What’s your big dream for your youth ministry this year? And can you sum it up on a T-shirt?
Leadership guru Peter Drucker made the “T-shirt” challenge famous—his argument was that big goals should be so easy to understand that they fit on a T-shirt. The problem with that rebel challenge is obvious: Further explanation is almost always required for big dreams. And this is especially true in our “multi-forked” youth ministries. We’re communicating a vision to teenagers, adult volunteers, and parents simultaneously. So, as everyone heads back to school, effective leadership requires us to break down our big dreams into little details…
To live out that mission in our youth ministry, we have to excel at pursuing teenagersClick to tweet
The Big Dream: In John 10 Jesus calls Himself the “Good Shepherd, and then He defines what that means—a good shepherd knows His sheep, and His sheep know Him. To live out that mission in our youth ministry, we have to excel at pursuing teenagers; to know what circumstances they’re facing in life, the opportunities they’re seizing, and what makes their heart tick. On our ministry team, we’ve translated this big dream into yearly themes that we launch in the fall. For example:
- Year 1: “You Are Not Alone.” Before I was hired to lead our ministry, the church experienced a gap of leadership for several months. This left a bulk of our teenagers disconnected from each other, even though they still showed up for youth group. So, to know and be known by our “sheep,” we focused our first-year theme on bringing everyone together to reconnect and re-enjoy each other. “You are not alone” was an invitation to the disconnected, but also a driving purpose for core students to pay attention to the disconnected around them.
- Year 2: “Now is the Time.” After a year focused on community-building, we made a subtle shift toward a more outward-focused mission. We wanted our “sheep” to be on the lookout for others who longed to be known and pursued and folded into our community—“We have something/Someone amazing to share with you.”
- Year 3: “There is Hope.” In our next iteration of the “know and be known” dream, we borrowed the acronym HOPE from a book my son and I wrote that memorably re-tells the whole story of the Bible—we wanted our teenagers to find themselves in the story of God. Simultaneously, we created “Hope Circles” on local school campuses where students who are hurting, lonely, or disconnected could find an empathetic community that points them to Jesus.
The Little Details: It’d be great if our big-picture dreams led, organically, to a profound and permanent change in our ministry culture, but culture eats vision for lunch. To translate vision into boots-on-the-ground impact…
- I invest in my adult leaders. If I only invest in teenagers, our ministry will grow by addition. Instead, if I focus on my adult leaders, we grow by multiplication. Our church embraces the acronym DEVA—we seek to Develop, Encourage, cast Vision and Acknowledge—as a way to pour into our leaders.
- I invest in a SQUAD of students. In a previous post, I described how we built a “leaderless” student leadership team. Our mission has been to help our core students grow into a healthy relationship with God and each other. Healthy relationships create a healthy culture. Pastor and author Steven Furtick chooses a dozen upperclassmen every year and pours his heart into them. His goal is to extend his reach by investing in others.
- I invest in parents. We meet with parents for encouragement and training a few times every year, but we’ve also created a Facebook group called “PALS” (Parents And Leaders of Students) as an extension of our community. Before big events, I ask that group to speak into our next season of ministry at a 90-minute gathering (which I always end 10-15 minutes early). At the gathering, I ask them to be a sounding board for our big dreams and little details. I invite them to point out our blind spots and brainstorm details we otherwise might miss.