cover story “A Red Bull Gospel” takes readers to page 33 where you find a large picture of pizza with this subtitle, “It takes more than pizza and video games to give people a faith that endures”. A few months earlier, in the Fall 2010 edition, on page 13 you find two articles about youth ministry and pizza, “Pizza Still Works”, and “The Fading of Youth Ministry”. In this edition the two stories are placed right next to each other on the same page and espouse contradictory messages about the use of pizza in ministry. “Pizza Still Works” tells readers to email the pastor for details of their effective outreach. “The Fading of Youth Ministry” tells us “They’re not even coming for the pizza anymore”.
To be fair, all three articles do comment on the message that is delivered at these pizza events. But, the majority of the content in each of these articles focuses on the use and misuse of pizza. May I suggest that we focus more on helpful content rather than pizza? In the “The Red Bull Gospel” we are left with three suggestions: 1) Have small groups, 2) Give high school graduates a $10 Starbucks card to “find a mentor” in college, and 3) Keep tabs on them. If Leadership Journal is going to dedicate two pages to an article about youth ministry, we should expect more substance than those three suggestions. In fact the author should give the reader more direction as earlier in the article he wrote the goal of youth ministry is to foster a “robust faith”.
The author of “The Red Bull Gospel”, Drew Dyck, is correct when he says that, based on research in Unchristian by David Kinnamen from Barna, that only 3% of young adults have a biblical worldview. A closer look at this statistic on page 76 of Unchristian shows that this 3% is for the Mosaic and Buster generations aged 18-41. The statistic grows to 9% for those over age 42. When we talk about youth ministry we typically think of kids in junior high and high school ages 13-18. The statistic quoted does not really capture the worldview of this age. In reality this is a statistic of the biblical worldview of the parents of teenagers (and college students).
When we correlate this information with the research recently published in Almost Christian by Kendra Dean, we find that the effectiveness of youth ministry is most affected by the faith of the parents of teenagers. This is clear when she writes, “Contrary to popular opinion, teenagers conform to the religious beliefs and practices of their parents to a very high degree” (p. 18), and “Research is nearly unanimous on this point: parents matter most in shaping the religious lives of their children” (p. 112).
I have two suggestions. If we have access to a willing and eager parent, meet with them and ask them how we can encourage their faith, as this will have the largest affect on their child’s faith. If we do not have access to the parents, or the parents are not in a place to develop a biblical worldview and active faith, let’s model a biblical family unit by inviting teenagers into our own families as we strive to live our own biblical worldview. My first suggestion, order pizza, kids love it.