Is the Funnel Dead?

Twenty years or so ago, I remember being captivated by the image of the “funnel” of youth ministry.

You know…you’ve got your “come” level kids, the “grow” level kids, and the “lead” level kids, along with targeted programming for each group.  As a young youth pastor, the funnel gave an awesome structure to my chaotic, reactive programming.  I LOVED the funnel (and have taught it many times since).

But lately, I’ve been wondering.   Does the “one program/one purpose” model still make the same sense in 2014 that it did in 1995?

Here’s what’s got me thinking:

The kids I work with are just as likely to make their first connection with our ministry in a “deep” Bible study setting as they are to enter through traditional, large group, high energy programming.  In other words, the type of program new kids are most likely to come to is no longer predictable.   The most committed kids may actually like our traditional youth group more than outsiders ever would.

Our kids no longer seem to be moving in a linear way through our program (dang it), from “come” to “grow” to “lead.”  Most choose to plug in a) where their friends are, and b) where they leave with the indefinable sense that it was “worth it.”

Instead of moving naturally through the funnel of faith, I wonder if today’s kids are not carving their own paths to faithful discipleship, outside our purposeful programming.

What are the implications for the ways we’ve been thinking and teaching about youth ministry practice?

Is it time to turn the youth ministry funnel into funnel cake?

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