Youth Ministry in the Former Soviet Union: Survey Results
Editor’s note: Findings are based primarily on the results of a survey of Evangelical Christian-Baptist (ECB) youth leaders conducted during two Christian camp leadership conferences held in Kyiv, Ukraine, January 2004, and St. Petersburg, Russia, February 2004.
At the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, youth evidenced the lowest level of religiosity of any age group. However, today in the former Soviet Union 32.1 percent of youth identify themselves as believers, 27percent vacillate between belief and unbelief,13.9 percent are indifferent towards religion, but only 14.6 percent are non-believers.
In Evangelical Christian-Baptist congregations in 2004, newly converted youth constituted a majority of the young people in36 percent of churches, a significant portion(30-50 percent) in 39 percent of churches, and a minority (under 30 percent) in 25 percent of churches. Percentages of newly converted youth in charismatic churches were even higher. According to youth leaders surveyed, particular church youth activities available in a local congregation are as follows:
General meetings at church 75
Home youth groups 52
Regular sports activities 27
Youth clubs 13
Survey findings permit the development of a collective picture of youth ministry. Youth gather for meetings in the church building once every two weeks, some groups on Sunday evenings and some on weeknights. In these meetings young people sing, perform skits, participate in a variety of contests, and discuss topics (mostly theological) on what is important to youth. The programs are not very appealing, but attendance is high because young people want to spend time with one another. For this reason, quite often, the dynamics of the fellowship increase after the official part of the program is completed. The most desired guests in these meetings are young people from other churches. The least desired guests are leaders of the local church.
Centrifugal vs. Centripetal Outreach
Possibly the reason Baptist churches are not so effective in reaching non-Christian youth consists of the methods and forms of their ministry. Musicologist George W. Peters singles out two approaches to church outreach: centrifugal and centripetal. In the former, all work is connected to the church, motivating on-Christians to come to church; in the latter approach, the church goes into the world and reaches people where they are. Youth ministry in Baptist churches today is mostly characterized by the centrifugal approach.
Improving Youth Ministry
Survey results identified the following sources for youth ministry training:
Source Percentage of Respondents
Books * 53
Seminars organized by one’s denomination or local church 20
Seminars organized by mission agencies 35Training at Bible schools, institutes, or universities 40
* Resources mentioned most often that have a direct connection to youth ministry were Doug Fields, Purpose Driven Youth Ministry, and The Idea Package Magazine published by Ruka Dopomogy(Hand of Help) Mission, Kyiv, Ukraine. Survey respondents consider the most important problems in their work to be distorted idea of the role of youth ministry in the life of the church and the low level of specialized training for youth leaders. To solve these problems the following steps are recommended:
• Develop a youth ministry philosophy;
• Publish a manual for organizing and conducting culturally relevant youth ministry;
• Encourage seminaries to introduce culturally relevant training programs for youth leaders;
• Discuss problems in youth ministry at pastoral conferences;