Reaching Out: Youth Ministry in Mainstream America

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Tue, 12/01/1992
End Date: 
Sun, 07/31/1994

Ronald White directed this study to explore the development of youth ministry in both mainstream American Protestantism and in parachurch organizations in the 20th century. The study provided a comprehensive and comparative institutional perspective that attempted to place youth ministry within the larger history of religion in America. White understood “mainstream” to indicate those churches of European and British background which dominated American Protestantism from the 19th century; these including Baptist, Congregational, Episcopal, Methodist, and Presbyterian bodies. “Parachurch” signified those youth ministry movements that claimed to be an arm of the institutional church yet had no ecclesiastical ties, specifically Young Life and Youth for Christ. “Youth ministry” was defined as working with young people of junior high and high school age. <p> A series of questions designed to explore the relationship between church and parachurch youth ministries, youth and the changing American culture, youth ministry leadership, theologies of youth ministry and others energized the study. White collected his data through basic and archival research of church and parachurch youth ministry organizations, visiting denominational and parachurch headquarters, and interviews with youth ministry leaders. <p> Hypotheses and conclusions growing out of the project included: (1) evangelical youth ministries, born in the 1940s, were central to the redrawing of the religious map in the United States in the last half of the 20th century, (2) evangelical youth ministries were a seedbed for diverse ministries across the whole spectrum of churches, (3) the rapid changes in youth culture(s) deeply affected the content and strategy of youth ministry, (4) the changing role of the family intersected youth ministry, (5) “Youth Empowerment” was a defining theological/cultural motif of youth ministry that became visible in the 1960s, and (6) the impact of urban ministry challenged and changed the understanding of youth ministry from the 1960s.