Dissolving urban youth para-church ministries


Do para-church urban youth ministries need to be dissolved and collapsed into neighborhood churches? Do we need urban ministry-minded Christians placing more efforts into teaching in inner-city public schools in order to truly serve the city? I think this may be the way forward. For those Christians with a calling to serve the needs of inner-city youth, teaching in the public schools may be the best place to have the greatest impact outside of the direct work of local churches. The para-church model is out of a 1950s playbook and may not be best use of human and financial capital to meet emerging needs.

For example, nearly 23 percent of all young American black men ages 16 to 24 who have dropped out of high school are in jail, prison, or a juvenile justice institution, according to a new report titled "Consequences of Dropping Out of High School" from the Center for Labor Markets at Northeastern University. There is no urban youth ministry that has the capacity to put much of dent in this alarming trend. These students need academic discipleship in addition to spiritual formation.

The para-church model for helping black and Latino males has expired and does not have the full scope of influence that missionally minded teachers could have being in a school setting working directly with local churches. Teachers have the advantage of being with students most of the day for about nine months out of the year. No urban youth worker could come close to that many "contact" hours. If the minds of urban youth are not being cultivated, we aren't really helping them become makers of culture here and now.

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As public school teachers, administrators, and coaches, urban-minded missional Christians wouldn't have to raise support either. Moreover, until America begins to re-think our public school system disaster for black and Latino males we will have to work with the current system. As such, the public schools need a cadre of missional Christian teachers, thousands of them, who understand that forming human dignity is spiritual, intellectual, physical, and emotional.

We must remember two things about the black male graduation crisis: (1) it is not reduced to the nation's largest cities---South Carolina, Wyoming, Michigan, Louisiana, and Georgia have among the lowest rates of black male graduates in country; and (2) this has much to do with the break down of the family, which is the unique reparative work of the church. Urban para-church ministry is neither designed nor equipped to meet the holistic needs of families.

Having said that, I know many people can offer countless lists of exceptions and personal stories about urban ministry "X" that helped kid and/or family "Y." Those are great. I'm not saying that current ministries do not help a few. We should celebrate and honor that good work. However, in 2007, 16 percent of persons between 16 and 24 years of age (nearly 6.2 million people) were high school dropouts. Among these dropouts, 60.1 percent were men, 18.8 percent were black, and 30.1 percent were Hispanic. Only churches and teachers have access to this many students and their families.

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of The Political Economy of Liberation and Black and Tired. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.


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