The accepted answer is yes. The number of trained youthworkers is increasing. The Baptist Union now recognises youth specialists as an accredited form of ministry. Churches without a youthworker are slowly becoming the minority. I am myself employed as a church youthworker. However, recently I have found myself wanting to question the whole enterprise of youthworkers and youth ministry. I am unsure that the positives of having a trained youthworker to work with young people outweigh some of the negatives that often emerge from this type of youth ministry.
The notion of youth ministry is something that in many cases develops into something separate and outside of the church. A growing youth ministry will in most cases result in a lack of integration of young people into the church. An employed youthworker will be given the responsibility of discipling young people and the church finds itself (often happily) uninvolved. An employed youthworker gives the impression that the world of young people is foreign and strange and that one needs to receive education to understand and be accepted by young people. Discipling young people requires a professional. An employed youthworker gives the impression that who we are and what we do as church is either irrelevant or inaccesible to young people, so we need some to be a bridge into church or to develop 'revelant' and 'accessible' forms of church that engage young people. Often these forms of 'church' involve lots of entertainment.
Do we need youthworkers? Do we need youth ministry? Does the development of youth ministry hinder the discipleship of young people in the life of the church? By taking young people out of the church - separate bible groups and social events - encourage them to think church is not for them? Mark Yaconelli in Contemplative Youth Ministry argues that teenagers make adults anxious and in response he says
most congregations create youth ministries that are about control and conformity ... this means most adults want programmes and professionals. Church leaders want experts and predictable systems that will remove the doubt and ambiguity that surround most interaction with young people ... The youth are quarantined. They're placed at the margin - incubated in basements or gathered off-hours when the congregation won't be disturbed ...
Some youth ministries are created in response to adolescent anxieties. Noticing young people's discomfort with adults forms of faith and desperately seeking to keep youth engaged, some churches develop ministries of distraction ... ministries of distraction keep young people moving from one activity to the next: rafting trips, pizza parties, game nights, ski retreats, beach fests, music festivals, amusement parks, taco-feeds, scavenger hunts, crowd-breakers, raves, skits and whatever other activities attract kids. This is the Nicklodeon approach to youth ministry, appealing to kids' propensity for fun and recreation. This is how churches respond to young people who cry, 'Church is boring!' It's the ministry of excitement; discipleship through fun, culture-friendly, 'Christian-light' events. Like parents of a toddler who pop in a video when relatives arrive, the idea is to keep the young people from running out, keep them in the general vicinity of the church, keep them happy until they're mature enough to join the conversation.
Ministries that simply respond to adolescent anxieties often become ministries of diversion, providing virtual environments with virtual relationships that keep youth distracted from the deeper rhythms and practices of the Christan faith. Programmes and activities are often chosen on the level of excitement that's generated. No one wants to act like an adult for fear of scaring the kids. Leaders become hesitant to engage youth in any activity that is in contrast to the consumer culture. Prayer, spiritual exercises, theological conversation and spiritual disciplines that challenge the status quo are dumped, fearing youth may cry: 'This is like school! or 'You're just like my parents!', or worse: 'This is boring.' And so the ministry never addresses the deeper needs of the youth, never challenges young people to explore the alternative way of Jesus ... (pp.23-24)
That was a long quote, but so close to the way we do youth ministry. What would happen if we got rid of it all - no more youthworkers, no more youth ministry? Would we see churches empty of young people? Maybe and in some cases, probably, unless the whole church took responsibility and risks. We do need people who understand and can communicate with young people, but I'm not sure we need them so visible, that they become the only means in which the church engages with and seeks to disciple young people. The pressure on youthworkers means too often they become experts in entertainment ministries and running amazing acitvity-filled programmes. Because of this, and I speak from my experiences and observations, I believe that our young people (and let's also say most of our adults!) never encounter and never explore the alternative way of Jesus. And as Pete Ward once said in one of my lectures the danger with youth ministry is that when and if young people grow out of what we offer they will grow out of following Jesus. We need to reimagine youth ministry, which I think we need to reimagine church.