General Ministry
Josh Griffin

“Studies indicate that the average youth director lasts only 18 months.” So says George Gallup, the granddaddy of Christian pollsters. I’ve heard the same factoid quoted by esteemed youth ministry speakers, authors, academics, and average-Josephine youth leaders hundreds of times. So it’s gotta be true, right?

Here’s the trouble: I’ve attempted to trace this now-infamous truism back to a specific source, and I can’t find one anywhere. Gallup doesn’t cite a particular study. Neither does Barna. It’s a ghost vampire not even Buffy can kill. The 18-Month Myth is now part of youth ministry lore. It’s been used over and over to describe youth ministers as easily scared gypsies who bolt at the first sign of trouble.

Well, I’m here to tell you it’s all a bunch of bunk.

For years I’ve challenged people who reel off this 18-month statistic to cite their sources. I’ve disputed its authenticity for two reasons: (1) The average GROUP Magazine reader has five years of paid youth ministry experience and has stayed at the same church—both as a volunteer and paid staffer—for more than six years. (2) At conventions, workshops, and in casual conversations with youth ministers all over the country, I hardly ever meet one who bags it after a year-and-a-half.

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So we here at GROUP decided to find out the truth, once and for all. We asked our research staff to complete a scientific survey of North American churches using a representative sampling of denominations. Here’s what we discovered:

• The average paid youth minister in America has just over four years experience (4.2 years, to be exact).
• The average paid youth minister in America has been at the same church for almost four years (3.9 years, to be exact).

So if you’ve been at your church for two years or more, you’re not the lone stable person in a crowd of easily-spooked, under-committed goofballs. And, if you’re a GROUP Magazine subscriber, it’s a good bet you’re even more committed to your profession and your church than those nefarious non-subscribers out there. (Hint: I’m not saying there’s a cause-effect relationship between reading GROUP and finding deeper success in youth ministry, but….)

Now I feel all squishy inside—the good kind of squishy. I hope you do, too. I need your help with a few other youth ministry myths I’m looking into right now, including:

#1—Youth ministry is a meat-grinder that will eat you alive, sooner or later. (I mean that rotten senior pastors, difficult parents, and non-appreciative kids await you at every church).

#2—If I create everything in my ministry from scratch, without using outside resources, I will have a more powerful youth ministry. (I mean using pre-packaged resources is not “purist.”)

#3—The goal of my youth ministry is to build close relationships among our kids, and between kids and adults. (I mean if kids in the group experience close friendships, you’ve already succeeded.)

Here’s how you can help: Please share with me any stories, experiences, or insights you have that refute or undermine any of these myths. Just email me at rlawrence@group.com. Thanks!

Rick Lawrence has been editor of GROUP Magazine for 24 years. He was gracious enough to offer up this guest post after participating in yesterday’s poll about youth workers and resumes.

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  • On the last three myths: upon thinking about them for a few minutes, I think they all have the same root: self-centeredness.

    #1: It gives us an excuse OUTSIDE ourselves when things aren’t going well, not to mention it gives us an excuse to complain a lot. That’s self-centered.

    #2: It’s all about me, my ideas, and only I know how to do youth ministry. Very self-centered

    #3: the self-centeredness is a bit hard to find, but here it is: There’s no risk if the point is just relationships. If the focus is on Jesus, we take Gospel-centered risks, and when things don’t go well, we take joy in any kind of suffering that we experience for the sake of Jesus.

  • Geoff Stewart says:

    Francis Chan only lasted a year, so it has to be true Rick!

  • Josh says:

    @Benjer – great comment, man! So true. JG

  • jake says:

    I’m in grad school and I want to write my dissertation on this topic, but there is little to no scholarly research on the topic of Youth Pastor duration or job satisfaction. Can you provide some details on how GROUP arrived at their numbers? Like the demographics of who was called, the sampling of questions etc.
    I, on the other hand, have been in ministry 10 years, am still in close contact to many youth pastors that graduated with me and like the research indicates we have all been at our churches just under four years at a time. However, it seems that the closer we all get to the age of 30 (most of us by now) and the more our family grows (all of us) the more we drift away from youth ministry as a vocation. I am one of two who remain in full-time ministry, but am hopeful to leave for a more financially profitable career (with hopes to remain in ministry at a volunteer level) which seems to be the primary reason my colleagues have all left ministry after a decade. What are your thoughts about the lifetime duration of youth pastors vs. the average tenure at one church?

  • Not surprising that you couldn’t track down a viable source that says that youth ministers only last 18 months. Some youth pastor said once somewhere, “it feels like youth pastors only last for about 18 months” and the next youth guy said it in his talk and then the myth began, probably. Thanks for seeking this out. I am actually in the process of trying to renegotiate my salary package and have been here at the same church for 7 years so at least I am still beating the 4 year average. Great post thanks!

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