The church in North America, and Canada in particular, is in crisis with a declining youth population and a failure to retain those youth who are connected to the church. In addition, these young people are not returning to the church later in life. The research from Canada and the United States is indicating that: “We are at a ‘critical point in the life of the North American church’” (Kinnaman 2011:13).
This research paper will seek to understand why there is a decline in youth numbers but to also formulate a response to this crisis using Practical Theology. Following the template provided by Richard Osmer, this paper will seek to understand what is taking place, why this is happening, what should be going on, and finally, what are some steps the church should take in response.
This paper will offer a brief examination of the historical forces that helped to produce today’s crisis. In addition will be an examination of the Attractional Model of youth ministry and, in particular, the Funnel Model as formulated by Dennis Miller and Duffy Robbins. This model is built on a number of levels, the first being a level designed to attract youth outside of the church through something that is attractive to the target audience (this is the Come Level).
A central component of this paper will be an examination of the dichotomy between evangelism and discipleship. This separation is the driving force of the Funnel and is also a division of our identity and our mission. The guiding hypothesis of this study is that this dichotomy of identity and mission has deepened the crisis. One resolution to the crisis will be to understand the fact that who we are shapes what we do and any division of this can be harmful.
This paper will contain a qualitative study based on: 1) A case study of a Canadian church who committed themselves to “reversing the pyramid.” 2) Fifteen interviews with Canadian youth outlining their experience with Attractional youth ministry. This paper will end with practical suggestions for the church in North America.