At Orange, I have the privilege to work alongside many student ministries across the country, which allows me to learn from the best student pastors on the planet. The great thing is, I get access to observe what the best student ministries are doing. So over the past few years, I have been taking notes and want to share my notes and observations with the youth ministry community.
The great student ministries do these things:
Create spaces for the artists to create. David Kinnaman, in his book You Lost Me, argues that the church is losing the young creatives. I have found that the successful youth ministries are providing places for their students to be creative. Students are encouraged and resourced to create and produce music, short films, poetry, art, websites and graphic design. I talk about how youth pastors can appeal to the young artist in their youth group here.
Motivate students to serve their city and serve within their church. The great student pastors realize that spiritual development and discipleship starts in the heart of a student. Students’ hearts must be aligned with God’s heart, which means loving and serving people. And the great student pastors know how to give students opportunities to demonstrate compassion in their local community and get them to serve the ministries within their church. Reggie Joiner asserts that the best way to stimulate faith is to give students an opportunity to have a personal ministry by serving others. Getting students to serve empowers them and gives them ownership of their student ministry.
Maintain and train amazing and healthy leaders. A youth ministry that has great leaders is a mark of a great and successful youth ministry. How is having great leaders a sign of a great ministry? Because it illustrates:
—that that youth pastor has taken a lot of time to develop, cultivate and train its leaders on how to relationally connect with students and how to connect them to Jesus. The best youth ministries that I have seen have an incredible small group leader training manual. In fact, I collect small group leader training manuals from the best of the best.
—that the student ministry values and shows appreciation to its leaders.
—that healthy and great adult leaders will recruit other healthy and great leaders. Health breeds health.
Make small groups the end goal. The great youth ministries believe that it’s their job to create an environment that relationally connects students to a trusted, committed adult. The hope is getting eight to 12 students in a circle with a committed and caring adult that will talk to them about their life and faith. Everything the student ministry does supports the adult volunteer. It doesn’t matter where the small group meets as long as eight to 12 students are connected to an adult.
Invite their senior pastor into the student ministry. The key factor in determining an ineffective and effective youth ministry is the engagement level of the senior pastor. Great youth ministries love, honor and care for their senior pastor and vice versa. It’s absolutely vital that in order to have a great student ministry you need to have the buy-in of your senior pastor. If not, your student ministry will tank.
Engage 25 percent of their parents. Partnering with parents is tough. Believe it or not, engaging 25 percent of the parents on your student ministry roster is a huge win. The best student ministries are very intentional in how they engage their parents. It’s about taking small steps in how they connect with their parents. Over time (three to five years), the best youth ministries will have a high engagement level of parents who love, trust and support the student ministry.
Know how to create fun special events. The great youth ministries know how to throw a party that students want to attend. Fun is the name of the game. The only purpose of throwing a fun event is to create a space to deepen relationships with others. Reggie Joiner states, in the book Playing for Keeps, “Fun over time convinces your students you actually like them, and deepens and strengthens your relationship with them.” It’s OK to have fun. In fact, the great youth ministries are the ministries that know how to have a great time.
There’s no magic formula or secret model or huge budget to pull off an effective and great student ministry.
It’s pretty basic.
Just create environments that:
- turn the light on spiritually for students.
- give students opportunity to create and serve.
- intentionally engage parents.
- support, love and cherish the senior leadership.
- recruit, train and empower other nonparental adults on how to love and care for students.
- embrace fun all the time!
And that’s it.
Do that well. And you will have a great youth ministry.
What’s so encouraging to me is that the metrics for how youth ministries are being measured are changing. It’s not only about drawing a crowd or getting a large attendance. It’s about getting students to experience their faith in a positive, fun, real, warm and welcoming environment, and connecting them with an adult that will walk alongside them in their spiritual process.
So what are you seeing great student ministries doing? What are best practices or patterns you have seen healthy, sustainable and great youth ministries doing?