New year new you. That slogan also can apply to your youth ministry strategy. Read on for three fresh approaches to take in your ministry work with teens.
The promise of a new year is also, always, the promise of a “new you.” In my life, that promise translates to a deep desire to be a better youth worker. I look out on the sea of perfectionistic, entrepreneurial, social-media-tethered teenagers and ask: How can I help them boldly live for Jesus?
Something is different about this generation. The old tricks of the trade don’t work the way they always have. A new year, with the promise of a new ministry-you, leads us to deconstruct our ministry back down to its foundation. Then we can rebuild it in a fresh way.
New Year New You — and New Youth Ministry Goals
1. Become a better student of young people.
The conventional wisdom is that today’s teens are technoholics with the attention span of goldfish. Research may undergird this view, but we often draw the wrong conclusions from it. How do we know what goldfish are paying attention to, anyway? Instead of labeling my students, I want to study them better.
So I started the year by asking every teen in my ministry to write down the top three things they’re struggling with. And I’ve started a Mind Meld challenge that attempts to uncover the truth behind the headlines about teenagers. As they walk into our gathering every week, I’ve posted a question for them to answer on a sticky note. It might be “What’s one misconception adults have about teenagers?” or “Is fast food so yesterday, and why?”
A volunteer stands up front, and as kids stick their answers on our whiteboard, they get a raffle ticket for a small prize. The following week we talk through their answers to the question.
Also, I’ve asked my small-group leaders to check in weekly with their response to this question. “What’s one new thing you learned about your group this week?” Their answers can be silly (“They all hate Taco Bell”) or serious (“I found out none of my students has ever memorized Scripture before”).
So for a new year new you, take a fresh new look at the kids in your church and community.
2. Raise up more student leaders.
In my early years in ministry, I bucked against allowing youth group members to lead in significant ways. I treated them as mere participants in the ministry, not instigators of it. Of course, I saw the error of this mindset. But the responsibilities I allowed them to take on were marginal and “safe.” They passed out papers and help with setup.
Soon I realized that if I was going to genuinely empower kids, I had to train them to lead. If I lowered the bar for them, they kept it low. When I raised it, they wanted it higher. Slowly but surely I moved my ministry into a youth-led approach.
Now I recruit carefully, and I set clear boundaries around student leadership. But teens help brainstorm our ministry themes, prepare and deliver talks, lead worship, run our sound system, plan ministry activities, and find games we can play together. They also recruit teams of people to help them lead their peers.
It’s messy, a load of work for me, and entirely worth it. This year, I’ll cut back more on my presence in front of the room and let youth take that place. As adults, we partner with our kids to ensure they stay on track, are held accountable, and can get answers to their hard questions.
So for a new year new you, commit to growing new young leaders.