For churches with large populations of teens, an interest in youth ministry may be a given. However, some congregations that don˙t have many teens are also interested in youth ministry as a way to attract more young people. Whatever the motivation, youth ministry is an essential to the future of a church.
Most churches see investing in the next generation as somehow optional or only for big or rich churches, says Mark DeVries, a consultant with Youth Ministry Architects.˛But really, the core identity of all churches should be to pass on their faith to the next generation.
DeVries works to help churches build a solid foundation for long-term, deep-impact ministries to teenagers. Drawing on his experience as the associate pastor for youth and their families at First Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn., for the past 20 years, DeVries wrote the book on Family Based Youth Ministry, and his articles and reviews have been published in The Christian Century, Theology Today, Group, and Youthworker Journal.
DeVries spoke with Church Central about the essentials of a healthy youth ministry.
Why should churches be interested in youth ministry?
Often churches are thinking about youth ministry because parents of teens in the church are anxious and need support. Many times parents will be the driving force behind a church beginning a youth ministry, or these parents will leave.
There is also a mission sense some churches have about youth ministry; that it’s not just about the kids in the church, but also about the kids in the neighborhood.
What are the essentials of a healthy ministry to youth?
Most churches are vastly undercapitalized in their youth ministry and are getting the results they paid for. They don’t have a long-term plan, only a short-term hires. Churches think the secret to a great youth ministry is to hire a great youth ministry superstar. Sometimes they hit on a superstar, but in between times they have nothing. Often, even if a church hires a great youth minister, they have no infrastructure for a ministry that this staff member can work with no floor for the superstar to dance on.
A healthy youth ministry has all the components of a healthy church (worship, discipleship, ministry, prayer, evangelism, and fellowship). Maybe hot worship is an entry way to the ministry, but it must also have a discipleship component to take the kids deeper, and a mission component to serve and also a community component to do life together.
A good youth ministry infrastructure begins with compiling basic tools:
- Accurate information about the kids in the church
- A list of youth ministry volunteers
- A yearly calendar of major events
- A curriculum plan
Youth ministries should also formulate visioning documents that state the mission for the work to be done, articulate the values of the ministry, and create three-year goals and a structure to achieve them in the short-term.
This is critical for churches, since most suffer from terminal vagueness. Putting all these documents in place with a youth director is possible for a church, but typically that person doesn’t know how to do this more strategic stuff. I recommend a consultant to help assess the ministry and identify where the church wants to go with it.
Churches often try to build a youth ministry with people who have never done it before and then wonder why it isn’t working.
What are some signs that the youth ministry is ineffective?
Kids tend to vote with their feet, so attendance is important. Also, if there is a spirit of anxiousness about the ministry, if people offer quick answers to difficult problems, such as, if we just had a bowling alley, et cetera, there is a problem.
Another sign of ineffectiveness is when you look down the road and there are no tracks being laid for the future. Churches need an explicit game plan for the ministry that is not driven by the current personalities on staff.
A final call for help from a youth ministry may be the ratio of staff members to kids. A good number is one staff member to 50 active kids. If that is off on the low side, the ministry needs help.
When is youth ministry the wrong choice for a church?
Some congregations hire a youth director and destroy their youth ministry. In a small church where every adult knows those kids, bringing in a hot shot 23-year-old who takes the kids out of the sanctuary and into a youth room actually removes the kids from the adults in the church who love them and hands them over to a person who is at best a short-term staff member.
You don’t want to hire a camp counselor as your youth director, but an architect to build relationships with youth in the church. That’s why hiring a full time youth director may not be the best decision.
Any other advice for churches endeavoring to minister to youth?
Stay away from trendy stuff. That just confuses the institution of the church. What you want to do is go to the place where you are and determine that culture and how to impact it. The church should find its own vision for youth ministry. That vision should translate to a mission statement that is on the same page with the church.
Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry
by Doug Fields
Fun, well-written introduction to all the components of youth ministry
Youth Ministry Architects
originally published on ChurchCentral.com