Emerging adults are also the most absent age cohort in churches; in fact, they are noticeably underrepresented in all social institutions except the media/entertainment sphere, which means they are making the most life-shaping decisions of their lives -- jobs, worldviews, marriage partners -- without the benefit of institutional support or intergenerational wisdom. I see a growing sense of urgency in churches to address emerging adults, which usually falls under the youth ministry umbrella, though it is a very different kind of ministry than the kind we typically offer teenagers.

I'm seeing a renewed interest in children's ministries as well. The attention youth ministry has garnered in the past two or three decades in churches has inevitably led people to say, "Hey, we can't just arbitrarily start taking young people seriously when they turn 11 or 12." Resources for children's ministry have always outstripped those in youth ministry, but now that youth ministry has spent two decades aiming for theological substance, children's ministry is poised to do the same.

Maybe the most dramatic change in youth ministry since I started as a youth leader has been the professionalization of youth ministry as a field. When I was in seminary, I was the only person I knew who wanted to do youth ministry on purpose; it was the classic "stepping stone" position, and almost all pastors farmed it out to unsuspecting lay people, or to the youngest volunteer they could find. Today, youth ministry is a legitimate vocational option, complete with degrees, resources, guilds, training processes, certifications, you name it. Personally, I'm a little bit mixed on whether all this professionalization is a good idea, but in fact it is happening. People always develop specialty fields to reclaim whatever is being overlooked, and youth ministry is no exception.

My bias, however, is that every pastor is a youth minister. In fact, if you take the baptismal vows seriously, every member of a congregation is a youth minister. I don't want a single church leader graduating from seminary without thinking of himself or herself as someone whose ministry includes young people. Youth are in our congregations, and in our communities; how can we not be in ministry together? 

Read the rest of the interview with Kenda Creasy Dean on youth ministry and the mainline church here.


Kenda Creasy Dean is an ordained elder in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference (United Methodist) and professor of youth, church, and culture at Princeton Theological Seminary, where she works closely with the Institute for Youth Ministry. A graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary, she served as pastor in suburban Washington, D.C. and as Wesley foundation director at the University of Maryland-College Park before coming to Princeton Seminary. She is the author of several books, including The Godbearing Life: The Art of Soul-Tending for Youth Ministry, Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church, and Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church.