What is Youth Ministry?

By Doug Franklin July 19, 2021

What is youth ministry?

“What is Youth Ministry?” This has become something of a proverbial question. For many of us involved in day-to-day ministry, we can quickly answer this question with comments like, “Wednesday night programming for students” or “Sunday school designed for teens,” but these answers seem to miss out on the bigger picture of why youth ministries exist.

And even if we respond to the question with answers such as, “youth ministry is discipleship” or “youth group is all about relationships,” we risk missing out on elements that are also critical to a healthy and effective youth ministry.

It’s important to take the time to remember what the whole of youth ministry really all about.

Sometimes the urgency of the job can cause us to take our focus off the goal. Or the pressure to be liked by students can drive us to fill our programming space with fun and entertainment rather than time for relationship building and discipleship. Having clear goals and objectives with keep us on the right path.

So here’s a brief look at a holistic perspective on what a healthy ministry looks like.

Youth ministry is…

“What is Youth ministry?” model and Visual

intentional youth ministry video

Meaningful relationships

Youth groups exists to establish meaningful relationships between mature adult believers and students for the purpose of helping the student grow in their relationship with the Lord.

The recent research is staggering. Young people continue to walk away from the church and their faith after high school. But studies also suggest that students who have multiple adult believers intentionally investing in their lives are more likely to stay connected to the church and flourish in their faith, even after graduation.

what is youth ministry quote

Students want to learn from people who care about them; they want to be discovered and known. When youth ministries create opportunities for students to step into meaningful relationships with adult believers, they lay a foundation for both evangelism and discipleship.

In a healthy youth ministry, students are known beyond face and facts AND adult volunteers strive to know students feelings, fears and faith.

intentional programming

Youth ministry is about so much more than entertainment for students or a teen social club. They exist to create intentional opportunities for students to grow closer to Jesus Christ.

Youth ministries offer a variety of programs. Some are designed to reach lost students. Some help students grow in faith. And others equip students to use their gifts in the church and in the world.

Intentionality is what transforms what could otherwise be considered “hangout time” into “ministry time.” Youth ministries that are truly intentional can tie any event or activity back to the overall mission of the ministry.

In a healthy youth ministry, every aspect of ministry programming is tied to the mission of the youth ministry and everyone (parents, students and adult volunteers) knows the purpose of each event.


Most youth workers would agree that youth ministries exist for the purpose of discipleship. At LeaderTreks, we define discipleship as multiplication through relationships. Through relationships we make disciples who, in turn, build relationships and make more disciples.

Youth ministries that focus on and prioritize discipleship help students walk in obedience to the commands of Christ through a Christ-centered relationship with an mature believer. Rather than settling for shallow faith, they prepare students to make a commitment to faith in Christ, feed themselves spiritually, and consistently live out their faith at church and in the world.

In a healthy youth ministry, transformation is valued over attendance numbers. And there are always more adult volunteers who are focused on building Christ-centered relationships with students for the purpose of discipleship than adult volunteers who are helping with logistics.

partnering with parents

Youth ministry isn’t just about students; it’s also about partnering with parents. Parents are the primary faith influencers as described in Deuteronomy 6. Ministering to parents is just as important as ministering to students.

Partnering with parents allows us to equip parents in their role as disciplers, dig even deeper into a student’s life, model a godly life from various positions, and empower students to carry their ownership of their faith as they walk through the doors of adulthood.

In a healthy youth ministry, parents and youth workers don’t just connect at a yearly calendar meeting. They work together to create an individual growth plan for each student.

student leadership

Youth Ministries can’t just have programs for students. They need programs that allow students to have a ministry to their world. When students see themselves as participants, they will pick and choose what they like at church. But when students see themselves as leaders, they will invest in the ministry of the church and become lifelong owners of the church.

As Christians, we have a responsibility to God to develop ourselves as leaders in order to be of the most use in the Kingdom. We also have a responsibility to hand off the reigns of leadership to those on the path behind us. In light of this, student leadership development is not only a good idea, it is essential for building God’s Kingdom.

In a healthy youth ministry, every aspect of the ministry serves as a leadership laboratory for developing student leaders. 40% of students are serving in the church and 20% of students are in a leadership role.

While each of our contexts are different and our churches have different missions and goals, we do share many aspects of our ministry that are the same. It’s important that we examine what healthy youth ministries do so that we have a measuring stick against where we currently are at in each of our ministries.

My hope is that this article will cause you to do some evaluation of your ministry. My goal is not to convince you that what you’re doing is wrong; my goal is to keep you on the path that you’ve wanted to be on ever since you started working in your church.

So many pressures push us off course, and every now and then, we need a course correction. We need to ask ourselves if we are doing what we always dreamed we wanted to do.

Curious how healthy youth ministry is? Take the Intentional Youth Ministry Assessment.

intentional youth ministry assessment

About the Author

Doug Franklin

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