We’ve been talking about the paradigm shift in youth ministry and what this means for how we should do youth ministry. I think it’s time to make it practical and take a look at how we can reboot our youth ministry to make it better fit the times and context in which we’re living.

As I wrote in the previous post, I think there are three essential elements of doing youth ministry the new way: relationships, discipleship, and outreach. We’re going to discuss these in detail in the next three posts. Today we’ll focus on how you can reboot your youth ministry to make it more relational, to put relationships at the center.

First of all, it makes a big difference if you’re new to your church or if you’ve been there for a while. In the first case, you may want to take it slow and get a good feel for the church and the key ‘players’ first. It’s never a good idea to start right away with rocking the boat and dissing your predecessor.


Making youth ministry more relational

But of you feel you’ve build enough of a reputation to have the credit to be able to make some changes, how and where do you start? Here’s what I would do to grow into a relational ministry.

1. Analyze the current situation

You can’t make changes to make your youth ministry more relational if you don’t know what needs to change. So start with analyzing the relational ‘grade’ of your youth ministry right now. Here are some questions to give you an idea:

  • Do you know all the names of the students in your ministry? Do the other leaders? How much time do you spend getting to know the names?
  • How much time do your leaders spend with students ‘actively’, meaning they’re actually talking to the students? (Note that activities like youth services, going to the movies and giving Bible studies don’t count, as these are passive relationally speaking)
  • Do your leaders spend any times with the students outside of youth ministry activities? If so, is this active or passive time?
  • Is every student in your ministry ‘covered’ by a leader, meaning someone is responsible for keeping in touch with him or her?
  • Can your leaders give a rundown on the personal and home situation of each student they’re responsible for? Can they tell you anything else, like hobbies, friends, issues they’re going through?
  • Do your leaders stay in touch with their students during the week?

These are just a few questions to get an idea of how relational your youth ministry is doing.

2. Set a good example

Chances are, if your leaders have been serving in the youth ministry for some time, they need a paradigm shift as well. If your ministry isn’t very relational,. This is something your leaders have to learn. Start by giving a good example yourself and do this consistently.

3. Train your leaders

Like I said, you may need to train your leaders in how relational youth ministry works. Some leaders seem to get this intuitively, but others really don’t. Invest time in showing them what relationship building with students looks like, why this is important and train them in the practical skills they need to become more relational.

4. Focus on relationships

One your leaders are on board, talk about how you can make your youth ministry more relational. Once again, this is very dependent on the context in which you’re operating, but here are some ideas:

  • Release your leaders from any and all obligations except building relationships with ‘their’ students. This sounds radical, but if relationships are the focus, then let your leaders actually focus on them.
  • Eat together before every small group session, it’s a great way to get to know each other better and to catch up.
  • As youth pastor, host a dinner for a few students every Friday and invite other students each week.
  • Focus on getting to know the names and make sure your leaders do too.
  • Make your youth services shorter by half an hour and spend this time as ‘catching up time’ where students can talk to each other and to leaders.
  • Make sure leaders talk to students at youth group activities, not just to each other.
  • Cut relationally passive activities and exchange them for more active activities, where leaders and students really get to know each other better.
  • Start your small group session with relationally oriented awareness questions so the group can get to know each other better.
  • Train your leaders in the basis of pastoral care and counseling and encourage them to talk with students about their issues and problems.
  • Meet students where they are, whether at home or in the mall or at sports games. Cut down on activities with the whole group to make time for this if you have to.
  • When planning camps or retreats, create enough downtime so there’s time and opportunity for talking.
  • Cut some high energy activities, like crazy games, and plan more relaxing moments.
  • Make your youth services more relational by making them interactive and participatory and less consumer-oriented.
  • Create opportunities to serve together with small groups or with the whole group, it really brings people together.
  • Respond to signals students give for instance about problems they’re facing and train your leaders to do the same. It’s crucial that students feel seen and heard.
  • Be attentive, send texts, social media messages or physical cards for important occasions like birthdays, exams, getting a driver’s license, passing tests, etc.

These are just some ideas, but I’m sure that with prayerful consideration with your tam, you can come up with a lot more that fit your youth ministry.

How relational is your youth ministry right now? Do you have a clear vision on how to get it to become more relational?