General Ministry
Josh Griffin

From time to time I post a question that comes into the blog for YOU to answer. What advice would you give this youth pastor who is asking about starting over again in a much smaller context than his previous experience. I’ll post some of my thoughts next week on how I answered him over email, but was hoping you could weigh in with your thoughts, too. Weigh in!

I’m a 20+ year youth ministry veteran of large church ministry but I find myself at a different place of ministry right now. My family and are a part of a faith community that consists of maybe 125 people and most of those are college students from the local university. I was recently approached by the pastor about developing something for students (junior high and high school). Before I was approached I felt like I needed to offer my time, so I welcomed the conversation.

To this point there has been nothing for students and we’ve lost some families because of it. I was, and am, energized by the possibility but to be honest, there’s a part of me that is at a loss of what to do. I realized I’ve always been a part of building onto something that has already existed. This is starting from complete scratch! I realize not having anything is not necessarily a bad thing, because what ever we do, and how we do things, will have to be about relationships.

I guess my reason for contacting you is to simply ask: what would you do? How would you go about starting a ministry? If you could start from scratch how would you do it? What would you not do?

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  • Ryan says:

    I think this is a great opportunity to really see what students want in a youth ministry. I think step number one for me would be having the opportunity to sit down with both the students and parents together, and then separately to see what they would be interested in. I think that having a blank canvas would be wonderful to be able to get outside the youth ministry box and really understand the needs and wants of your personal community.
    Along with that, you already said relationships would be key. Start there, build those relationships now and see the depth and life of your students. I wouldn’t hesitate to even invite them along with you to go visit some other youth ministries in the area as you discuss what could be happening in your own faith community. The students may or may not know what a youth group is, this would give them the opportunity to get a glimpse.
    And finally but ultimately this should be the priority, pray. I don’t need to say more to that.
    Blessings, this will be a great journey!

  • Mike says:

    I’m a youth pastor at a church of about 250 and I had the same experience of this person. When I came on staff there had never been a youth ministry program of any sort. My first piece of advice would be go with the flow. You don’t necessarily know how or what the kids and parents are going to respond to so try a number of different ideas. Some things will really sky rocket, and some things will totally tank. I would also warn you about getting a big head or arrogant. This happened to me in the first year. I was doing all these new activities and all the parents and the rest of the leadership thought it was amazing because there had never been anything like this. I literally couldn’t walk into the church building and out without someone complementing me and telling me how great something was. The support was great and appreciated, because I know a number of youth pastors don’t get that. But it got to my head and looking back, I can see that I was really arrogant and proud. So expect a number of people to think you walk on water. Which can be very nice and beneficial, but know how to handle it. Best of luck! Starting a new ministry can be very exciting and extremely rewarding!

  • Jeremy says:

    I like the ideas that Ryan and Mike presented. Another idea that may be a little bit naive would be this – you may consider is spending the next several months recruiting and investing in college students. If college students are the strength of your church, then play to it. Most of the time, youth ministries start with students and then we recruit leaders. What would happen if you started with leaders and allowed them to recruit the students? Which would grow faster in your community, a youth ministry of 50 students with 5 leaders or a youth ministry with 50 leaders who are each trying to find 5 students to invest into? Like I said, the concept may be somewhat naive or it could be what separates you from everything else. This allows you to start as a relational ministry.

  • Jon Greenhill says:

    I like what all three of these guys have said. I would have to be realistic with everyone about how long it takes to start a ministry. In the beginning you are definitely going to be just throwing stuff out there and trying it to see what works, but as you get to know the students more you can begin to figure what the needs are and where the ministry needs to go next. I’m in my 4th year of starting a college ministry from scratch. I had to learn to be patient. VERY PATIENT! I kept wanting everything to run smoothly from the start but it often didn’t happen that way. It was a lot of trial and error. It was a lot of observation and reflection. If something went well it was easy to get prideful like Mike said. If something went horribly horribly wrong it was not necessarily indicative of how the ministry was going to turn out. We got through those issues and now our ministry has a solid forward momentum with goals to reach out to the college students of our community. It takes time. The more you preach that up front, the better your support will be on the long road.

  • Ginny says:

    The guys above had excellent ideas! I really like the one about recruiting college students. Having adult or college leaders to lead small groups with the students, help with worship– just be good, Godly examples is so powerful and can add life to any gathering.
    You are gonna do a lot of trial and error. But here are a few things I’ve seen work:
    –Develop leader contracts, describing how they need to behave… if they are gonna lead students, they should be living Godly lives themselves, right? God may also use this to bless them. Examples would be no drugs, going to church at least three times a month, encouraging them to read the Bible and pray on their own, etc.
    Another is developing a theme for decorating the room. WIth Jr highers, you can be creative. COnsider having them help decorate and develop the youth room. One lady i know has each class of jr highers put their handprints on the wall, for example– the wall, after four years, was covered and colorful.
    –Pray about what the “vision” and “mission” of the ministry is, and how to teach that to the youth

    I am a newbie at all this, but good luck, God is gonna do some great stuff through the ministry!!

  • Ginny says:

    oh…. one more thing…. equipping the youth to serve in different ways, like a worship team or serving team or something eventually, is really neat…. Find out what the youth you’ll minister to are good at and interested in.

  • Jeff Bachman says:

    I came from a church that started out of a college ministry and spent 6 years building a youth ministry. Easily one of the hardest/most frustrating/rewarding things I have ever done. Recently I felt God’s call to move to another church that is farther along in the process but in the same position of having a very young congregation and not being able to see the youth “tip” and exist as it’s own entity as well as be a part of the larger congregation. I have been a part of this community for 3 months now. This is not to say that I have all of the experience in the world or all of the solutions (or many for that matter) but I have lived it for a long time. I know what hasn’t worked for me and also what frustrated me. The biggest thing is that from my years of youth ministry I felt compelled to create something that I had already seen or been a part of. I.E. every good youth group has a worship band, or games, or fill in the blank. In all of these I was trying to create not what was best for the community but what I thought the community needed without listening to God and the students. The is tons that is beautiful about what you are doing. There is no “we always did it this way”. No “Golden Cows” that were sacred. It is worth pursuing. That being said I would love to talk with this person and encourage them in any way I could from my years of paying the dumb tax and what I am learning by living in it right now. I also have years to go in my learning process and would love to learn from others as well. Thanks for those who posted above. It is nice to know I am not the only one in this experience. Feel free to send my information their way if I can help in any way. Thanks.

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