Cancel Youth Group This Week—for the Good of Your Students
By Aaron Thompson
It’s Wednesday night. The snacks are out, the music is playing, a white board in front of the room is covered with notes and Bible verses, and the youth game room is full of talking and laughter. It’s a normal mid-week program, except for one thing—there are no teenagers.
That’s because once every six weeks in our ministry, the students take the night off to rest (usually before or after an event) and the youth staff sets the night aside for time to build community, train for ministry, and pray for each other and for our students. It’s not a novel idea—we lifted it from the local schools. It’s just a modified in-service day. These nights have been remarkably impactful, for four reasons:
1. Leader Participation. Moving our leadership community gatherings to our main program nights has meant that almost everyone comes every time. Our ministry went from getting about 50 percent of small group leaders to trainings (with several never making a single one) to getting about 90 percent to show up each time. Last month we celebrated our first time having all 16 of our relational youth workers in attendance. What could you get done if all of your volunteers showed up for training every time?
2. Deeper Leadership Community. Better attendance has meant more community building. Before, we didn’t spend much time caring for each other, getting to know one another, and building community. How could we? Our gatherings were missing half of the team! We’d do a meal, a quick check-in, and little else. It wasn’t until we had a solid two hours with all the team members on a regular basis that we started to see a group of volunteers grow into friends, into a spiritual community. Two years into this process, many of them now meet on their own time for dinner, and several have started a small group together.
3. Clear Priorities. This strategy has shown the importance and priority of leadership development in our ministry. When we first made the move, almost everyone was confused. The purpose of youth ministry, the thinking went, is doing ministry to youth, right? So why would we send the youth home and spend time with other adults?
The outcomes have alleviated our doubts. Our staff is affirmed every time we make space to encourage them, pray over them, and equip them. Our parents have learned that the youth pastor isn’t the only—or even the most significant—leader in the lives of their students. And our church, after seeing the results of our model for leadership development, has started to implement it in other ministry areas. Making leadership development a top priority on our calendar has left no doubt about what we believe is significant in ministry. We believe that adult Christians are the key to changing the lives of teenagers for Christ. We prove it every six weeks.
4. Accountability and Challenge. Meeting with our staff to discuss our ministry regularly and openly challenges me deeply. I often learn and grow as a pastor through the conversations, concerns, ideas, and prayers that come out of those meetings. There were days (not that long ago) in my ministry career that I didn’t really want to hear back from volunteer staff. I feared criticism and unrealistic expectations. So I avoided these meetings, chalking it up to being too busy doing the real work of ministering to teens. But the truth is, I was scared. And because of it, leadership development was a low priority. Not anymore.
Some months, these Wednesdays still scare me. I wonder if I’ve done enough to encourage, empower, and equip my leaders. I worry that leaders will come in burnt out, frustrated, or wanting more from me or the ministry than can be delivered. But forcing myself to regularly face that concern is good for me. Knowing that leadership night is coming keeps ministering to our youth workers a high priority on my to-do list. It motivates our full team to tackle the challenges and fears I used to confront by myself. It drives me to pray more for students and leaders than I ever used to. And it challenges me to be vigilant in seeking out the best resources, training, and methods for the team to continue to grow.
At our last leaders meeting, as the Ping-Pong balls were flying and our staff was talking and laughing, I stepped back just to watch the team enjoy each other. I said to one of my key staff-leaders, “It’s so funny to watch adults use all this stuff.”
“Yeah,” he responded, “youth group is a lot of fun when the kids aren’t here.”
We both laughed—but he was right. We’ve come to really love our nights of playing, praying, and preparing together. And as long as these nights fuel us to minister better to students the rest of the time, I’ll keep canceling youth group once a month.
Need help training adult volunteers? Check out Square One. It includes four short, downloadable training sessions designed to provide your volunteer staff with tangible skills to help them spiritually develop and lead students.
About the Author
The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry… Read More