Double Your Youth Ministry

Someone told me recently that 90% of the people who ever come to faith in Christ in America will do so before leaving their teenager years. I can't verify the veracity of the details of that statement, but I know the number is high. It stands to reason, then, that if we want to reach our nation, a strategic issue is to concentrate on the young. I have asked my youth minister, Kevin Glen to write a guest article around the theme of How to Double Your Youth Ministry. He has more than doubled the youth ministry at our church. I have had two of my kids in Kevin's youth ministry and have heard him preach many times. He is a fine young man, a sharp thinker and an able communicator. For non-youth workers, I think you will find some principles where that are applicable to reach people of all ages.


I’m not sure what has been more difficult. Being a teenager or working with them. In both instances, we want to be accepted and we want to be successful.

As a teenager we want these things for selfish reasons. As a youth leader, I trust we want these things because we love students and genuinely desire to see God work in their lives. When I began in youth ministry 15 years ago, I expected my love for God and the kids He put in my care to magically produce a youth ministry that would set the world on fire. It didn’t quite happen that way.

After struggling and failing, I began to discover a need for certain elements to be present in my approach to youth ministry. Long story short, when these elements were implemented, my youth ministry more than doubled.

These elements allow that love for God and students to find channels of application. I’m confident that any youth ministry can double when these elements are provided.

 

A place that’s safe

No youth ministry can hope to grow if it fails to be inclusive. Simply stated, youth ministries have to be more like a family than a club. In family life, since you can’t pick your relatives, everyone has to learn to interact based on respect and common interest. What better approach for the church! When our kids are led respect one another, and to embrace a common interest (learning about God), an environment of welcome and safety takes shape.

I met a student recently named Trevor. He showed up with long red hair, an Iron Maiden t-shirt and various lengths of chains hanging from his pants. He was met at the door by another student wearing a pink polo shirt and American Eagle shorts. The two shook hands and the preppy kid introduced Trevor to me. As we spoke, he shared that he had been completely ignored and rejected at a church down the street, but hoped our place was “cool”.  Every kid in your youth ministry is screaming to be known. They are also wondering “if they really know me, will they like me?” 

Take it to the bank; students must experience relational safety before they can respond to spiritual challenge.  

What happened to Trevor? He now attends regularly, has received Christ, is bringing friends (who also wear Heavy Metal t-shirts and chains) and will be baptized soon.

 

A chance to choose

After 15 years in youth ministry, a common complaint I hear from students is that once they receive Christ, the appeal to think through decisions related to Christian living disappears. Don’t get me wrong, evangelism is of immeasurable importance. But when was the last time we encouraged believing students to take the next step in their faith with the same passion used to encourage un-believing students to take their first step?

While a growing youth ministry will provide opportunities for students to respond to Christ for salvation, it will also provide just as many opportunities for believing students to respond to Christ as they walk with Him in discipleship. The decision to follow Christ is the beginning of the road, not the end.

 

Answer the question “So What?”

I remember asking myself once why there’s such a drop-off in attendance the week after Easter. We teach on the resurrection for goodness sake! The answer came when I was talking to a waitress in Colorado. She said flatly, “okay, Jesus is alive, so what?”

So What?! This is a harsh question to be sure, but it’s one our students ask every time they hear a message, read a passage of scripture, finish up their devotional or sit through Sunday School. If there’s no answer to this question, their minds hit the “delete” button.

Application is everything! As youth leaders, we can’t be afraid to ask this question of everything we believe and teach. Reverence for a belief does not imply relevance.

In other words, the truths we believe and teach passionately will become the beliefs of our students only when they can be effectively applied to real life. When we can answer the question “so what?”, we will see our teaching come to life and see our youth ministries flourish.  

 

Confidence to take it to the culture

I confess I’m a HUGE Star Wars geek. I even made a costume and constructed a lightsaber… okay please keep reading!

The Star wars films are wildly popular, but why? There’s something that resonates deeply with people. The story engages some of the deep questions of good and evil, loyalty and betrayal, and the nature of love. Could our students engage these questions from a biblical perspective?

Students are immersed in a sea of cultural expressions. Film, music, literature and other art forms convey messages that often conflict with Biblical perspectives. Should our students hide away from popular culture or learn to effectively critique and connect with it.

Jesus stated clearly that His people are to be in the world, but not of it. Paul modeled such an approach when he engaged the people of Athens. As youth leaders, we must learn to be students of culture, and teach our students to do the same.

A growing youth ministry must recognize the power of creativity and equip our students to find the redemptive analogies of culture and use them to point others to the Creator Himself.

 

The realization of their place in the church today

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “the youth are the church of tomorrow”. I know people mean well, but the statement is deeply flawed. If we continue the habit of postponing our students’ place in church life, they will not be around in the future to be a part of the church.

A growing youth ministry will consistently seek to discover students’ gifts and engage those students in effective ministry. What kind of new life would be breathed into your youth ministry (and your church) if your students were enabled to discover their giftedness, were equipped to sharpen those gifts, were encouraged to minister with those gifts, and were empowered to see themselves as vital members of the Body of Christ?  

Do you want to see your youth ministry grow? Take seriously the gifts of your students, and invest those gifts in the Kingdom TODAY.

From a place of safety to a place of service, a youth ministry can’t help but grow significantly if these elements are present.

 

This article is adapted from the GRACE based youth ministry conference. If you would like to learn more about the conference, or are interested in having Kevin speak to your youth leaders please visit www.joshhunt.com/youth.htm Or email Kevin directly at revkev@stufam.com.

Kevin Glenn is a 15 year veteran of Student ministry. By creating and implementing the G.R.A.C.E. based student ministry approach; Kevin has a proven track record of more than doubling the youth ministries under his leadership. Kevin has served as Minister to Students at the First Baptist Church of Las Cruces, New Mexico for the last 5 years. He is a graduate of Trinity College of Florida (B.A. Biblical Studies and Counseling) and Fuller Theological Seminary (Certificate of Youth Ministry and a Master's degree in Theology).