There is no right way to “do” youth ministry. Sometimes I think it would be helpful if there was one way that would work without fail. This would definitely save a lot of heartache; however, the very fact that there is no right way is a huge comfort to me when things do go belly up.
You see, I love the challenge of seeing our young people grow into faith at whatever stage of the journey they are on. I love trying to find ways that we can help them in this journey. I love that the things that helped young people 30 years ago don’t work today—and I love, even more, that they sometimes do.
I have been involved at the Causeway Coast Vineyard church in Coleraine, Northern Ireland for six years, and I have been on staff for nearly a year. Our weekend services are designed with the visitor in mind and within our youth movement we try to reflect that as well. Our youth movement has been heavily influenced through “Purpose Driven Youth Ministry.”
Traditionally, our church has provided a Youth Fellowship on a Friday night for the Christian young people, and then a Youth club on a Saturday night for the non-Christian young people. We also provide Sunday schools, etc.
The problem with this is that it only provides a couple of ways for young people to engage. Those opportunities usually are held within the church and therefore the subcultures that exist within our young people here could not all be reached. (Church isn’t always the most popular venue.) As we all know, it is difficult to communicate all that we need to communicate in one event. We end up with tired leaders trying to “deliver” one event every week and they often weren’t using the gifting God has given them.
BUILDING OUR HOME
I want young people to have variety, to express their relationship with God in ways that make sense to them. I want to reach everyone. I want excited leaders leading from their strengths. We are all in different places in our journeys with God, but we are all journeying, and it makes sense to do that together. These desires and this idea is where Destination:Home, our youth movement, came from.
A home has more than one room. We all have our favorite places within our homes—the bathroom, bedroom, lounge, kitchen, swimming pool (this would be mine if I wasn’t on youth worker wages!). To have an effective youth ministry, I felt we needed to have different rooms that our young people could go—places that would feel like home, communities they could create. Then each room would be individually designed to the needs of the user. You wouldn’t decorate a girl’s bedroom with Transformers and soldiers and expect her to love it, would you? So how do you design a room?
I think if a youth ministry can successfully combine the five purposes—Evangelism, Fellowship, Discipleship, Ministry and Worship—then that would be a pretty successful youth ministry. So we decided each room needed a combination of these things. We renamed the purposes Doors (evangelism), Sofas (fellowship), Stairs (discipleship), Kitchen (ministry), and Tables (worship).
The specific combination of these depends on the residents who visit the room. They could be strangers, acquaintances, relatives, friends, or family. The theory goes that once you know your residents and what they need, then you can design your room!
We currently have around ten rooms that meet during the week and we are hoping to grow that very soon. The types of things they do and the people they reach are varied. Because of this, we have been able to double the numbers of young people whom we are engaging with this year. Here are some examples of some of our rooms.
- We run a youth club in a specific area of our town and are starting another one in a different area of our community soon. The kids who come along to this room were strangers but are now becoming acquaintances. All we ask of the leader is to invite kids (doors) and provide a reason for the kids to stay (sofas). They don’t need to do worship, teaching or a Bible study. They keep the main thing the main thing.
- We run a small group on Thursday nights. The young people at this are friends and family usually. They are committed to a relationship with Jesus—a lot of them are serving in the church and they all want to move forward. The requirements needed here are very different. We want the leaders to provide discipleship (stairs) and to encourage their young people to serve (kitchen) and worship (tables) will happen more here as well.
- We run a couple of after schools clubs where we see a mixture of churched and unchurched young people coming. This will be a mix of doors, sofas, and pretty low stairs.
- We hang out with young people on the streets every Friday afternoon. They have no other connection with the church but on the streets. Every week they come and meet us in our street small groups. These guys start as strangers and quickly become acquaintances and relatives.
- We run bigger youth events which all the kids from all the rooms and those outside can come to. This gives the young people a chance to worship (tables) and hear about God’s heart for them (stairs), and it also allows them a chance to respond and sign up (kitchen).
Destination:Home has allowed us to reach across the subcultures we find within our community and, for the most part, there should be somewhere that young people in our town can plug in.
It has allowed our leaders to specialize and lead where they are most passionate. As I mentioned I have seen so many youth leaders feel the pressure to prepare Bible studies or fun games at their youth event. We ask our leaders to lead out of their strengths/passions so if a leader loves just hanging with kids, then that’s all we ask them to do. If they want to teach in a small group, then that’s what they do. We don’t ask them to do anything else. It’s amazing how much easier it is to keep leaders motivated when they are serving where their passions lie.
I think this is the reason that the number of leaders we have serving within Destination:Home has increased this year and we have created a youth ministry that doesn’t depend on me. In fact, 40-50% of the young people in our youth ministry wouldn’t even know me. Not only that, I only have to work one evening a week. (Now your ears have perked up, eh?)
The flexibility of the model allows people to get involved with youth work really easily. If someone comes to me with a passion to reach young people through chess, then I bless them and let them go for it. If it isn’t working after a suitable period of time, then we can easily stop it without it affecting the rest of our youth movement. I love the fact that we can afford to take risks on these things without worrying how it impacts everything else.
BUILDING YOUR HOME
No model or system is flawless and there are lots of things within Destination:Home that I want to change but for now, I’m much more comfortable with the disadvantages of this model than with previous models I have seen.
But here’s the thing—at the end of the day the model used in our youth ministries is irrelevant. It’s about you, in partnership with God, looking at your situation and responding to it. That’s why what worked 30 years may or may not work in your context. You could take what we do here and it might totally flunk for you.
Hmm, I really do love and loathe the fact that there is no right way to “do” youth ministry.