FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) — There have been books, conferences and websites for youth ministry.
Now, there’s an app for that.
Richard Ross, professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has launched a new app, “50 Core Principles of Youth Ministry,” to relay key information to youth leaders in an easy-access, tech-savvy medium. Ross, a 30-year youth ministry veteran and author of 22 books, created the app as well as a companion e-book.
The app, available in Apple and Android formats, puts the 50 core principles into easy-to-digest seven-minute audio segments, suitable for a commute to or from work. Each segment addresses one of the core principles and includes insight from top authors and leaders. Ross spent nine months reading scores of books and then melting and swirling ideas from the authors and his own scholarship and experience into succinct chunks that formed the 50 audio messages and the e-book.
“There was an urgency inside of me to get some of these messages into the hands of youth leaders, and I do really feel that a healthy ‘baby’ has been birthed,” Ross said. “I tried to eat a healthy diet [during the process], devouring about 60 books on youth ministry, theology and church leadership.”
Ross said he realizes busy youth leaders often want to read books that will help them minister to students but simply do not have the time to read every page of every applicable book. So, instead, Ross read the books for them and uses the app to essentially relay what he considers highlighter-worthy high points from the books. Ross hopes this allows leaders to get helpful and thought-provoking information but still have time for the hands-on discipling and relationship-building their students need.
“Youth leaders are moving very fast, and I knew some would want to absorb a book by listening to the book in small segments,” Ross said. “Others who like reading words will prefer seeing those words in an e-reader. So, we communicate timeless information in a new way.”
Ross said the medium is fitting for youth leaders who often embrace the same advancements in technology as the students with whom they work and relate.
“Youth leaders tend to stay on the front edge of technology,” Ross said. “It just made sense to put content in their hands in a way that would be appealing technologically.”
Content-wise, Ross noted several aspects of the app and ebook.
“The first thing that is really important to me is approaching youth ministry in such a way that teenagers are pulled into the full congregation — the full church,” Ross said. “For about 50 years we’ve done youth ministry in a way that segregated the young people and almost made them an appendage to the church. The book really calls strongly for wrapping teenagers in webs of relationships with all ages in the church because we now know that is more likely to give them a lifetime faith, and we haven’t been doing very well at that. We’ve been having kids leave the church after high school.”
Ross said another major theme of the project is that spiritually alive adults produce spiritually alive teenagers and churches through teaching and discipleship.
“I think the assumption in the past has been if somebody comes to church all the time, if they’re a good person, if they’re willing to accept some position, then they’re probably just fine spiritually,” Ross said. “I think the fact of the matter is many church members are spiritually plateaued, and if we put spiritually plateaued adults with teenagers, we get spiritually plateaued teenagers. In other words, it’s not the program that causes young people to become alive spiritually, it’s the spiritual life of the adults who are connecting with them.”
Messages in the app and e-book also call on mothers and fathers to take responsibility for their families’ spiritual climate instead of only dropping them off at youth group and expecting youth leaders to give the kids everything they need to become a passionate and devoted follower of Christ.
“The goal of mom and dad leading is not just to have a sweet Christian family,” Ross said. “The goal is to have families motivated to take the Gospel across the street and around the world. The goal isn’t just to have families reading the Bible in the den. The goal is families who would pay any price to see Christ’s Kingdom come on earth.”
Adding that the app includes a focus on evaluating youth ministry and youth leaders, Ross said, “The primary criterion for evaluating youth ministry is this question: Do the students walk in faith and stay connected to the church their entire lives?”
“Attendance in youth group, the creativity of the youth minister, the fact that the church is happy with the youth group — none of these are the ultimate criteria,” Ross said. “The ultimate criterion is: Are we seeing lifetime disciples graduate out of our ministry?”
Reviewers who have downloaded the app registered praise for its content or for Ross, describing the app as “gold” and the “best material you can find.”
One commenter, Trent, described the app as an “excellent resource for student ministers from one of the greatest youth ministry professors, Dr. Richard Ross. His research is incredible and is well worth the $0.99 to buy the application.”
Ross hopes the app and e-book will encourage youth leaders everywhere to consider where their focus should lie in student ministry and to understand which aspects of their ministry will make the most impact on students.
“I do pray that this book will help thousands of them completely rethink what is most important in determining whether their 18-year-olds look a lot like Jesus,” Ross said.
Sharayah Colter is a writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (www.swbts.edu/campusnews).