A recent Barna Research study showed that 33% of churches say youth ministry is either a secondary priority among church leadership or not a priority at all. Gary and Laurie Pecuch (pronounced "puh-cooch") have dedicated over four decades of their lives to youth ministry, and after a lot of trial and error, they believe the key to youth ministry is through what they call "Faith Webbing." To date, they have helped over 600 congregations expand their ministries to young people which helps reduce the number of youth who leave the faith as they get older. They are sharing their knowledge by teaching workshops at a youth directors' conference in Anaheim this week.
Q: Gary, thanks for doing this interview with us. Why and how did you and your wife become interested in youth ministry?
Before we knew each other we were both summer camp counselors at different church camps in different states. Those summers led us independently to consider being involved in some type of youth ministry after college graduation. For me (Gary), there were two numbers I came across in a magazine that got my attention. The magazine stated that 85% of those that come to know Christ do so by the age of 18 and 90% of those do so by the age of 12. Learning the importance of faith development among children and youth at an early age led me into ministry to young people. And after a few short years in congregational ministry, Laurie and I both learned first-hand of the importance of immersing children in the life and mission of the church by age 12. After age 12, it becomes exponentially harder to reach young people.
Q: There are churches who don't reach out to young people because older congregants are afraid of changes. They don't want their favorite hymns to be changed; they want things done the same way and so forth. How do you respond to this fear of changes?
We focus on what all generations need, which is an inter-generational faith community. As our church adults get to know our church youth, they discover how much they appreciate each other. Our adults begin to "love the stuffing" out of young people. As a result, our young people learn to enjoy the company of the adults. Soon adults begin to become spiritual surrogate grandparents to our young people. They often end up filing a relationship void in each other. Once this occurs, the overall ministry of the church can more easily move forward.
Q: Also, many older congregants feel inept to talk to younger ones, because they are as familiar with the digital age and the ensuing technologies. How do you address such a barrier?
We provide opportunities (and actual training sessions) for our church members in initiating and maintaining conversations with people of all ages. There is so much common ground that we can focus on that, by the time we get to the generational differences, members begin to see those differences less as a negative and more about what they can learn from one another.
Q: Your approach to youth ministry "is (to) intentionally identify relationship voids in young peoples' lives and then fill those voids from within the congregation." Can you elaborate on what these relationship voids are? And how can churches fill these voids?
People of all ages have relationship voids. Everyone needs a faith-based grandma or grandpa, mom or dad, big or little brother or sister, grandchild etc. Many of us are missing some type of relationship. Maybe some have moved away from family, others have voids within families, still others do not come from a family that has faith as a foundation. What we have learned is that as our church members get to know each other, there is a natural tendency for people with common voids to gravitate towards each other. The church then truly becomes "church family."
Q: How does faithwebbing.com help equip the church to minister to young people?
The goal of Faith Webbing is to wrap our children and youth in a web of faith. We want each of them to be surrounded by scores of inter-generational relationships. This network of relationships is then available to walk with young people through the ups and downs of this journey we call life. We believe faith is as much caught as it is taught. The most important element of faith development for a young person is to hear adults verbalize their own faith. Just being in the presence of each other has deep faith-building implications.
Q: Being a pastor myself, I have been to churches where they have zero youth to begin with. How do you even start to consider youth ministry in such circumstances?
I think of it as being similar to the plight of a new basketball coach. You have to start with what you have. New coaches are handed a team and they have to start building from there. So, whether a church has 100, 10, 5 or just 1 young person, adults have to make a decision to start with what they have and intentionally build from there. If they would like for more youth to be involved they may have to do what the basketball coach does...recruit. That may mean starting a program that draws in young people and then making a concentrated effort to engage with them.
Q: What words of encouragement do you have for pastors and youth leaders reading this article?
What we advocate is not rocket science. Any church can do this. It is simply an intentional relational approach to ministry. And it is what people need. The church is about the only place where young people are involved that is organically inter-generational. Pretty much everything else they are involved in is age-based and only for a season of their lives. The church is around for the long haul. Parents that grasp that benefit of church involvement are giving their children the best opportunity for long term faith development.