It bothers us a little bit when teens pick another youth ministry program over ours. We feel a little bit of frustration and even jealousy. We wonder, “What do they have that I don’t?”
You can’t control a teenager’s choice and in reality your ministry can’t be ideal for everyone. The more you try to get everyone, the more frustration you’ll feel.
What you need to do is discover your niche. You need to know how your ministry can have the biggest impact in your community. That means:
KNOWING YOUR LIMITATIONS
Knowing your limitations means knowing your budget, and understanding your space. It involves looking at your community and know what competes for the teen’s time and attention.
When you know the limitations you know the box you have to start thinking outside of for ideas. Don’t complain about them instead embrace them.
ASKING GOD FOR CLEARER VISION
Just as God has created you with unique gifts and talents, He’s given your youth ministry a unique purpose. The only way you’ll know what that is by asking Him.
Spend time asking God, “What is it you want me to do in this community?” It might take fasting, journaling or praying with a team to get your answer.
LOOKING AT THE CHALLENGES THAT FACE YOUR COMMUNITY
The reason you exist is not to entertain the next generation but to help them grow. Look at the obstacles that are preventing them from growing. Gather a team of adults who know the community and can share with you the challenges that people face. In the end you’ll design a stronger ministry.
SACRIFICING GOOD FOR GREAT
When you try to reach everyone you’ll try to do everything. Some of those things will be a complete waste of your time. And then some of those things will good, but they’ll stand in the way of you doing the great things.
Cut programs, events or experiences that hold you back from living out the vision that God has for your ministry. You might worry about people’s pushback. But, in the long run you’ll benefit. In the end you’ll get further faster because nothing will hold you back.
PARTNERING WITH OTHER CHURCHES
Because you cannot be everything to all people you need to network with those around you. Reach out to neighboring churches and ask, “What do you offer that we don’t?”
Knowing the answer to this question will help you redirect teens to the best church community possible for them. It might seem odd to refer teens to a different church, but it’s about helping them grow in Christ, isn’t it?
When you know why your youth ministry exists it will bring clarity to your decisions. It will help you persevere through the desert periods. Knowing your niche will help you have a greater impact on the community you serve.
What’s your niche in youth ministry?
This is just a fun video our team made with a student about the pros and cons about going or not going to summer camp. Really fun and students loved it.
We're in the middle of getting ready for our freshman to come into our high school ministry here in June. We promote our students at all levels (Children's through college) at the same time every year - the 1st week of summer. I've talked to other youth workers and they seem to be all over the place on when they do promotions. So - today's poll question will give us some statistics on how it plays out. Vote now!
Social media is arguably one of the best things that has ever happened to student ministry. Research suggests that one out of every four people has a social media account, and my guess is that nearly every high school and middle school student uses some type of social media. Therefore, as leaders of student ministries, it would make sense to use this trend to our advantage.
So, the question is: How do you leverage social media in student ministry? Here are four strategies to consider:
Don’t Just Relay Information
Social media is a great way to tell your students about upcoming events, the next series, or what type of food you’re serving. We try to provide content that students find engaging—and posting announcements just doesn’t cut it.
Provide Exclusive Content
If you really want people to pay attention to your social media accounts, provide content they can’t get anywhere else. We love to post behind-the-scenes pictures of our team getting ready for Sunday. We also try to send out challenges or funny things our leaders or students have done in order to get people talking on our accounts. That leads us to our next goal . . .
Social media allows student ministries to engage students in unprecedented ways. We can now communicate with students throughout the week, which leads to greater connectivity and buy-in. Instead of telling students to “invite a friend,” you could ask them to tag friends they’d like to bring. If you post a recap picture, ask your students to comment about their favorite part of the night.
Take Advantage of Trends
Pay attention to the things your students are posting, and create similar posts when possible. Throwback Thursdays are awesome posts. This year, we are going to celebrate our seniors by posting Transformation Tuesdays pictures of them from freshman to senior year. Of course, you should be wary of certain trends—Man Crush Monday probably isn’t a good idea . . . just saying.
These tips have been helpful in using social media to our advantage with our high school students. I believe they will help you as well.
Bonus Tip: Run analytics on your accounts. We use Twitter Analytics and Iconosquare. They are really useful for seeing what type of content is gaining the most interest from our followers.
Mitch Blankenship is currently the High School Ministry Intern at Buckhead Church in Atlanta, GA.
Too frequently, Christian childhood or youth fails to connect with Christian adulthood. New adults, raised in church, form their adult identities outside of church. But it shouldn’t be like that. Christian adulthood is the best, the truest, and the most beautiful way to be human. No other adulthood can compare.
A Flawed Myth for Adulthood
We can be sad about the trends, but we shouldn't be surprised. Quietly, we have come to believe an extrabiblical, unnecessary adulthood myth, acting as if it’s true. “You turn 18 or 21”, it says, “you leave the house, you pay for yourself, you acquire stuff, you experience romance, and boom: you are an adult!” But there’s nothing magical about 18. Leaving home is not necessary for formation. Chaste celibacy can be an incredible sign of maturity, and so on. Conclusion? The myth is flawed. Material in nature and inappropriately exclusive, it has almost no reference to the “growing up in Christ” to which Christians are called.
