Critical Steps to Effective YTH Ministry
‘If you could do YTH Ministry all over again, what would you do?’
I get asked this question almost every week in my travels. And I love to answer it. It’s intriguing and exciting to talk about. Because it takes me back four decades.
If I could go back in time 34 years and begin YTH Ministry all over again…
I mean, I’ve learned so much. Through many failures and successes. What a new beginning that would be. But, I can’t do that.
So, I’m going to help those of you who are at the beginning of your YTH Ministry do that. And maybe even encourage the rest of us to ‘start again’ with some of the most important principles in YTH Ministry.
I know. Everybody has their own philosophy and model for YTH Ministry. Outreach, discipleship, campus, small group, or event-based models are just some of the approaches. So I respect that. But, after 4 decades, I want to answer this question by giving you my non-negotiables for YTH Ministry.
A YTH Pastor must give primary attention to the THEOLOGICAL dimensions of ministry, and, give secondary attention to the CULTURAL dimensions of ministry. A YTH Ministry that is deeply rooted in the truths of scripture will be one of great success. A YTH Ministry that is deeply rooted in the traditions of culture will be one of great failure.
With that in mind, here are some important principles for beginning effective YTH Ministry:
1. Dedicate at least 15-20 hours weekly to personal spiritual disciplines
This is one practice that has driven my ministry from the beginning. We must schedule dedicated time in prayer, reading the Word, worship, fasting, and other spiritual disciplines. That is how we can assure that the theology of the Scriptures shape our ministry rather than the ideology of the culture shaping your ministry.
We cannot continue to raise students in the Church who are ignorant of the spiritual disciplines. Only 30% of teens in the Church can name 5 of the 10 Commandments. Much of that responsibility is upon the home.
But, YTH Ministry cannot be lacking in spiritual disciplines any longer. If we are going to speak into a post-modern and humanistic society, we must raise a generation with a deep faith rooted in the Bible.
That begins with each of us as leaders to this present generation in the Church.
2. What you get them with you keep them with
Be your spiritual self. Value genuineness over ingenuity and character over creativity. Don't try and create a program before relationships or a roller coaster for thrills and the bump in attendance. Because the students may expect a more dramatic personality and a bigger roller coaster next week.
The Law of Diminishing Returns is a reality. What gets our attention one week, may not get our attention the next. You as the leader are the one returning factor in the ministry mix. Fads come and go. Fathers do not. In athletics we have a term - ‘It’s not about the x’s and the o’s. It’s about the Jill’s and the Joe’s.’
Be yourself. Build the YTH Ministry with your strengths and not somebody else’s strength. Do not desire another person's gift. Consistently develop your own.
Do not under-estimate the value of consistent spiritual leadership in the life of teenagers.
3. Annually attend a conference on Ministry
Some of the greatest moments in my 34 years of ministry have been at conferences. It could be a YTH Ministry Conference or a general Leadership event, or even a YTH Strategy session or Summit. The tools gained from veterans can make the road a little easier. Levels are reached and lids are removed and dreams are inspired in these settings.
If you want to go somewhere you’ve never gone or do something you've never done, speak with someone who has been there and done that. The relationships that can be built and the lessons learned at conferences bring a great challenge to you to step into a new reality.
4. Build relationships with another YTH Leader outside your Church
This could be a Christian principal, teacher, or coach in the local school, or, another YTH Leader or District official in the region. A monthly mentoring meeting will yield great results from one great mind to another. It could be a peer or another leader who is more experienced.
Another opportunity similar to this would be to involve yourself in the area ministerial association or para-church organization. You will experience great conversation from all kinds of theological world views around breakfast or lunch with paid and volunteer leaders.
If you want to do something that you have never done, you must find someone who has been there and done it. You cannot do this alone.
5. Develop Leadership regularly
Beyond simple recruiting, the leadership development component is a necessary element of leadership retention over time.
Be watchful of the leadership leak. Do great mid-course correction. Pull the team back to center where there is drift from the mission. REGULAR MONTHLY OR BI-WEEKLY MEETINGS ARE A MUST.
To be honest, it is a matter of commitment. I hear people say often that they don't have the time. I don't agree with that. You will make time for the things that add value.
One thing that could aide in this - create a weekly small group out of your leadership team for better communication and development. That meeting could be physical or even through email and other forms of communication. A well-planned leadership meeting will be a priority because of the value that it adds.
6. Do not let the YTH Ministry become a silo
Remember, the YTH Ministry is a part of the whole Church. Do not become isolated from the adults. As a YTH Leader, when is the last time you prayed with or spoke to an adult? In the congregational setting make sure that you are not only in relationship with the students. Speak to parents often and create an annual parent night.
Be a team player on the staff and support other ministries with your time and prayers. Stop segregation and isolation in every form - departmental, generational, racial, or economic. For instance, it is not enough to have a MULTI-generational setting of every age group.
We must intentionally become INTER-generational in our operation and relationships. That means that we are in relationship to each other and not just simply existing under the same structure.
7. Love like nobody else
The world defines love differently than the Church today. Its love is extremely conditional. And in every setting our students are raised in this. But, the Church must define love differently from the world today. We must model biblical love. Love is extremely un-conditional in the bible. And it must become extremely prevalent in our culture.
One of the principles that I learned early in my ministry was to take care of people and God would take care of me. Remind students and leaders that you love them. Say it publicly and privately and say it often. It is potent. You can love a teenager and make them do anything.
When a YTH Ministry models love, it becomes viral. I think students will come from every direction for acceptance and affirmation. Think about it. In a society and culture that lacks conditional love, biblical love is the seedbed for a viral YTH Ministry.
8. Short-term and Long-term goals
One of the immediate things you should do in YTH Ministry is to create short-term and long-term goals. Strategic planning for the start and strategic evaluation for the long haul will keep you focused and on mission.
Defining our goals helps us to know how to measure our success. If we do not identify any outcomes is there really a way to declare a win? This really is simple.
Here’s a process to do this:
-Short-term goals would include defining the wins, developing staff relationships, building an adult and student leadership team, reaching and discipling the Church kids, and communicating a vision.
-Long-term goals would include declaring the wins, Leadership Development, campus access, relationships and involvement in the community, and developing an outreach and evangelism model.
We have tried everything to grow YTH Ministry in America. Event-based models, small group models, outreach models, campus models, and relational models have all been written about widely and taught in conferences nationally.
But, the one thing that is missing at most settings is the supernatural spiritual model that is borne from prayer.
Remember, the Church is supernatural. Unlike any other organization on the planet. If we fail to access the supernatural in YTH Ministry, we cease being the Church and become simply a natural organization that is subject to natural laws for growth.
I hear all the time that 'kids want to play and they don't want to pray.' I have watched many YTH Ministries work tirelessly on programming and creativity. Trust me, I believe that YTH Leaders should be the greatest sociologists and organizationalists on the planet.
But, while that is true, there is a hole in the heart of teenagers and young adults that can only be filled by the supernatural. And from my weekly experience with teenagers, they would rather pray and play!
There must be a greater lean to the supernatural in YTH Ministry. Our culture and society is familiar with the supernatural. Where the church is foreign to it. If you want to try something to build your YTH Ministry that nobody else is doing - try prayer!
If I could do this all over again, I would take my own advice today and put some of these things to work. You’ve heard it said before, “if you fail to plan, you have really planned to fail.“
Whether you are a volunteer, part-time, or in full-time YTH Leadership, use these principles to help guide successful ministry. I know there are many models and ways to do YTH Ministry. Hopefully this is an assist if you are stuck. Remember, my way is not the only way. This is just one veterans advice to others.