Study asks what parents want from a student ministry

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Members of the Pauline Baptist Church, near Quitman, stand together after completing a community missions project. PBC/Special

What do parents expect of their church’s student ministry? In return, what do student pastors expect of parents?

Those were some of the questions explored in Barna’s “The State of Youth Ministry” report. Released last year, the study asked parents about topics such as their expectations of their church’s student ministry, what areas they felt of particular importance, and their overall happiness with the church’s ministry to students.

Parents’ answers gravitated toward an importance on safety. In fact, an overwhelming majority, 96 percent, responded as “very” or “somewhat important” to safety in student ministry.

The term “safe space” extends that definition of safety beyond just physical. Now, emotional safety factors into how parents gauge a ministry. That, in turn, could impact how important they see other areas such as outreach and evangelism.

For example, 69 percent of parents said it was “very important” for students to have a safe place to explore their faith. By contrast, only 48 percent gave that same distinction to “service opportunities/mission trips” while 51 percent said as much for “outreach to teens who don’t attend church.” Those getting higher “very important” rankings include “offering a variety of activities” (54 percent), “guidance for career/direction in life” (56 percent), and “place where they can bring their friends” (58 percent).

At the same time, though, seven in ten parents whose teen regularly attends youth group place a “major expectation” that youth pastors are discipling teens (72 percent). Barna researchers admit terminology could be subjective here, though, in what a parent and youth pastor define as discipleship.

Nevertheless, that figure dovetails with ministry leaders’ perspective. In a story last year, the same report stipulated how youth pastors (75 percent) and senior pastors (71 percent) both saw “discipleship and spiritual instruction” as a high priority for student ministries.

In addition to discipleship, parents placed a high level of importance on youth pastors leading in teaching healthy relationships among friends (62 percent) and family (60 percent). Warning students on the dangers of drugs and alcohol (58 percent), teaching media safety (41 percent), and talking about sexuality and dating (41 percent) were also seen as important aspects of a student ministry.

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