Yet in most of our ministries and strategies, we assume the flawed myth. On one hand, we wait until 18 to begin calling youth “adults,” choosing in the meantime to help them “enjoy youth while they can” before they “enter the real world.” On the other, we expect and encourage youth to leave their community when they turn 18 in pursuit of college or marriage or career.
Either of these behaviors, by themselves, could work out fine. Neither is bad. But together, youth end up receiving the call to adulthood from someone new, from outside the community that nurtured them—if they receive it at all. More likely than not, they learn what adulthood is and how to gain it only from the movies and stories and friends they encounter.
Rejecting the Flawed Myth
In this transition, we end up seeing youth depart from the habits and beliefs of the communities of their childhood. So how do we repair the disconnect? How do we clearly offer youth the incomparable glory of Christian maturity?
For starters, we can reject the flawed myth. We can reject the assumption that adulthood only starts when you leave home. We can reject the assumption that adulthood is primarily marked by the acquisition of things, by economic stability, and by romance. We can reject our own pessimism about the beauty of Christian adulthood, and about teenagers’ ability to attain it.
And Building a True One: Inviting youth into Christian adulthood
But it won’t be enough to reject the current adulthood myth; We need to surpass it. Through our patterns of youth ministry, we need to turn from merely preserving Christian behaviors toward the riskier, more beautiful work of inviting youth into Christian adulthood. We need to show them what it adulthood is in all its glory, and give them a path to pursue it in the context of their home communities. In short, we need to turn from enforcing the mere duties of childhood, and make disciples.
At a personal scale, this looks like patient mentoring, training, and empowerment of youth. (See psychologist Kaye Cook’s “Growing Up Now” for some of that effort’s current challenges and characteristics.) On a national scale, it means a new network of resources, new training for church and school staff, new focuses for preaching, and new events to help youth place their adult identities in Christ. (like Wheatstone’s rite of passage this summer at Biola University)
If we want to turn our youth ministry, Christian education, and parenting toward Christian adulthood, we have work to do.
But the work is worth it. We want a new generation that is full of Christ’s virtue in intellect and heart, but that virtue doesn’t come from a switch that flicks on when our bodies reach a developmental stage. Virtues take practice. And we need to start it now. We need to take the risk to help our youth grow up, unfolding the freedom and responsibility of adulthood before them before they go to find it unsupported, on their own.
Peter David Gross is Executive Director of Wheatstone Ministries and creator of the Discussion for Transformation training programs. He’s also lead designer and a keynote speaker for The Academy’s summer conferences on Christian adulthood. A proud alumnus of Biola University and its Torrey Honors Institute, he lives and works in Fullerton, CA.
One of the most important aspects of our team is figuring out how to have our students on Wednesday nights (which I would say 50% of them have families that come to our church and the other 50% who don't come at all) get involved to the larger church as a whole. We have heard of the one-eared Mickey Mouse Illustration and all of that but it really is an issue. The question is, when they leave my program what happens next?How do we help them know there is something bigger than them in all of this? How can we help them see the bigger picture? We meet on Wednesday nights so chances are unless the student brings their parent to church on the weekends or our parent ministry is awesome (which is in it's beginning stages of being intentional, so it's not if I'm being honest), then the question is...
What are ways we can help our students realize there is the Church outside of their church?
I believe it incorporates introducing aspects of service. I'm sure there are a ton of different ways based on the context of your church setting and group, but here are a few things we are doing to try and connect our Wednesday night student services to the church as a whole:
Item of the month - Our local outreach does this thing called "Bumper Bags" at the end of the month. Our church goes out and buys bags of groceries, comes to church, leave the bags by the bumpers of their cars and a team of people come pick them up, sort them, and later that day families from all over the area come and "shop" for free the feed they need. So with that, they have an item of the month they need and our ministry will help provide that. This month was cleaning supplies so we announced what we were trying to do and encouraged them to give something to be a part of it. We also bought a few different things on our own and offered if students wanted to donate a $1 we would donate on their behalf. It's been fun to see.
Tithing towards a tangible thing - I think students like to know they are and can make a difference and by showing them in a tangible way is super effective. This last month we got the approval to take our tithing money and donate it directly to a child that we sponsor as a ministry. This child who we sponsor is from a ministry who we as a church help support and send groups to all of the time. They give her clothes, supplies and pays for her school. So if our students were to ever go on a mission trip there, they could actually meet the child we have been sponsoring and visit her home and meet her family. We show a picture of her, tell a little about her story every other week and we will get updates and stories about her life. It's been so fun to see students "get it" when it comes to there is something bigger than themselves especially when it comes to money and see it tangibly in front of them making a difference. It's the beginning process of them learning to think outside of themselves.
These are just two things we have implemented in the last 2 months and they have been so fun to watch. What do you do to try and connect your students to the Church during their church?
