family ministry

Raising the Bar for Family Ministry

By Jesse Criss December 10, 2019

Speaking from my experience

Before I ask a question, I want to preface what I’m about to say with the fact that I have probably been where you are right now. I started my journey in youth ministry nineteen years ago in a small church with a dozen students. Over the years I have worked in all kinds of churches with all of kinds students and every group combination you can think of.

Over all those years I have noticed that the vast majority of youth “programming” (including my own) hadn’t really changed over the last 20 if not 30 years. If we are really honest, the odds are high that most of us are running programs similar to the experience we had in youth ministry as teens or similar to how it was taught to us by pastors/mentors who were running youth ministry in the late 90’s or early 2000’s. Students in 2019/2020 are significantly different from myself from 1995, when I was a teenager, and are distinctly different from the students in my first youth ministry back in 2000.

The big question

So the question is if our students are so different, why are we running the same programs? Why does youth ministry still look and feel the same?

Is it time to raise the bar? 

The solution can be found in the word “community”, but I prefer a more powerful word, “FAMILY”.

This current generation (Gen Z) and the generations to come will have more access to information than ever before. They can find anything out, at any time of the day, from almost anywhere in the world. There is no lack of information… However, there is a lack of connectivity, relationship and true intimacy. The solution can be found in the word “community”, but I prefer a more powerful word, “FAMILY”.

When I talk about raising the bar, I’m not talking about programs, bible studies, sermons, social justice or bigger and better events. I think some changes are needed to those aspects to reach a student in the modern world, but that’s not the foundation.

When I talk about raising the bar, I’m talking about what is at the heart of why we do what we do. I think it’s time to stop looking at youth ministry as a place to pass on knowledge (though that’s needed) or gather teens together to “keep them out of trouble”. In their own way these two things have been the single focus of youth ministry for the last 30+ years. 

New approach: Family Ministry

I think it’s time that the foundation of youth ministry shift to be a place where “family comes first”. Our youth groups should first be a place where all are invited, welcomed and where people are missed when they are gone. When our lead card is “family first”, we will meet the core needs of the emerging generations. Youth Ministry will then be a place where connectivity, relationship and true intimacy can be found and when those needs are meet, students will be in the best position to be discipled. This is what it means to be part of the family of God.

Please don’t misunderstand me, there is nothing wrong with classic youth ministry programming. I think we need to go deeper with the family ministry method and be more intentional than we have been over the last 30+ years. I think good pastors and leaders all across North America and beyond have started to feel that the classics just don’t seem to be working the same way they used to. It’s because our students are radically different. If we are being honest, they don’t need us to be their social calendar or their bible teacher. They can do all of that and then some from their pockets at the touch of a button. 

However, students are struggling to meet their core need which is to “love and be loved”. I have a saying that has been the driving force of most of my ministry career and life, “Family is forever”. Learning you are part of a family that loves your unconditionally and is always there no matter what. This reminds you that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. That truth can change the direction of a life. I know this because it changed my life in 1996 when I became a Christian. Jesus invited me into the family of God and I became an adopted heir of the God of the universe who put the stars in place. I also gained a “church family” that has supported me and guided me my whole life. 

Final thoughts

More than ever, this generation needs us to raise the bar, but not on programming or adding more “wow” factor to our ministries. This generation needs us to get back to the heart of the gospel, that all are welcome in the family of God.

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with himRomans 8:16-17

About the Author

Jesse Criss

Jesse Criss is the founder of Fresh Ministry Consulting, a ministry that exists to help pastors, leaders, and churches get the tools they need to impact students with the Gospel of Jesus. Jesse got his start in youth ministry at the age of 18 and now has more than 20 years of experience in youth ministry. His…  Read More