The Ministry to/for Young People often mirrors the Church as a whole, and is equally in danger of not only over programming but mistakenly thinking that the programme is the ministry.
I thought I'd have a play with my own list of where the dangers lie when programme (consciously or unconsciously) has become the driver for Youth Ministry. This may be an unfair juxtaposition but then again it may be helpful to polarise thee two extremes and say either 'relationship' or 'programme' will be the key driver ... and those drivers will lead to practices, values and assumptions. As ever this is 'thinking out loud' and is aimed to facilitate debate, and my own thinking/learning, But here's the Programme-dominated dangers I am nailing to the door:
1. Less young people come!
If the assumption is that providing the 'programme' is the key, then the most energy goes into building structure, staffing/rota, and communicating the up-to-date information; assuming that young people will want to come. In reality young people come to a place where they are known, liked and a key/valued part of something; the place where community and relationship live. Over focus on 'programme' can produce a consumer product that teens will opt in to, or more likely, opt out of.
2. Recruitment of leaders is much harder
People commit to team and vision, they are rightly reluctant to be a prop to a busy structure. Where programme is the driver, the vision and values are often causalities because the entity becomes its own justification 'we need to do something with the young people'
3. Teaching becomes the default position
Where the planning of the programme rules, a teaching outline neatly follows as the organisational outworking. Not that teaching is bad, but there is a huge danger that it allows less for "uncovering the way of Jesus together," for putting faith into action, for genuine co-learning, and for encountering God. Faith becomes structured and informational.
4. Change is less likely to happen
Where programme is king, it continues to rule. Young people have less voice and less influence and do the only thing they can ... vote with their feet. I see many churches that continue to run the programme they have run for years even when it is no longer working. One church told me about the 'GREAT camp' they run every year that the leaders love but are finding it increasingly hard to get young people to come to!
5. Segregation is the default position
Because the programme is key, involvement in the wider church and its activities must be programmed and timetabled well in advance. Although this is technically possible it happens much less as a result. The reverse is also true that busy programme churches less naturally and organically include the young people.
6. It is harder for the Young People to participate and influence
Programme is much more likely to be sorted by the adults for the young people rather than a participative journeying together. Youth Ministry is done 'to' not done 'with' the young people
7. Rota replaces relationship
Where Programme is the framework then a rota of leaders becomes a rational approach. It doesn't matter who leads, where the continuation and depth of relationship is, as long as there are enough people to keep the programme running. If you run it they will come (Kevin 'Field of Dreams' Costner theology)