Original Research

Inclusivity in youth ministry praxis and the challenge of mainline church attrition

Michael W. Droege, Malan Nel
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 45, No 1 | a3016 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v45i1.3016 | © 2024 Michael W. Droege, Malan Nel | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 October 2023 | Published: 04 June 2024

About the author(s)

Michael W. Droege, Department of Practical Theology and Mission, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa; and, Department of Religious Education, Theological School, Drew University, Madison, United States of America
Malan Nel, Department of Practical Theology and Mission, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


Despite a century of professional development in youth ministry, the American church continues to face generational attrition. This article explores this paradox, employing practical theology to scrutinise the historical praxis and philosophies shaping 20th-century youth ministry. I have taken Nel’s work on inclusive missional ecclesiology as my basic point of departure, analysing four interconnected ‘texts’: Ecclesiological perspective, a historical review of youth ministry evolution, adolescents’ developmental locus within congregations, and a qualitative study featuring interviews with members from seven American churches involved in youth ministry. The investigation highlights the necessity for a paradigm shift in youth ministry from an exclusive programme to a more inclusive missional approach. It urges recognising adolescents as equals in congregational life, fostering an environment that not only retains but also nurtures them as indispensable community members. By adhering to this reformed vision, the church can address the persistent crisis of generational attrition effectively, encouraging the collaborative growth of the American church with the active participation of its adolescent members. It suggests a path forward that sees youth not as future church, but active contributors to the contemporary church ecosystem.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: This research guides churches in considering the theological, sociological, and developmental implications of adolescent inclusion through the lens of missional ecclesiology, suggesting adolescent inclusion is critical to contextual missional praxis.


youth; inclusion; missional; attrition; belonging; kinship; United States of America; youth group

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions


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