I'm pretty new to the parent-of-a-high-schooler game, my oldest son is now in our Junior High Ministry and is absolutely loving it. It is an exciting time for him to finally be in our youth ministry, and an exciting time for me as a parent! I have gobs of respect and love for an incredible youth ministry team, and am so thankful they work so hard in these areas that now I feel more than ever.
For years I've done some form of parent ministry in our youth group. We've done all sorts of things - parent newsletters, parent workshops, parent library and so much more. I thought I knew what parent of teenagers really wanted becase of a book, workshop or someone selling me something. As a parent in these early stages of youth ministry in my own home, I'm starting to think about parents and value unexpected things in parent ministry. Here are a few of them fresh from my life:
I need ... really great communication
The youth ministry website is mote important to me than anything else. When I can't find the registration forms for Winter Retreat or the PDF of the packing list for summer camp it makes my life difficult. And since I didn't think about that event until the night before I need to be able to find it in one click. Proactive communication saves me. Great emails, consistent texting and a great website are what I need almost more than anything. Do this right and I'll love you forever.
I need ... availablity in a crisis
I need you when I'm in a pinch. When my son experiences his first death in the family, the first breakup of his girlfriend, the highs and lows of junior high. I'll support him as a dad, but he needs other strong voices in his life. He needs more wisdom, more shoulders, more laughs.
I need ... affordable events
Summer camp is a huge investment in my son or daughter's spiritual life. I'm ready to pony up for it. But if a youth ministry is expensive over and over again eventually it is going to frustrate me. An expensive event is tough on the family. I know they have to happen from time to time, and I love them as a youth worker, but free events and keeping in mind hte family budget when planning events is so, so helpful.
I need ... lots of grace
Here's the truth - when a parent showed up 45 minutes late I always grumbled when they were so lazy or just assumed they were at a movie and completely forgot about their son. I was frustrated by the flakiness of parents. Then it happened to me. I got a call from my son's small group leader asking if he should just give him a ride home. Whoops! I got tied up and was 45-minutes. I'm such an idiot ... trying to be a great dad but sure needing the grace of the youth ministry.
So that's what I'm learning so far as a youth worker and a parent of a teenager. Anyone else have some insight here?
In addition to requiring student leaders to read and blog, another way I train and equip students for leadership and in particular, for creating a culture of welcome is by conducting frequent evaluations of each week's youth ministry programs.
Frequent evaluations give student leaders the opportunity to slow down and reflect. Doing so teaches teens to notice God. Evaluations also keep teens from becoming complacent in their roles. They challenge teens to think about how they can be better servants and leaders, something that, in turn, fuels growth. What's more, frequent evaluations keep teens humble. They help teens to approach their roles as student leaders with a posture of learning that says “How can we do this better?” rather than settle for that's “good enough” or the way we've always done it. In that way, evaluations actually invite teens to dream and to try new things - even if they fail.
Despite the benefit of frequent evaluations, evaluations can definitely be tricky. You want people to authentically express their feelings and give honest feedback. At the same time, you don't want anyone to leave feeling beat up, or like the thing they poured their heart and soul into didn't matter.
To that end, it's important to establish a culture ripe for evaluations from day one. To do this, create and reiterate a few ground rules each time you evaluate. My team's ground rules include:
Share honestly and openly.
Respect those in the room as well as though outside the room who worked hard on this event or gathering.
Remember, evaluations are not just about what YOU did and didn't like. As we evaluate, keep in mind that you represent everyone else in our youth ministry as well.
There's a difference between complaining and giving healthy feedback. Make sure what you say is for the good of the group.
In addition to reiterating and holding your team accountable to your ground rules, ask good questions that set a healthy tone for evaluations. For example, here are the three questions I use to evaluate every single gathering we have (including both our regular Sunday and Wednesday gatherings as well as special events):
What did we do well as a leadership team?
What are some concrete things we need to improve upon as a leadership team?
Where did you see and encounter God through this event?
Notice I don't ask student leaders what they liked or disliked about an event. Instead, my focus is on what they – as a team – did well and need to improve upon. This helps keep the conversation from getting super negative about any one person or thing. It also keeps it from becoming a weekly evaluation of your teaching. Instead, such questions allow the team to hold one another accountable – in particular for it's role in establishing a culture of welcome. Asking teens to name concrete things they can do as leadership team to improve upon your gatherings also gives them a true sense of ownership of your ministry. It reminds them that your success and failures are both dependent on them.
One final way of creating a culture ripe for evaluations is to evaluate every time you gather together. Doing so allows evaluations to happen when an event or gathering is still fresh. As a result, you can constantly fix and improve things throughout the year. In fact, by asking the same evaluation questions each time you meet, you'll teach student leaders to pay more careful attention at your gatherings. Sometimes, this will enable them to notice and fix things on the spot, before they become a problem, rather than waiting until after you evaluate and identify them as such.
Far from being a drain on teens, frequent evaluations are an important way to equip, inspire, and challenge teens to more effectively live out their role as student leaders.
Other posts in this series:
DYM is at the Orange Conference! We got Doug speaking in the main session. Both Josh and Doug in break outs. We have two DYM booths as well! So fun! We will have one in the main arena and one in the convention center! Come say hi and spread the word!
See you there!