This Guest Post comes from Ben Knox, a friend of YL and an American serving as a youth pastor in Madrid, Spain. Ben's post is the fifth in "The 7th C" series focusing on the relationship between YL and the church.
I believe wholeheartedly in the work of the Church, because she opens her arms to everyone. I also believe wholeheartedly in the work of Young Life (and other similar parachurch organizations), because they target a specific cultural group and take advantage of the natural connections there as a web for the spread of the gospel.
Young Life needs the Church, because a generation can't thrive cut off from other generations. The Church needs efforts like those of Young Life, because it is our calling to share the treasure we have with a world in need, and these parachurch organizations are the targeted efforts of Church people to fulfill this calling in the most effective way they can.
Thank God for Young Life in your community! They are making the most of a unique opportunity in U.S. culture: the campus. High school (and college) campuses in the U.S. are strongly-bound units of interlinking cultural spheres. If there's one Christ-follower on the boys' soccer team, with some focused effort, you can earn a natural opportunity to share the gospel with much of the team. Then one of his teammates comes to know the Lord, and that guy sings in a choir... lather, rinse, repeat. There's the potential for the gospel to spread like wildfire, from social circle to social circle.
I wish I could say the same for outreach efforts in Madrid. Unfortunately, it's a different animal. "Campus culture" doesn't really exist here. Schools are places where you go to class and then you go home. The few extracurricular activities available usually aren't connected to the school, so the chains of social connection are harder to find (and as I've only been here for a year, I'm still looking- you can pray that God would show me where to look). In our youth group of 25 kids, we have two guys in sports clubs (soccer and basketball). That's it, nada más. No band, choir, drama, FFA, Young Democrats, whatever.
Even if there are such connections to be found, I'm not sure an evangelical group would be a welcome addition to campus culture here. Depending on the school and the family, most people either don't trust any religious institutions or don't trust anything non-Catholic. YL would probably be unwelcome in either case.
So, here in Spain, Church-based youth ministry works in a way campus-based youth ministry cannot. Of our 15 families, there are 14 high schools represented, and most of those teens are the only light for the gospel at their school. The advantage Church-based ministry gives us is continuity between childhood, the youth years, the young adult years, and so on. There is no graduating from Church the way it's all too possible to graduate from a campus-based ministry and be left feeling like the Church "just isn't YL." Also, with the majority of our youth from churched families, unchurched youth who enter are immediately introduced to a kingdom-oriented culture within the group, which can be hard to create if the majority of the youth in a YL group are unchurched. Our disadvantage is that we have to work a lot harder to reach unchurched youth. I wish we could have both types of groups here, but I'm not sure how we could do that. Ask me again in ten years, if the Lord keeps us here.
So, Church, don't be hatin' on YL. Be thankful that they're taking advantage of the opportunity to reach unchurched youth in your community. They are an arm of the Church doing kingdom work under the pragmatic umbrella of a parachurch organization; support them. If your Christ-following youth are involved there as leaders reaching their peers, cheer them on!
YL leaders, first, you yourself need to be involved in a Church. You need adult brothers and sisters in your life, and we're all better off with a wider exposure to more ways of doing life in Jesus. When you're walking arm in arm as kingdom partners with the Church, it'll make you appropriately hesitant to invite the involvement of youth who are already in the Church (in fact, I hope you wouldn't pull a student away from their Church's ministry apart from the support of a pastor there).
Then, once your unchurched students start following Christ, get them connected to the Church. They can't do YL forever. Particularly prepare your seniors for life after YL. Instill in them a love for God's family, messed up and often uncool though it may be. Give thanks for the opportunity to serve in the way you do, but remember: YL is a unique cultural manifestation of what God is doing in this time in your place; the Church is God's family through all places in all ages.
Please leave your comments for Ben below. If you would like to write a Guest Post on this topic or others, please submit via email to YL1941 at gmail dot com.