what a college minister notices at a youth ministers’ lunch

A couple of days ago, I got to attend a lunch hosted by Youth Specialties. (If you’re unfamiliar, YS has been a driving force for the field of Youth Ministry for the last 40 years; I mentioned that as a comparison point in the last chapter of the Reaching the Campus Tribes ebook.) I figured I’d drop in on the lunch (and got permission). It was a good time.

But since I’ve been to maybe a few dozen various gatherings of college ministers over the years, I immediately began to notice… differences. So while this is rather off-the-cuff and just my ponderings from one little lunch, I thought it might be fun to blog what I noticed.

1. More girls. Per capita, there seemed to be more females in this flock. If this holds out across the field of Youth Ministry, it probably wouldn’t be because there are more female head youth ministers than female head college ministers; there may actually be more of the latter than the former. Instead, I’d guess that youth ministries are much more likely to have the budget for multiple staff, and in cases of multiple staff, someone of the opposite sex from the director is often the first recruit.

(There could be a lot of reasons, but that’s my top guess. In any case, I noticed there were several ladies.)

2. Church-based predominant. Of course, in Youth Ministry the most recognizable form seems to be church-based youth ministers. While groups like Young Life do exist and have a mighty impact, I wouldn’t think they’d be considered the “classic” form. In College Ministry, that’s switched. (And we have two additional branches, as well: institutional college ministry and collegiate churches. I’m not sure if Youth Ministry has anything comparable, at least in any great numbers.)

3. Younger, on average. Not all youth ministers are young; that’s for sure. But there are reasons that a group of youth ministers might skew younger than a group of college ministers. When I’m in forums of college ministers, it seems like I run into quite a few that are over 30. (Of course, this depends on the organization – some orgs do perpetually have a large crop of 20-something leaders.

4. “Liveliness.” I’m not exactly sure how to explain this without sounding derogatory, but this was definitely a livelier (more evidently extroverted? more “youthy”?) gathering than most College Ministry ones I’ve attended. I do think that ministers take on the characteristics of their groups, and that’s not a bad thing. But might that mean a group of youth ministers would happen to act younger than a group of college ministers?

5. A sense of a developed “field.” It’s hard to explain, but listening to the speakers at the lunch gave a real impression of a true field of ministry in a way that College Ministry doesn’t have yet. Of course, some of that came from the fact that YS – which has helped drive and solidify that field – was the group sponsoring the lunch.

6. More discussion of development theory and other theory issues. This is one of the ways it quickly becomes clear that the field of Youth Ministry (as a whole) is quite a bit more developed than the field of College Ministry (as a whole). It is very rare – with one big exception I’ll note in a second – for lifespan development processes, theories of personal spirituality, and other more heady topics to come up in most college ministry conversations. There will be a day when our field “gets to that,” but right now we haven’t really developed to the point where this is a front-burner issue.

The exception (as I’ve noted on this blog before): institutional college ministers. Those who lead spiritual development at Christian colleges seem to have a penchant for discussing the more theoretical / academic sides of our field. (It’s something we can all gain from them!)


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  1. PC

    This was a very revealing post, and I thank you for it. It seems that the over-arching difference is a development of an area of ministry. By that I mean that most Church and Christian circles have no idea what to do with this demographic (college and young adult). They are not teenagers (I HATE when people call me a youth pastor.) But they are also not quite adults, and cannot be expected to just self-facilitate an immediate transition into the adult population of the local Church.

    There seems to be resources poured into teen ministry and adult ministry, but very few poured into the in-between.

  2. Shoodaddy

    I agree with PC. Especially within churches, there is a tremendous amount of attention focused on middle and high school ministries. But once those students graduate, there seems to be this expectation for them to immediately enter adult ministry, with no real attention given to the specific issues that college students and young adults deal with.

  3. I completely agree – and it definitely shows up in church-based college ministry more than any other place. I do hope that both spheres – ministry to collegians and ministry to young adults – can receive a lot more (wise) attention than they do.

    I would add that the best efforts will require recognizing that in the U.S., Collegians and Young Adults are two different sociological realities, though the lines are hazy and the methods for reaching them certainly can overlap. So we don’t just need ONE better understanding, we need two.

  4. Pingback: what a college ministry explorer notices at a young adult ministers’ lunch « Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes about our field)

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