Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that mediocrity is an acceptable objective. But I have not seen any empirical evidence to support the idea that children and youth who have the benefit of cool church programs with slick curriculum are more likely to grow up to faithfully follow Christ than are children and youth with some pretty basic Christian education and discipleship (e.g. old style Sunday School).
Rather In my review of the literature I’m seeing two factors which seem to make a difference. The first is meaningful interaction with adults who function as spiritual mentors. That relationship can occur in a classroom or in a ministry project accomplished together. It can occur at home. The context is not as important as the relationship.
The second factor is consistency. That is, the relationships and input are steady -- not switching from hot to cold and then back to hot.
While the highly developed children and youth programs don’t really give a person a long-term edge they can contribute toward short-term enthusiasm and they provide a sense of reassurance to parents who think they are doing something important for their children.
Adolescents who consistently engage in spiritual activities of some sort are less likely to engage in high risk teen behaviors. The value of highly developed youth ministries might then be that they provide a temporary diversion of some sort. Ultimately, though, if the youth ministry is going to have a long-term impact the emphasis will be on relationships with the adults involved rather than on the entertainment and diversionary value.