So, I am no good at predicting the future. If we didn’t all know that in 2020, we certainly know it now. What I do know is that in 2021 youth ministry needs to innovate…and fast. And it needs to be planning for innovation not DURING Covid, but post-Covid. We need to innovate now for the future! We need to do it before the temptation to return to what was expected returns. Now is the time to re-think and dream. Youth ministry has needed to innovate for 50 years. While I can’t predict the future, innovation in youth ministry is something that I know something about!
So, here is the list of keys for innovation for 2021 and beyond!
- Question Everything- If you aren’t good at asking tough questions about your theology and your ministry now is the time to start. In faith and in innovation questions should WAY outnumber answers. All innovation begins with questions and more questions. “Why do we do it this way?” “What if we tried that?” “How did that experiment go?” “What did we learn just now?” “How do we do it better/more like Jesus?” Question everything in 2021!
- Seek Understanding- If you don’t know your students and your city you won’t know what direction your ministry should go. What do local leaders say students struggle with? What is your students’ world/home/school actually like? Good missionaries learn about the culture around them and good church innovators do too. Do you really know your town? Why are you certain of that?
- Observe Details- Good innovators pay attention to how their people use their stuff. What parts of your ministry do students deeply enjoy? Why do they like it? Could you do more of that? What do they love out in the community and could that be a new kind of ministry?
- Experiment, Evaluate, Repeat- This is the season to emerge and try something new! Innovators experiment. But, they don’t always believe the mantra that more experiments are better. The best innovators say that isn’t true. Lots of experiments are only good if there are few enough for you to evaluate each one of them. Put together a team that supports each experiment then experiment, evaluate, and repeat. Over and over. Sometimes one experiment combines with another to produce something truly great!
- Risk Something- I know many of us are vulnerable. We don’t get paid that well. We have families. We may not have cooperative staffs, heads of staff, or healthy church culture. But, if you are able to, take a risk! You cannot innovate without risk. Jesus risked in coming into the world and people are only willing to follow those who are willing to risk first.
- Cross-Pollinate- The best innovators read outside their jobs, they go to different conferences, and they have coffee with people outside their area. What if you went to an education conference? What if you had coffee with somebody from juvenile probation? What if you joined a local non-profit circle to learn their best practices? The church is way too isolated not just in terms of who we minister to, but who we learn FROM. Most of us aren’t experts at anything if we are honest. Let’s go learn from the best. The best ideas come when innovators go outside their ministries.
- Fail Shamelessly- Jesus’ earthly ministry only made it 3 years, he didn’t make it far from home, and his 12 best buddies never understood him. From the outside Jesus’ ministry might have looked like a failure. The Lord loves you and nothing can change that. Failure and mistakes are just lessons learned along the way. And sometimes one failure becomes the key ingredient to a later experiment! But, don’t fail alone. Get the support of your leadership. Make sure you are failing in a group. No mistake can diminish God’s love for you or for your team. So give yourself some grace. Do another new thing. Do it better next time and move forward!
The famous missionary William Carey once said, “Attempt great things for God, expect great things from God.” The Kingdom of God is worth it and so are students! Let’s innovate YM in 2021!
Matt Overton (right) is a youth pastor from Washington State that has been doing Youth Ministry for 20 years. He is the founder of www.youthministryinnovators.com and The Columbia Future Forge. The Forge is an award winning organization that combines youth ministry with mentorships, job skills, life skills, and social enterprise. He is an author, speaker, innovator, and occasionally consults with churches and organizations trying to innovate in youth ministry.