It’s time to take a smarter approach to youth ministry. Transformative ministries do not focus on the what of ministry—they persistently pursue the why of ministry. The reasons why we reach out and serve people in our community will always connect more deeply to the heart of Jesus than a focus on what will reach people in our community—a more contemporary worship band, a bigger sanctuary, more services, or a new youth ministry model, for example.
It’s easy to get distracted by the week-to-week grind of ministry. An earnest, energetic approach can nurture ministry-centered relationships instead of Jesus-centered relationships, and not know the difference. As we settle into 2022 let’s question the status quo in youth ministry. Let’s work toward SMARTER youth ministry, an approach that focuses on transformation through the love of Jesus.
SMARTER Youth Ministry Is…
Specific: What are the specific needs of the students you serve? Jesus wants to meet those needs. So know what they are. Then ask Jesus to help you envision ways to meet those needs.
Missional: Do you have a specific mission that fuels all your ministry efforts? If it’s not written down, you probably don’t really have one. For example, let’s say your mission is: “To meet the spiritual, relational, and physical needs of teenagers and families as a direct reflection of Jesus’ heart.” Then, no matter what you’re doing in ministry, these questions follow: How is this meeting spiritual needs? How is this meeting relational needs? Is this meeting physical needs? How does this demonstrate the heart of Jesus?
Leaders who naturally attract relaxed, authentic encounters with kids create a ministry environment that catalyzes transformation. Are students seen and known? How often and how deeply do they connect with their leaders? Teddy Roosevelt said: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Be approachable.
Are you willing to entertain and embrace new ideas? Invite your teenagers to shape the ministry from the inside out. Mentor them to teach, cast vision, and lead. Learn from ministries outside the church. Ask people outside of youth ministry to observe what you’re doing and give you feedback. Maybe they’ll notice something you don’t even see anymore—like a lone ranger sitting at the back of the room by himself.
Transformational ministry is about helping kids make a beeline to Jesus, and then getting out of the way. Set the stage for the Holy Spirit to do the renovating. Move away from lecture-style teaching to something more interactive and experiential. Expose kids to worship that’s more than just singing. Set aside your large-group model for something that lends itself to deeper relationships.
Are you making progress? Smarter youth ministries are always evolving into the “what’s next” of following Jesus. How and where is your ministry developing into that “what’s next”?
Smarter youth ministries never forget our central calling—to be light in a dark world. We don’t keep the light to ourselves; we give it away.
So, what will SMARTER Youth Ministry look like for you in 2022? Focus one at a time on each of these words, writing your own thoughts and vision.