I was prepared to dislike this post about youth in the church based on the preview I saw ("There is no Christian youth"), but instead it's one of the best things I've read on the subject.
From one of my Annual Conference posts in June, it's pretty obvious I care a lot about young people being active in the church and having both the privileges and the responsibilities of members of the church (because they are members). The article is about Bonhoeffer's argument that creating a place of privilege in the church for youth is actually a bad idea, not a good one, because it separates them from the life of the congregation.
This is not an argument against youth ministry or children's ministry or college ministry. Instead, as Root write in the article, "Bonhoeffer believes that we should continue to do youth ministry. But we should do it by undercutting youth ministry as a privileged space. We should do youth ministry as way of moving the young into the center of the church community."
A youth ministry should certainly connect youth with each other, but it should also connect youth with the rest of the church.
Root mentions "special youth rooms and youth ministries." I think there is a place for these things. I grew up in churches where a lot of Sunday school classes were made up of people of roughly similar ages, so with that setting youth rooms and Sunday school classes are consistent with the rest of the community. Just as having United Methodist Women's circles doesn't separate women off from the church or having a Sunday school class intended for couples with young children doesn't keep those couples to the edge of the church community, places and activities for youth don't in and of themselves cut youth off from the rest of the body.
But too often, youth are only active in youth programs, and those programs aren't well integrated with the rest of the church.
Something I liked about the church I attended during high school was that youth were visible in service on a regular basis, not just once a year on youth Sunday. The youth choir and bell choirs sang and rang as often as any of the other choirs at both 8:30 service and 10:55 service. Not only were the youth present in church-wide worship services, but they were present as leaders, giving of their time and talents. (The sheer size of the music program made having youth choirs and bell choirs separate from adult ones reasonable. It's still probably worth thinking about whether getting rid of the age associations and just offering choirs with different rehearsal schedules would be better.) This was in contrast to a church I attended this summer, where most weeks youth led and attended a completely separate worship service from their parents. At first glance, that seems like a really active, large youth program, but that separation cuts the youth off from a shared experience of the rest of the church.
Another good example from the church of which I'm currently a member: over the past two years, the number of college students has gone from zero to eight. We've done a few activities just for our group of college students, like having lunch at the church on a Saturday or forming a small bell choir a few times for Sundays in Advent or Easter. But we've also been encouraged to serve in the church's ministries, participate in Bible studies, act as ushers or liturgists, and serve on committees with the rest of the community. It's a good balance of activities that bind those of us at a similar point in our lives to each other and activities that make it clear we are part of the church. This fall, the church is pairing each college student with a family in the church to provide a family away from home. That's a ministry that both integrates the college students into the church community and recognizes the particular needs that we have as a constituency.
One last quote from the article:
"Youth ministry seeks not to make young people “Christian youth” but to participate in the humanity of the young as they encounter the living Christ.Youth ministry is not about strategies to produce “Christian youth” that hold on to the fashion and stay loyal to the brand. Instead, it seeks to invite young people into the cruciform space of (of place sharing) that is concretely lived out by the community of the church."