Connections: Jay Mooney
Youth Ministry: The Picture Is Better Than You Think
Jay Mooney has served the past seven years as director of Assem-blies of God National Youth Ministries. Mooney was recently named director of Assemblies of God Family Services Agency in Hot Springs, Ark. He visited with Pentecostal Evangel Editor Ken Horn.
evangel: How has youth ministry changed in recent years?
MOONEY: I’ve been doing youth ministry for 26 years, and the culture has obviously changed. But the need has not changed. The need for a student to develop a relationship with Christ is still the same. The need for a student to learn the power of God is still the same as well.
In youth ministry there are obviously some cultural changes happening. For example, everything is public today. Youth are publicizing more than ever what they’re thinking, through social media or other means. It used to be you kept things in a book, then occasionally shared it later. But now, everything has gone public.
evangel: Are youth leaving the church in increasing numbers as we hear so often?
MOONEY: One of the problems is that we live in a world of polls — snapshot moments. But there has not been a study over a long period of time where the same individuals are followed for 10 years to see what happens to them. We are just beginning such a study now. And while it will take years to see the outcome, we do know that Assemblies of God youth are doing better than many other churched kids.
One interesting thing we can see through the stats is how many attend youth group in our churches each year, as well as how many total youth we have, ages 12 to 22. We can, for example, observe what that data was like in 2005, then see what happened to those attendees by the time they were becoming adults in 2011. That number shows a differential of 16 percent.
But to hear the polls, you would think we’re losing 84 percent, not keeping 84 percent. The danger in assuming we are losing the youth is that we will tell a generation, “You’re going to leave the church.” And they will grow up and say, “I’m supposed to leave the church.” We should be careful what we say.
evangel: What kinds of effective things are youth ministries doing at the local level?
MOONEY: They’re allowing students to be students — not just attenders. They’re engaging students and providing a platform for those students to be in ministry. That is incredibly strategic.
God never said to young people, “Someday you’ll grow up to be somebody for Me.” The apostle Paul, in 1 Timothy 4:12, said it well: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (NIV).
Thus, many student ministries today are student driven — the students lead worship, and even sometimes do the ministry presentation.
I would also note that there’s a big gap between what various local churches are doing. We have some local churches that run over 10,000 attendees. Thus, they have well over 1,500 kids in their student ministries. Yet the predominant number of our churches in America are under 100 in attendance. Many of these have volunteer leaders.
So there is broad diversity in what’s happening in youth ministry. But even the smaller church is being more strategic when it comes to dynamics such as age groups. For example, there’s a lot of targeted resourcing toward the junior high age group in terms of social and physiological development.
evangel: Any closing thoughts?
MOONEY: We have more youth in the Assemblies of God than we’ve ever had — 560,000 between the ages of 12 and 22. I pray that we can get every young person to understand it’s their destiny to reproduce themselves spiritually. If that happened in this generation, we would reach a million kids in our Fellowship.
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