The youth pastor began appearing in churches long after Sunday schools, largely because society did not recognize or cater to the needs of this age group until the twentieth century. In 1905, G. Stanley Hall popularized the concept of the "adolescent" as distinct from the young adult and the older child.
Then in the 1940's, the term teenager was born. And for the first time a distinct youth subculture was created. People ages thirteen to nineteen were no longer simply "youths." They were now "teenagers."
After World War II, Americans developed great concern for the young people of our nation. This concern spilled over into the Christian church. Youth rallies in the 1930s laboring under the banner "Youth for Christ" spawned a parachurch organization by the same name around 1945.
With new understanding and concern for the "teenagers," the idea that someone needed to be employed to work with them emerged. Thus was born the professional youth minister. The youth pastor began working in large urban churches in the 1930s and 1940s. Calvary Baptist Church in Manhattan had one of the very first youth pastors. Moody Monthly magazine wrote about him in the late 1930s.
The majority of youth ministers in this era, however, worked for the emerging parachurch organizations that filled the Christian landscape. By the early 1950s, thousands of professional youth ministers were meeting the spiritual needs of young people, who now had their own music, dress, literature, language, and etiquette. During this time, the Christian church began to segregate teenagers from everyone else.
From the mid-1950s to the end of the 1960s, the youth pastor became an established part of evangelical churches. (The position took off a bit more slowly in the mainline denominations.) By the end of the 1980s, youth ministry's shift from the parachurch organizations to institutional churches was pretty well complete.
Today, youth pastors are part of the professional clergy. Their position is built on the contemporary church's misguided choice to honor a division that was born in secular culture less than a century ago - namely, the division between teenager and everyone else.
Put another way, the youth pastor did not exist until a separate demographic group called teenagers emerged. In so doing, we created a problem that never before existed - what to do for (and with) the young people. It is not at all unlike the problem we created when a new class of Christian - the "laymen" - was invented. The question "How do we equip the laity?" was never asked before the institutional church made them a separate class of Christian.