If I Had a Youth Ministry Do Over
When I was a youth pastor, I wanted students to be transformed by Jesus. So to grow attendance, I created an atmosphere of fun, excitement, and high energy through games, worship bands, crazy stunts, and events that seemed risky (even thought they were not). My hope was that if students thought, Anything can happen at youth group, they would not want to miss a single night.
This system actually worked for me; every youth ministry I ran grew in numbers. But looking back, I am not sure I reached my original goal. I thought that if students came they would encounter Jesus. I measured student attendance, but I never measured their relationship with Jesus.
The churches I worked for loved me. More students meant more families. More families meant more giving. So no one was questioning my results. I guess they were thinking the same thing I was: the more students attending my ministry, the more they loved Jesus.
I was good at creating culture. That was not hard at all. Unfortunately, I created a culture of fun, but not of transformation. What really boggles my mind is that it never dawned on me to create a culture of discipleship.
If I could do it over, I would create a discipleship culture. I would start by helping my adult leaders build deep, meaningful relationships. I would train my adults to ask very personal questions. I would challenge them to get to know parents and glean from them information about their kids. I would create space and time for students and adults to bond. Then I would teach my adults how to use those relationships for discipleship. I would do everything in my power to help volunteers turn the corner from small group leaders to mentors.
Second, once my adults had mentoring relationships with students, I would spend more time teaching the adults the content I wanted them to teach students. I would break down the basics of the gospel into small sections that adults could easily share with students. I would give the adults milestones to look for in students’ lives so they would know when the students were bearing fruit.
Would I still play games and do wild activities? Yes! But every activity would make the adult a hero so students would see them as the core of the ministry, not some add-on for behavior control.
Third, I would measure students’ spiritual growth. I have been told a hundred times that you can’t measure transformation. But I know it when I see it, and I know when students are faking faith. I bet you do too. If I looked closely at what God was doing in and through my students, I could measure their growth in specific areas like family, friends, and spiritual gifts. I’m not saying that you should pull out some kind of spiritual ruler and assign a number to students: “You’re exactly this spiritual.” But if our students are truly transforming, shouldn’t we be able to see and note the effects in their lives and actions? What you measure is what you focus on. So are you focusing on attendance or are you focusing on transformation?
If you want to change culture, you must do it though relationships. How deep are relationships in your ministry? Are they deep enough that adults can change conversations and move away for wacky towards faith? Making these changes now so you won’t want a do over in the future.
Maybe you want to start making some of these changes, but you don’t know where to start. That’s why LeaderTreks created Know Growth. It’s a tool designed to help you and your volunteers develop the kind of relationships with students that will grow them into disciples who will influence others. You’ll track the growth you see in their lives, identify the fruit they’re producing, and discover areas to challenge and encourage each student.
About the Author
Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners who never leave their side. Doug grew up in… Read More