they act as if having students involved in their group is the end-goal.
In other words, in their minds the whole pie, the final rung on the ladder of faith, is high school graduation.
They might not verbalize it as such, but that's the message that's being communicated through their emphases, planning, and teaching.
Don't get me wrong. I understand the statistics:
According to Barna Research Group, 64% of "born-again" Christians made the decision to follow Jesus before their 18th birthday.
Based on that statistic (or a similar one), youth pastors have come to believe that their primary role is evangelism.
But this has been to the detriment of the students who are already part of the church, as Barna's research also indicates that 20% of people in their twenties have maintained a level of spiritual activity consistent with their high school experiences.
The problem indicated by the research is that youth pastors are acting like their slice of the pie is really the whole pie. Rather than seeing their ministry as the ground between the children's ministry and the college ministry, youth pastors are building little "congregations" that are separate from the larger congregation, and thus, they're not incorporating students into the body of Christ so they have somewhere to believe, belong, and become when they enter the university or the workplace.
We must remind ourselves that student ministry is not the whole pie. Student ministry is the crucial middle ground between children's ministry and college/young adult ministry. That observation should have an effect on what youth pastors emphasize, how they plan, what they teach.
The student ministry is a subset of the church, it isn't the church. Therefore, the youth pastor's goal is to build on the work of the children's ministry by exposing students to more in-depth teaching and more hands-on experiences, and then to successfully transition them to the next phase of the process.
This initiative is more likely to produce healthy church participants in the long-run. And that's a step in the right direction from the students who are currently present in the "youth ghetto" who will, one day, have their lives cluttered with everything except for God while they reminisce about what it was like back when they were teenagers.
Reversing the Ratio
Relational Youth Ministry: Presence or Influence?