During the time of Martin Luther there was no such thing as youth group. There was no children’s ministry either and I think it’s safe to say that Luther would not have been in favor of either institution. Luther’s ministry philosophy was to teach and disciple parents and empower them to teach and disciple their own children. “Abraham had in his tent a house of God and a church, just as today any godly and pious head of a household instructs his children… in godliness.” (Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 21-25 (1539)
The idea of Sunday School wasn’t even invented until the late 1700’s by a man named Robert Raikes. Raikes had a passion to reach out to inner city boys. Young men that either didn’t have fathers or didn’t have Godly fathers. Over time this vision spread and eventually Youth Groups and Children’s ministries were birthed with the intent to come alongside parents and “HELP” disciple and train children and prepare them for mature Christian lives.
Now most churches have segregated ministries but back in Luthers time there was no segregation for ministry. Everyone came to church and everyone heard the same message but there were pros and cons to that approach so newer approaches were developed. Now many churches are so segregated that they fail to find any type of unity between groups. HS students graduate and never come back because they were never connected to the church in the first place. Small churches that can’t afford a college pastor expect 18 year old students to make the jump into either men’s or women’s ministry but they haven’t created the avenues for this to happen naturally. And to be honest as a young man I’m not really exited about joining the men at 6 o’clock on Saturday morning for Men’s breakfast. Some of the young women from my youth group have found ways to get involved with our women’s ministry but the events and studies that most of our women do are usually not anywhere near interesting for the young women that graduate from my youth group.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Luther’s vision was perfect but I think the lack of segregation had some benefits. I think there is a huge need for age specific and sometimes even gender specific ministries but they cannot break away from the rest of the church to do their own thing and with changes in modern family structures, they cannot be designed around the stereotypical mother, father, and 2.5 children ideal of a family. Many churches have Men’s ministries, women’s ministries, JH ministries, HS ministries, college ministries, single adult ministries (aka meat markets), etc, etc, etc… and what these ministries have become is mini-churches that are almost completely separated from the main church. A similar problem exists with churches that focus on things like Marriage ministries which leave out those that are single or divorced or widowed.
So should churches segregate their ministries in order to specifically reach targeted groups of people? I think so but proceed with caution. There are numerous advantages to targeting certain age groups and there are times where segregating by gender can be helpful, but this segregation must be monitored and kept under control to keep the rogue youth group from becoming completely detached from the body. We also need to make sure that any segregation that we build into our churches is wide enough to accept those that may not fit the stereotypes.
James says that pure and un-defiled religion is taking care of orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27). How often do you come across an orphans ministry at a local church? How ’bout a widows ministry? Sadly it’s probably not as often as it should be.
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