Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Death of Luther League

For over 90 years, youth ministry in Lutheran congregations was united under one name -- Luther League. The primary function of Luther Leagues was to gather at church each week. These gatherings incorporated fun activities, service projects, and planning for future events. In most churches, this was the important time and place for youth to gather; often trumping attendance in worship. (For a more thorough account of the history of Luther Leagues, check out this video.)

There are three major why I believe this model of ministry is dead:

1. Full inclusion is key. If teenage youth are to be considered full members of a church, they should have full participation in all of the church's ministry. If the most important aspect of a young person's church involvement is a weekly peer group, they are merely a prosthetic appendage to the body of Christ. By shifting the focus away from weekly youth group, young people are freed and encouraged to use their gifts in more edifying ways. Their church experience looks less like an extension of high school classroom and more like a genuinely diverse religious community.

2. Kids are busy. I'm willing to believe that there was a time that Sunday night was considered sacred by schools, clubs, families, and churches. It's time that we accept the present reality that this is no longer true. What message are we sending young people if they can't participate in the life of a congregation because they have another commitment on Sunday nights? The Luther League model dictates that the weekly youth group is the one-stop-shop for all your Christian needs. Why eliminate the one way they can connect with a faith community because of a schedule conflict?

3. It's not about numbers. Because kids are busy, it's unrealistic to gauge the number of "active youth" by finding out who attends youth group. However, the expectation remains for most youth ministry leaders to provide a regular event that all youth will attend. This leads to the dreaded question - "how many kids do you have at youth group?" Why do we do this to ourselves? Is a young person's presence at youth group more valid than singing in the choir, reading the lessons, serving on a committee, or teaching Sunday School? Furthermore, isn't worship attendance a better barometer of an active, faithful Christian than youth group attendance? When determining the number of adults in a congregation, we ask for worship attendance numbers...but when determining the number of youth in a congregation, we ask for youth group attendance numbers. Is this an accurate reflection of our priorities?

I have some ideas of how to shift from Luther League to a new kind of youth ministry...I'll share them tomorrow.


  1. The Luther League is probably dying because of a lack of Lutherans. It all started going downhill at the 1931 Anglican Lambeth Conference. Look it up.

  2. Are these people still alive? That YouTube video looks like it was made when Ford was President.


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